Saturday, October 09, 2010

Really Mr. President...

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.


Mudamuli said...

Enswa, Fene and Ensenene are the three things that make one a true Ugandan. I just realised it today when I felt to feel my friend's excitement at the prospect of eating them soon.

Mudamuli said...


Iwaya said...

Mudamuli-never actually looked at it that way you mean these are our German bratwurst? Hmmm!

The 27th Comrade said...

I do not think that we have to feel proud of the country before we wear it proudly and then, out of responsibility, try to lift it up. Indeed, this shit progresses in the opposite direction.

But quite typically, we think that the politicians are why we are not proud of our country. (I mean “you”, plural, when I say “we”, because I am fucking proud of my country—very, very proud.) But the thing is, nobody fucks up your backyard, except you. The people who fuck things up are either us, or the children of our loins.

Now, I am not Ugandan. I am a Ugandan (because I am not American—or even an American). And what does it mean for me? If you feel concerned about what happens here before you feel concerned by what happens in India or the USA or Europe, you are a Ugandan.

But there is another little thing that makes one a Ugandan: if, when time to lay blame comes, the finger roves over everybody in power, but deftly skips the blamer and his/her family, the blamer is a Ugandan of the first drop. Is there trash in the road? “Museveni!” Then the blamer is a Ugandan—especially if he/she does drop trash in the road, never picks up trash from the road, and has no executive record with which to set an example. Such is a Ugandan. (And I, as one who blames in this fashion quite often, am a Ugandan.)

petesmama said...

I feel you on the whole soul-less thing. There is something off about our nation. And there was definitely no fuss about Independence day.

Princess said...

Very thought-provoking, this. I've been asked, here, by so many people: "What makes you distinctly Ugandan? How would you describe your people?"

I have found myself responding--half-joking: "We are a party people. Ugandans, we know how to have a good time, to entertain/ to be entertained."

I have realized, even as I have said it, that I am only scratching at the surface, that I am missing several vital points. But, I have realized also, that as Ugandans, we cannot describe ourselves with a single word. Kenyans can be referred to as aggressive, Nigerians as vibrant, go-getters etc., but Ugandans...?

On October 9, Ugandans came from all over (DC, Boston, Canada, Virginia etc.) to Uganda House in Manhattan. We did not know each other, but we were all friendly within the space of a few minutes. Bonding over 'fake' matooke (well, as near as they could get), posho, sweet potatoes, groundnut stew. Passing beers around (my, how the alcohol flowed in that place), and dancing to familiar songs. Shouting and getting excited about all the classics; twisting along to Lingala.

There was a happiness in that place. A 'Ugandan-ness'--if you will--we were all exalting in being who we were, in that time and in that place.

Perhaps it is different when you leave home--you start to miss and to notice things that you hadn't bothered to notice before.

Or perhaps it is true that that is what we have in common: the ability to find actual joy in the smallest situations. And to truly let ourselves go in it. Sure, we bitch and complain about the state of our country all the time. But we love it, because (and in spite) of all its flaws. And also because of our ever-present potential to be or to become.

I am almost tearfully proud of Uganda. I am also endlessly ashamed of some of our more ridiculous fiascos. But is a shame that is tempered with an enduring patience with our country. We still can become better. Maybe these enduring (common) thoughts are what make us Ugandan. We need not all have similar characteristics.

I feel like I am talking in circles. I'll stop now. Lol.