The Challenge of Meritocracy


Malia Obama has been in the news of late, the main issue is that she was admitted into Harvard University, most of the critics will say she is the president’s daughter and will even try to say that her admission was a Legacy Preference Admission (one which is due to the fact that your parent was a Student at the college). Another discussion back home is on the so called dominant tribes and how they are favoured to take big placements in government.

The elephants carried by the likes of Malia are that they are children of highly placed individuals so it is possible that some critics will never think that they earned anything by merit. The accident of birth places you as either in a peasant or middle class family and you can’t rise and determine where you will fall since your birth actually places you in whatever class. Every person should strive to work, be free regardless of the accident of birth. So the accident of birth places Malia at the top of the echelon.

The reason I started with Malia is perhaps to shed light on examples of our own, whose parents are in the power circles and can afford these placings.

Now here comes meritocracy.

It is a system which assumes fairness and it is like putting all the candidates on a starting point and telling them to run to the finish point. If you let everyone run the race, some are more gifted than others and it is now like running against David Rudisha in 800m. The end result is also unfair.

Society tries to create a fair system that under look all these other factors. There is no fair starting line. Meritocracy doesn’t address the moral arbitrariness of the natural lottery. If we assume that in a meritocratic based system, people should reward effort, it is very easy to pick on successful people without critically discussing their flaws or merits.


A thinner look at the recent Uwezo report titled, “Are our children learning? A revision for Education for All” (July, 2016): it was recently disseminated, and key among the findings was an aspect of early childhood learning, the Pre-Primary Stage. It was found that in rural areas, children have no access to such an education and as such begin right away from primary level.

Key to note is that the report is based on data collected by Uwezo, a citizen-led assessment of learning outcomes in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. This according to experts places the kids who accessed pre-primary education with better learning abilities than their counterparts who did not have any. Yet the common reasoning is that education is supposed to be an equaliser to social status as it promotes merit.

This is entirely not true as I will explain further. The study done by Twaweza in May 2016 says Children in Nairobi are more than five times likely to be able to identify letters and numbers than children in rural areas. The Region is deeply divided in access to education and learning outcomes.

Following the release of the Uganda PLE (Primary Leaving Examination) and UCE (Uganda Certificate of Education), a deeper analysis into the trends of performances showed a lopsided trend. The best schools are first, mostly private schools. In fact for the PLE results no major government aided school were on the best performers’ list. In the UCE (Uganda Certificate of Education) a look at the schools that had candidates scoring aggregate 8 in 8 also shows a regional imbalance.

There are many districts which even struggled to get a student in First Grade with the minimum aggregates. The UACE (Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education) results shall be released most probably next month and trends shall be the same. Top performing schools with students of Triple A’s are going to come from within the same region showing clear glaring regional imbalances. At the heart of this will result University Admissions.

Folks who usually get second grade results on conclusion of primary education, results which can be explained by factors such as a poor learning environment, lack of scholastic materials and poverty, will never have the opportunity to be admitted in a good Ordinary Level school – and that’s assuming that they have the money to continue with their studies.

Conclusion and Analysis

One may argue that there is Universal Secondary Education but results clearly show that those schools stopped competing and just do as the common trend suggests,”Boona Basome”( Let all study). Another argument against this maybe that am looking at Formal Education being the sole definition of success and making it in life. This is not true, certainly statistics of unemployed graduates are quite high. My point is that certainly with even other alternatives like Post-Primary Vocational Education which would cater for the larger group of the UPE and USE “graduates” are lacking in set up.

This means that ultimately there is a gap created, between the top performer and those at the bottom of the performance pyramid. This has a dire consequence: two classes of people are slowly created, that is the privileged and underprivileged. The privileged will always shout that they have achieved everything on merit which in most cases may be the case.

The underprivileged will always will look at the privileged as the reason they have failed in life. And certainly the so called underprivileged are always turned into crowds for hire, protestors and part time criminals. These will look at the whole system as not having favoured them and they will be excused if they turn into criminals.

Whereas the privileged will continue fronting the argument of merit, maybe the other class will argue that had they had been born in other regions or families, they would have made it in life. It’s high time we deeply examined the aspect of Ethnic Meritocracy as it creates two regions in Africa and extends the so called “African White privilege”.

This article appears in our newsletter, The Deuteronomy, Volume 5, Issue 3 of August 19th, 2016. It’s full title is “The Challenge of meritocracy in explaining our positions in society: How Education creates the, “white privilege””


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