I appreciate now more than ever what a mistake it has been for me to let politicians’ narratives of our history be the Ugandan history narrative I have believed in all the years of my life. The narrative I have grown up with, been taught in school, varied with what was happening at the time in our country. But always, I was encouraged to think of our history as truncated, disconnected parts with a before and after. The before:-full of terrors and darkness, evil, the pre-1986. The after 1986:- era of no more roadblocks, gunshots in the night, sugar in the grocery racks, life worth living again.
Here are my impressions of our past leaders, because of the narratives I grew up listening to, being taught: Democratic Party leader Benedicto Kiwanuka was outsmarted, Kabaka Muteesa II was confused and used, Milton Obote was power hungry with no scruples, Idi Amin was a lucky buffon who blundered his way into power, Paulo Muwanga and Oyite Ojok were thieving terrors, Tito Okello and Lutwa were tribalists, and the National Resistance Movement/Army was the first to attempt to be all inclusive, unite the country, lead us into the sunshine of our tropical weather from the jungles and forests that had become our homes because in the corrugated roofs we were always being murdered by lawless bandits and soldiers as bandits.
Perhaps I’m as much to blame as you are that this is the accepted Ugandan national narrative? I have never offered an alternative (more out of a shocking ignorance of our collective past than for any other reason) and I sometimes chuckled with the mob when the likes of Timothy Kalyegira and Yoga Adhola attempted to craft their own histories of us as they interpreted them. Calling them propagandist cranks for diverting from the accepted national script-how dare they say Idi Amin had Uganda’s best interests at heart? Or that Milton Obote did some good? HOW DARE THEY???!
Didn’t they see the piled up skulls in Luwero War Triangle after the war? Didn’t they see the DRUM magazine photos? Had they forgotten that it was Idi Amin who ordered the expulsion of Asians from Uganda? Or that Idi Amin was a war monger who tried to invade Tanzania, take over the Kagera? Obote wanted to put us in bed with the Communists with his Common Man’s Charter, a very dangerous step that would involve us in the Cold War (1945-1990)? Did they have answers to any of these?
In letting the politicians set the narrative tone for us, now I see that our history is retold chapters in a war history. A series of takeovers’ & armed resistance. The rebels of yesterday, the liberators of today. The heroes of yesterday, the villains of today. All the significant events I can remember, none celebrates the everyday life and achievements of Ugandans who have always been here and will be here, even when this government no longer is, like others before them have gone.
I do not hear a celebration of the national anthem or when it was come up with. I do not hear a grateful commemoration of the Owino-now St. Balikuddembe Market-and all the years it has been of service and continues to be. I do not hear a proud remembrance of achievers like Okot P’Bitek whose song cycle, thoughts on the African artist and an African in the world, are a world treasured heritage. I do not hear of the life of men and women who have striven, in times of wars, scarcity, danger to take in orphans they did not have to, teach them morals and how to be contributors to society, sometimes in homes like Sanyu Babies Homes or the workers who stay and stay, in rural outposts, not succumbing to despair, trying to serve. What about the innovators, the main chance hunters, those who see an opportunity quickly, instead of Dubai hopping on a plane to go for it, like the founders of Facebook groups and discussion forums like Tech We Know It try to teach all those who wish to learn? The truly inspiring company founders like Amos Wekesa of Great Lakes Safaris/Uganda Lodges?
I do not hear any of them or their stories in the narrative that is Uganda or heroes plaques to them or newborns being named after them, to emulate them. I’m searching and searching but I cannot find them.