Cry Uganda’s children, our African extended family has broken down

I was lucky to be borne while five of my paternal grandmothers (RIP) were still alive. They told us stories of how they had a collective responsibility for raising all their children. My father was breastfed by multiple mothers, the story goes. If one of my grandmothers for some reason was not able at a particular time to breast feed their own biological child – if she had gone to the well or for firewood – another who was able to would naturally become the wet nurse and feed the child that needed feeding.

My grandmothers also told us of how they used to practice what LeTava Mabilijengo refers to as tribal economics. Among others, tribal economics involves exchanging childcare hours so that at all times children have the care of a mother – allowing mothers to go to work and/or to have time for themselves, while their children are well taken care of.

Recent stories in Uganda of child abuse clearly indicate that we have lost a good part of our socialisation systems. We have lost by abandoning the philosophy of it takes a village to raise a child. Our children grow up surrounded by walls that my generation – the 40-somethings – has erected. In urban centres children are growing up surrounded by ‘security’ perimeter walls; erected to lock out ‘bad’ people and to keep children ‘safe’ at home while their parents go to work.

Children are physically and socially locked in their homes away from their neighbours and their ‘extended’ family. Social walls include the fact that many children are growing up unable to speak any Ugandan language. Many grandparents who are unable to communicate in English are effectively locked out of the socialisation of their grandchildren.

Within the gated walls the inferior replacement of ‘extended’ family is the maid – sometimes called house girl and/or houseboy, even though they are grown women and men. Our children find themselves unhinged by our ‘modern’ way of life that favours the nuclear family over the traditional Ugandan ‘extended’ family; promoting individualism over collective responsibility.

Urban poor mothers – market vendors, maids, and other casual labourers, have to make choices between a rock and a hard place. It is not uncommon to find babies lay under market stalls because their mothers could not leave them at home for there would be no one to take care of them. The mother cannot stay home for she has to earn a living.

In order that they can earn a living, in some cases, mothers abandoned their own children to take care of the children of the affluent. The affluent mothers do not get it easy either. They often have to make the difficult choice of leaving their precious babies with strangers – maids, so that they can pursue their carriers and become better bread winners for their families. Some Uganda men are just figure-family-heads. They do not provide for their families.

Uganda’s labour laws are not enforced. A mother is entitled to 60 days of maternity leave, but employers do not accommodate it – stories are in plenty of applications for maternity leave which were given closely with a letter of termination of employment. Flexible work hours, day care services, for working mothers are not considered by employers.

Let us rethink our way of life. Installing CCTV cameras only confirms that our children are being abused. How about instead of the maid and the camera we invest in having our children’s grandma, grandpa, aunt or uncle stay with us for awhile. Let us emulate models which incorporate extended family living – India’s way, for example. It seems cheaper.

3 responses to “Cry Uganda’s children, our African extended family has broken down”

  1. I have read some of the most horrifying stories in regard to those people we are supposed to trust the most with our children. You talk of grand parents, uncles, aunties etc….. I’ll remind you of this one story

    New Vision (Kampala) 22 AUGUST 2010
    Uganda: Granny Held Over Torturing Five-Year-Old
    By Frederick Kiwanuka
    Kampala — THE Police in Nakaseke district on Tuesday arrested a 60-year-old woman for starving and confining her five-year-old granddaughter. Fede Namubiru, a resident of Buteera village in Kasangombe sub-county, was arrested after residents found the severely malnourished child in a small hut, where she was tied to a rope.
    The child, identified as Sisia Nabbubi, had lost her mental abilities and had sores all over her body.

    There are so many more and everyday – I get to read at least 5 cases of child abuse.
    Uncles are defiling children. Grandfathers are pregnanting their granddaughters. Children are being kidnapped, killed and sacrificed. Everybody is after a quick buck. Nobody really is their “brother’s keeper” anymore. The whole social set up has gone to the dogs. The days when it took a village to raise a child ended when we (our generation) were just joining university and our mothers were happy to be housewives. Those days are long gone. Now it’s everybody for himself and God for us all!. Like you clearly put it – – we need to “Cry for Uganda’s children!”.

    We need to sit down and think about what went wrong along the way. What happened to the old community support systems?. Where did we go wrong?. How can we re-build systems that can support working mothers and children? How many people can afford CCTV cameras if many cannot afford to even pay a meal for the kids in UPE schools?. Even with the camers installed in our homes, the likelihood that by the time you get home to save the child, he’d have been subjected to torture and if you are lucky would still be alive.

    I strongly believe that we need to go back to the drawing board – see where we went wrong and how we can make the situation better….. And for God’s sake, this should not be a “Gavumenti etuyambe!” – This should start with us!.
    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow! Nicely articulated Connie. Yes to the drawing board we must return. We need to analyse what we are calling ‘progress’, ‘development’, ‘Africa Rising’, ‘liberation’, ’emancipation’ and many more such terminologies that we often throw around. When it comes to our children, have not in fact regressed?


  2. Every employing institution must be compelled to have a child centre at the workplace or the state provide for a welfare system to mothers for 3-5years just for the single purpose of taking care of the baby. CCTV or certificates of good character by the Police is just fumbling with a real issue rather than addressing it. i have seen convicts deceitfully fill several police forms of having never been convicted of any crime and affirmatively said NO

    Liked by 1 person

Let’s Chat…

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: