Do we have a responsibility to engage in politics? Mr Silver Francis Oonyu certainly thinks so.

Silver has been a teacher of history, politics, and the Bible since 1995. Over the years, he has learned that individuals have responsibilities and obligations to partake in the politics of not just one’s country, but the world. In fact, it was Shout Out UK’s focus on internalization that first drew Silver’s eager attention.

Bringing political literacy and justice to Africa

His role as an educator in Uganda can be described as nothing short of revolutionary. In 1995, he was sent by the Ministry of Education and Sports to Amuria Secondary School, in the Teso subregion. Silver describes the rural region as politically unstable and having minimal infrastructure, with the first tarmac road only unveiled recently. Hospitals are far, and as a blind educator, Silver naturally asks: for justice, how do blind people gain access to health systems when they are so scattered? But still, it was that resonating sense of an obligation that inspired Silver to travel there.

When I asked Silver about Ugandan society, his response told a mixed story. An overarching problem in Africa, he says, is leaders staying in power for too long. Certainly, he made a convincing argument. Yoweri Museveni has been the President since 1986. At the beginning of 2021, he won a sixth re-election amidst allegations of electoral fraud. Silver also noted climate change’s impact on Uganda, which has led to people in the country going hungry. A lack of resources has impacted Silver too. When I asked what the biggest challenge of his teaching career had been, he said the lack of finances — with greater finances, he would be able to have a better house constructed (with solar panels!). He adds that finances could help him establish his own educational institution, which he envisions growing into a university with a centre for Political Science and/or Literacy, wherein no youth shall be left behind.

Silver also related the harrowing story of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a group that abducted children and was accused of various human rights violations. The LRA, despite an initial façade of seeking multi-party democracy, quickly switched its allegiance to creating a Ugandan theocracy. You have probably heard of the LRA through another avenue. In 2012, a campaign entitled ‘Kony 2012’ went viral, calling for the arrest of Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA. Though the campaign has since gained ample criticism, it was nonetheless one of the biggest drives in increasing Western awareness of the LRA’s conduct. Though the LRA was ultimately driven out of Uganda, Silver lamented on the loss of agriculture and education during the conflict.

But the story also had positives. Participation in elections is on the rise. Though Silver says people doubt whether they are free and fair, they nonetheless get involved. There are members of parliament to serve as representatives. There has been a growth in vaccines for measles and polio. Silver remembers the days when there was only one university, but things have developed rapidly since that time. In the last twenty years, over twenty-five new universities have been established. Silver still believes there is progress to be made in the area of vocational education, however.

Getting young people politically engaged

Silver has made his own contributions to this explosion in the education sector. In 2014, he founded the Silver Memorial Inclusive Learning Centre (SMILE). When I asked about the centre, Silver described the surrounding attitude as very eager, with people from the US visiting to help build it. The centre attracted between 800-900 students, a positive development for the region.

Silver has had a clear focus on increasing youth participation in politics. He believes the new youth need to be sensitized and that, given the political instability of the nation, young people will certainly receive that sensitization. In the interest of cultivating peace and free elections, Silver says the youth must get involved. There are challenges, he conceded. Citizens are growing to be more individualistic, and shy away from a community effort to see the true value of politics. Yet he is not deterred. Through love for the country, and recognition of their responsibilities, Silver believes in the youth.

The effort to get young people involved in politics is not limited to Uganda. It is an international phenomenon. In the UK, for instance, voter turnout has been on a mostly steady decline since the 1950s. Across the world, there is not a single country where the youth vote is larger than the elderly vote.

Nonetheless, Silver is prepared to tackle the issue. With Shout Out UK, he will be joining an international network of teachers. As an educator, Silver stressed his ability to move to wherever the children are, as well as his influence in designing curriculums, visiting universities, and general accessibility in the key parts of the education sector. He has already co-operated with ministers in the past, as it was they who first sent him to Amuria in 1995.

Uganda is just one of many global examples where demand is rising for political mobilization. The march for political literacy is a global one, but underpinning these efforts are individuals with their own experiences and stories. It is these experiences that will strengthen our attempts to, as Silver rightly put it, ‘answer the important questions of the day’.

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