Church steeple in the morning mist outside Kabale, southwestern Uganda. (Photo/ Wikimedia commons)

‘Faith’ Is Important In Uganda, Young People Say. But Not Integrity

When young people in Uganda were asked, in a 2014/15 survey, on what they valued most, four out of five said “faith”.

You might think that means that Ugandan young people are deeply religious, looking to the holy books as a moral code for living with integrity. Well, yes and no. There are deeper currents at work here.

The survey, commissioned by the East African Institute of the Aga Khan University reveals that slightly less than half (47.5%) said they valued work first and 39.6% valued family first.

37.6% valued wealth first, and about a quarter valued freedom first. Only 5.6% valued integrity first.

The disconnect between faith and integrity is a puzzle. Why would young people say faith was their most important value, but fail to esteem integrity?

Historically, religion in Uganda has had a political dimension since the 19th century, and this may be part of the reason why faith is highly valued in Uganda.

More clues can by found in the rest of the data. Young people in Uganda, according to the survey, construct their identity along three major dimensions: about a third identify as “youth” first, 29% identify as Ugandans first, but less than one in ten (9.7%) identify by their faith first.

But when probed further on their convictions, the picture becomes clearer. 73% admit they are afraid to stand up for what’s right, 56% say it doesn’t matter how one makes money as long as one does not end up in jail, and 55% say they admire those who make money through hook or crook.

RICH, HARDWORKING… AND CORRUPT

Three quarters of the respondents are vulnerable to electoral bribery, with nearly four in ten saying they would only vote for a candidate who bribed them, and a third explicitly agreeing with the statement that “corruption is profitable”.

Still, they believed that in the future, Uganda will be richer materially, have better access to quality jobs and society will reward hard work.

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At the same time, they believe that there will be more corruption, and the country will be poorer in ethics and values. Similar results were found in results from Aga Khan University’s survey in Kenya released early in the year.

How is it that young people can be so rosy-eyed about the future, and expect the country to be a meritocracy, and at the same time seem have a low commitment to ethical behaviour?

It suggests one of two things: Either they expect to benefit personally from corruption, and see unethical behaviour as a temporary, but necessary step to give you an initial step in life.

Or they believe that Uganda will be so materially prosperous that individual acts of corruption are will make a small dent in the overall picture.

But these contradictions also suggest that “faith”– going to church or mosque, following the rituals and traditions, and identifying as a Christian or Muslim – might not primarily be a code for ethical day-to-day living. It may be more of a form of “insurance” in uncertain times.

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