Dear Pope Francis,
We’re excited to welcome you to Uganda. Catholics make up nearly half of the Christian population here — and they’re eager to meet you!
Our’s is a lovely country. Buzzfeed ranked us the 13th most beautiful country in the world! (But of course, we think it’s No. 1.)
Still, Uganda has got its fair share of problems — especially when it comes to health care, human rights and education. We’re hoping you can use your influence to galvanize our young people and push our nation’s leaders to fix some of these issues. Here’s what we’re thinking about:
When you arrive at our infamous Entebbe International Airport, it may reassure you to know that just a few months ago, Uganda initiated heightened Ebola screening for everyone coming into the country. This set-up includes a mobile medical center that offers counseling and clinical screening, a stand-by ambulance and protective gear.
But our health care system is far from perfect. That’s why our leaders and wealthy citizens travel to India, Dubai and Europe for their health care. Not to mention that a study in 2013 found that nearly 50 percent of our registered medical practitioners have left the country over the past 10 years.
So as the presidential elections draw close, we would love to see our leaders put more emphasis on improving our health system. Right now, patients are forced to pay bribes or go without care. Our leaders must fight this sort of corruption, which undermines the health of millions of vulnerable citizens
Our nice new highways were made possible by Chinese loans. We are happy to be rid of aid from the International Monetary Fund, which came with generally higher interest rates and and lots of strings attached.
But our roads could use some improvement: We lose thousands of lives annually to traffic accidents. We need safety standards for pedestrians and cyclists and better traffic laws.
As you pass by our city schools, know that we have an 89 percent youth literacy rate. Ugandans are passionate about learning.
But due to our underfunded public education system, many kids are falling through the cracks. No child should go to school hungry or attend class under a mango tree. Yet this still happens.
We hope you mention that to our leaders. If they really want Uganda to become a middle-income nation by 2020, they must invest in education for all.
And while you’re at it, could you maybe nudge our leadership to build up job training centers and bring in more industries that will employ our unemployed? Vibrant, energetic young people make up more than three-quarters of our population — and many of them need to work.
When you visit the Namugongo shrines, which commemorate Ugandan martyrs who died for their Christian faith, remember how deeply spiritual Ugandans of all faiths are. We have a long tradition of religious diversity; Uganda is home to everyone from Bahais to Orthodox Christians.
Lately American evangelical missionary groups have exploited our spirituality by promoting bigotry and funding Ugandan campaigns to limit gay rights. We hope you, as a spiritual leader, keep spreading your message of acceptance. As you told a journalist recently: “If a person is gay and searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
We hope you will inspire Ugandan clergy, politicians and youth and challenge our leadership to go beyond the hype of their rhetoric and ensure all East Africans will soon live in dignity, peace and tranquility.
James Kassaga Arinaitwe and Viviane Rutabingwa
James Kassaga Arinaitwe is the cofounder of Teach for Uganda, and a 2014 Aspen Institute New Voices fellow and 2015 Global Fellow at Acumen. Viviane Rutabingwa is a public health professional with a focus on the uninsured and refugees. She is a Global Health Corps alumni and a founding member of A Place for Books. You can follow them on Twitter: @JamesArinaitwe and @Rootsi.