Fact Check: “You cannot police poverty, hunger.”

My childhood experiences 40 years ago, spending time at our ancestral home in Pallisa, convince me that the most effective way to take on poverty, hunger and unemployment is to police them.

Am the granddaughter of the late Yosia Engantunyun (Simba), the lion chief of the Ikaribwok Isekelio clan of the Iteso of Uganda and who, legend has it, grew up in the court of the Warrior and Statesman, Semei Kakungulu, omusajja wa Kabaka.

Those days, my siblings and I preferred to spend school holidays at our ancestral home, as opposed to our home in Entebbe. My late father, Engineer George William Obityo Owaraga, was a highly paid civil servant and whose package included a palatial residence in Entebbe.

In Entebbe we were rich and lacked for nothing, but in Pallisa we were richer. We had the privilege of growing up nurtured within a huge extended family set up. Not all my father’s siblings and relatives were as powerful and as materially rich as he was, but among us the children it was never an issue.

In Pallisa with my father’s eldest sister, Ija Manganda, strong bonds were formed and I still have fond memories of how we would walked the long distance to her home and how she always received us with loads of food. Most of the time we went unannounced and uninvited.

In Pallisa, those days, we did not see nor experience poverty, nor hunger, nor unemployment. We were socialised within gender-based-age-sets; and not necessarily along the lines of whose children we were. Within our gender-based-age-sets we formed bonds and played with our clanmates.

In gender-based-age-sets we were taught how to be productive citizens of our community. We fetched water from the well in groups and ensured we would all take a round of water from the well to the different households from whence each of our group members belonged; and to other households as well, such as those of the elderly, case in point.

If one of us was given a chore, the others from the group would help so that it was done quickly and we had quality play time. It was a great practical upbringing that truly nurtured us to appreciate the power of social capital and the importance of each member of a group doing their bit.

Plenty fond memories in this house of my late grandmother, Ajakait Joyce Mary Alinga, in Pallisa, which, as her heir, I inherited.

Wherever meal times found us is where we ate. Each home in our village had plenty. At no time do I remember a time in which we were told something like: “first go back to your home to eat and then come back to play,” as is the practice these days apparently.

Homes had sufficient food, because it was the rule and it was enforced – right from seed systems, to farm work, to post harvest handling, and to food distribution. For example, there were rules about not selling food, if you didn’t have a certain quantity in-field and or in the granary.

Parents who violated rules and ended up unable to provide were brought to book. I saw the Chief, my grandfather, police and enforce the rules. When it was road maintenance day and or well cleaning day, all adults and able older children, were required to do their bit.

Whether you drove a car, like my dad; rode a bicycle, like the chief; or walked on foot, like most; you were required to report to and or to stop and participate in the ongoing road and or well maintenance work before continuing on the rest of your journey. Similarly, other joint activities for the maintenance of the commons were equally enforced.

Posted on her Facebook wall on Saturday, 9th January 2021

Thus, the assertion, “you cannot police poverty, hunger and unemployment; you have to deal with them head on,” is feel good and ‘sound-bite’ worthy, but it doesn’t necessarily hold true. However, it reveals what Ugandans have come to regard as “police” and “policing”.

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