Tuesday, September 06, 2011

What Makes Me A Ugandan?

I’m not quite sure to be honest. Sometimes I even wonder if I do wish to be called a Ugandan. Whether I should at all try to answer a question that I sometimes think should not be asked.

Saturday night (really Sunday morning would be a more accurate description because it was 2:48am in a taxi in the Old Taxi Park) I happened to sit with two young men. Waiting for the taxi to fill up, we started talking-first one of the young men telling us the story of how he had ended up spending over 2 hours in Kikuubo earlier that afternoon because of the heavy rain. Then a story about how he suspects a woman picked his wallet from his front trouser pocket and he is still trying to figure out how she did it.

Then, inevitably, as happens more and more when more than two Ugandans meet and start talking-the state of Uganda came into our conversation. (Excuse the digression again, but he said something else that I found interesting that I thought I ought to throw out there for you to maybe talk about too. He claimed that there are so many guns among the citizenry in Uganda today that if more than two people are in one place, do not trust the third person because one of you is bound to either have a gun or have ways to get quick access to a pistol or AK-47.)

In talking about what is wrong or right with Uganda today, the second young man in the group argued that he does not wish for most people outside Uganda to know that he is a Ugandan. He gave his reasons. He said, “For me, in my view, I judge a country by two things, as my standard; that country’s airport and its capital city. How do they look like? What I feel when I see them, experience them? Sincerely if you compare Uganda’s and those of the countries around us, what can you think? Can anyone of us here stand between a Rwandese and a Kenyan and also proudly inform the others, ‘I’m proud to be a Ugandan?’ Basing on that standard of what our airport and capital city Kampala look like?”

Our murmurs were no adequate response! We could not, visualizing the scenario, find any sort of way we could have proudly asserted our identity as Ugandans. Would you have?

Then the Daily Monitor Common Sense columnist Robert Kalumba re-pointed to the same intriguing question in one of his posts-What identity do we have as Ugandans?

I have been thinking about. Trying to come up with an answer that satisfies me. That fills the void of the questioning. Because I do need answers. Urgently. I need to know. Am I a Ugandan and what makes me one?

The approved national symbols do not speak to me anymore. I read the motto-For God & My Country and I have issues with one half of that motto already. I should like to be patriotic, heart beating with tender love for my country but for years I have not had a mentor in that direction to look up to, study from, learn.

I have never been able to figure out quite well why anyone would have imagined The Crested Crane would be an appropriate symbol-supposedly of the beauty, gentility and grace of Uganda and Ugandans. I have nothing against birds but it is a bird and so fragile. Were they trying to say something about Ugandan and the nature of life in Uganda? It is sweet, it is glorious but oh so much any minute it can be snuffed out then?

I tried for a time to find my own version of what made me uniquely Ugandan. I tried to list down influences, loves, interests that I thought identified Uganda for me and well, sort of made me proud to be identified as Ugandan.

I liked to count my love for some of Austin Bukenya’s writing-especially the novel The People’s Bachelor, writing by Okot p’Bitek and his iconoclastic life-a man of letters and a man of the world, a man of thought and a man of action, reconciling a love of books with a love of more ‘frivolous’ interests like playing football, roasting nsenene etc., a deeply spiritual man who was not a believer in the Christian God of the Christian Missionary Society.

This was all before ‘rediscovering’ the geniuses of our time that snobbery had not let me listen to. Geniuses like Paulo Kafeero, Elly Wamala-and if you notice it increasingly became about musicians, perhaps it was because as I learned and knew more and more about writing, I found fewer and fewer Ugandan writers to admire-until the explosion of the blogging phenomenon and I started to stumble or be linked to bloggers who made much of the newspaper stuff I read dry and uninspired.

But when it all comes right down to it and you ask-so what makes you a Ugandan? It’s a question I’m still trying to answer. Do you have your own answer?


Reiza said...

Interesting. I've just been to Uganda, and I'm loving the country mostly for its people. I think Ugandans are the friendliest and most genuine Africans I've ever met. In fact, I wrote about it in my blog: http://gin-diary.blogspot.com/2011/09/kampala-first-impressions.html.

Perhaps, as an "outsider", my perspective might be quiet shallow, but still, Ugandans have left a very positive impression on me.

Iwaya said...

Reiza-I have heard someone argue that the most 'genuine Africans' they have ever encountered are to be found in Ethiopia. But then that was a disgruntled Uganda speaking, when he ran into the fierce personal pride in their country of the Ethiopians.

I would love to know what response you get when you ask one of your Ugandan friends-what does it mean to them to be a Ugandan...