MBALE – Uganda on October 9 will mark more than a century of freedom from British colonial rule, and while many agree there is much to celebrate, there is also a feeling that the country is still struggling to shed a legacy of corruption, inequality, violence, unfair elections, democracy, dictatorship etc.
The Independence Day celebrations will be held at Kololo with only 600 people in attendance to celebrate the country’s 59th anniversary of independence from the British.
Uganda, known as the ‘Pearl of Africa’, sits astride the equator in Eastern Africa. It attained its independence from Britain on Oct. 9, 1962 after many years of British colonial rule.
Take it leave it, Ugandans on this Day will celebrate the moment in history when the country was granted internal self-rule by the British colonialists.
But it must be noted that from 1962, Uganda’s Independence celebrations have gone through interesting twists and turns.
I want to state categorically that for some time now there is very little clarity about what constitutes national celebrations and why we celebrate especially among the rural folk who have been living on hand to mouth income for the last 59 years.
Although it is clear that on October 8, 1995 a new constitution was promulgated and should have brought a fresh and well defined meaning to national independence celebrations, unfortunately it has not.
Whereas the Independence Day celebrations remain untouched, over the years this celebration seems to have lost their relevance.
Whereas since 1986, Uganda has had one president — Yoweri Museveni — ruling the country, we are not economically independent, there is high unemployment, poverty, too much corruption, disease, dictatorship, abuse of human rights, tribalism etc
It is also true that Uganda has been mismanaged by its leaders, making it look like it was a mere changing of the guard from a colonial administration to another group of colonial agents, which makes the celebrations not worthy.
It is clear that many don’t understand what we are we celebrating; Like Ngugi Wa Thiong’o says in his book Petals of Blood; the white man left but we are still under neo-colonialism where our country is mis governed by another bunch of people that have sold our country to foreign interests.
We need to understand how much stake China has in our country today and then ask how can one be independent when we are using foreign interventions for problems in our home country, we are actually celebrating a new form of colonialism, neo-colonialism.
But even then there are Ugandans who believe it is worth celebrating independence regardless of the social-political and economic challenges facing the country.
They will claim the colonial venture was ugly, most humiliating and exploitative episode in the lives of the Ugandans and that its end must be celebrated, regardless.
But we ought to rethink the celebrations, and it’s now time to rethink critically about our celebrations perhaps, then we shall realize that it is time to do away with it.
One of the reasons that Independence Day has become less important over the decades relates to a dwindling sense of nationalism among Ugandan citizens.
In the euphoria that followed independence, the celebrations – especially those that referenced Uganda’s freedom from the British – held much more meaning than it does now.
Fifty Nine years down the line, Uganda should have outgrown its childish-bullish politics and politics of buying votes, it should have transitioned from the ethos of nationalism to a governance system that thrives on ethnicity but shocking it has not.
The patriotic and uniting fervor witnessed during the struggle for freedom in the 1950s through the 1960s has waned significantly.
The country has therefore lost out the opportunity to act together as one to redress the mistakes committed by the colonial masters due to lack of patriotism that is adored by the new rulers in masks.
We need to get back to the drawing board, redefine patriotism not in our own selfish way but redefine is as all inclusive without inclination to political affiliation, with an element of humanity, without hatred or bitterness towards anyone, respect for human rights, equal justice before the law in order for it to embody the real affection and the real interest of the nation by those who fought for independence.
Scholar James Bryce says: “Our country is not the only thing to which we owe our allegiance. It is also owed to justice and to humanity. Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong”
French Philosopher Montesquieu remarked: “If I knew something that would serve my country but would harm mankind, I would never reveal it; for I am a citizen of humanity first and by necessity, and a citizen of France second, and only by accident” I think this is where we ought to be.
Many politicians now argue that the splitting of Uganda into small districts has divided us further along tribal lines and that this has been caused by the failure of the independent country’s founding fathers to instil a strong sense of social cohesion around the concept of a Ugandan identity.
In his book No more lies about Africa, Late Prof Chief Musamali also traces the problem of ethnicity to politics of religion, region, tribes and the type of leaders we have had because they tended to place tribe before country.
He adds that many of them govern their countries through divide and rule, a colonial policy which the British used in order to rule Africa and that as a result, ethnic arrangements have taken precedence over nationalism.
Although the celebrations are seen as possible means of promoting national cohesion and integration, in contrast it is doing little to bring back waning significance and lustre to independence celebrations.
Uganda’s collective disdain for nationalism has not been helped by the fact that ordinary people have little faith in the government to address issues like the rising cost of living, unemployment, corruption, poverty, disease etc.
In the post-colonial era, class consciousness reveals that the persons in power gained control of the national resources and the military and that they simply took over the role of the colonial powers in the sense of marginalising and exploiting the people.
And since there was no opposition in society, absolutist trends prevailed and has continued to date and it seems to have been a transition from the status of colonies to that of post-colonial independence.
This makes the independence celebrations merely an extension of the ruling government’s platform to outline its achievements – whether those are real or imagined.
And today it remains questionable to suggest that Independence Day has any real historical significance in modern Uganda.
The writer, David Mafabi is a veteran journalist and PML Daily senior writer