Am I Ugandan?
It is Independence Day today. Uganda is supposed to be 48 years old. As false a country’s age as the Communist Party in the Republic of China that insists China can only have been ‘formed’ in the 20th century. Before the declared 9th October, 1962 as Independence Day when the British Union Jack flag was lowered, and the black-yellow-and red Ugandan flag went up, of course there were ‘people’ living in the land mass that was named Uganda. Who had an identity of their own they were ordered to put aside and answer to the call, ‘Who are you?’ With the affirmation, ‘I’m a Ugandan.’
Well I don’t know if I’m Ugandan. Do I feel Ugandan? On the supposed 48th year of ‘our’ Independence Day, do I feel anything at all?
I’ll be frank. I’m struggling to feel anything. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling like Uganda does not belong to me in that special way you feel a lover, or a family belongs to you and you would die to protect them. I would lie if I denied that part of the disconnect from my Ugandanness does not spring from unhappiness with the political situation. Politics is everything, whether you deny it or try to be indifferent to it, just like the weather determines your life, whether you try to pay attention to it or not. But I don’t think it is just the politics that makes me feel so ‘un-Ugandan.’
I have tried to learn to know what it means to be a Ugandan. From the first time I became aware, in primary school, during Civics lessons, that I existed in a larger entity called Uganda. Was given to cram our national anthem (which I instantly didn’t like and to this day wonder how a national anthem can not contain even a single word in a Ugandan ‘native’ language.)
I have read up, wherever I could find such debates, on what many Ugandan thinkers and leaders think it means to be Ugandan. You would be dismayed and disheartened to find how often those debates and chats all too soon often descend into making jokes about the trials of being a Ugandan. The pain of being Ugandan, living in Uganda, obviously being coped with by covering it with jokes and an ability to laugh at ourselves and the endless predicaments we have been in.
But seriously, I was once actually challenged to quote a speech from which our current President Yoweri Museveni proudly says, “Fellow Ugandans, in our beloved country,” and I can tell you I had a scramble looking for such a speech. The debate on who is Ugandan, what does it mean to be Ugandan, and anyway do we actually want to be Ugandans on the whole seems to rarely take place on the national level.
|President Yoweri Museveni with the constitution of Uganda|
This is why it came as a bit of a surprise to me when Ugandan Insomniac sparked a debate arguing that she actually ‘felt’ more a ‘world citizen’ than tribal in her I’m Not My Tribe post of 21st January 2008. The passion that was unleashed by that post, and the surprising amount of readers who commented about feeling more ‘world citizens’ than their tribes or even Ugandan made me realise that this is a debate we really desperately need to have. Because however much Ugandan some may have claimed to feel, very few could put on a finger on exactly why they felt more Ugandan than say being a Muganda or Munyakole or Acholi.
‘Uganda’ is a country without a soul, until that debate is started. Uganda will never be able to produce and give anything truly ‘Ugandan’ of lasting value to the rest of the world until we know the ideals and the ideas that make us ‘Ugandan.’ We are a country without an identity, without a unique brand, until we decide what makes one Ugandan or not. I’m 30 years old and I know more what makes me my tribe than I have ever known (or even been educated) on what makes me a Ugandan. Though I know I’m supposed to feel Ugandan, automatically I suppose.
I would love to disagree with despairing descriptions that define as Ugandans as docile, amnesiac, greedy, and selfish. But how do I even start when I can’t say on what foundation Uganda was built on? You see that is what it comes down to. Knowing what makes you Ugandan is knowing on what foundation you stand. We may never have laid that foundation.
I would love to be proud of my country. I would love to love it with a fervour that knows no bounds. But I don’t. This is how I feel on the 48th year of ‘my’ country’s Independence Day and I’m tired of apologising for feeling this way.