...but there are still more chains that bind her
22.10.2014 25 °C
Awadifo Uhurusi! Uganda has just turned 52 years old which makes her 10 years younger than either of my parents! Independence Day was on October the 9th which was a public holiday and a day for me to unsuccessfully attempt to build a chicken coop. It was also a day in which many schools and music groups were parading in pomp and colour with accompanied dance and music.
In the papers, there are pages of expensive advertisements from sugar companies, electrical companies or banks giving ‘hearty congratulations” to President Museveni and the country of Uganda on this “auspicious day”.
Unfortunately, as well as the celebration, other people have an expectation of being given something, for example, one young security guard listening to the radio and with a gun laid on his lap demanded "give me independence" while holding out his hand...
Independence Day has brought home to me how recent Uganda's nationhood is, as is the case for many other nations in Africa. As I thought about how Uganda came to be, I considered how the Ugandan nation was a Western construct, with arbitrary borders drawn to suit the European powers partitioning of Africa at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85. Since that time, Uganda’s borders have been drawn and re-drawn depending on the political needs of the time and geographical features. Uganda’s borders at one time extended all the way to Ethiopia!
The West Nile region, where we stay, was actually a part of the Belgian Congo previously. It temporarily became part of the Sudan when King Leopold of Belgium died and only in 1914 did it become part of Uganda. Here, as in other parts of Africa, families suddenly found themselves on opposite sides of a country’s border as is the case with the Lugbara people group that we live amongst here. There are many Congolese Lugbara on the other side of the political dividing line, less than 10km from here.
Uganda is an amalgamation of 52 people groups with very different languages and customs, in no way is it a homogeneous culture in any sense. In fact, the construct of nationhood was forced upon Africa by the world powers at the time in Europe. The flip-side to this was that the Europeans may only have accelerated the creation of a nation with less blood spilled than might otherwise have happened since Egypt, the Arabs or the Bugandas were all regional powerhouses with their own expansionist desires at that time.
At the time of independence from the British empire, Uganda had a bigger economy than South Korea. Between 1960 and 1965, Uganda had booming exports of coffee, tea and cotton giving its economy the highest per capita growth in East Africa. Though initially doing well, Uganda's economy has failed to grow anywhere near the same rate as a country like South Korea. In fact, as a 'developing' country, Uganda has unfortunately high levels of human suffering in terms of maternal mortality rates, infant mortality, death rates and poverty levels. Other indices indicate that Uganda's people are struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis. For example, I recently heard that the USA provides 40% of Uganda's health budget. Europe is funding 50% of the Global Fund to fight malaria, AIDS and TB. Donor’s funded around one-quarter of Uganda’s 2012/13 budget. ORA International that I volunteer with recognises the problems of school fees and supports families to send their children to school. In this region, it is estimated that only 10% of children will be able to afford to go to secondary school where school fees are considerably higher.
There are huge problems facing Uganda today to the point that some state that there isn’t anything to celebrate at Independence when ‘poverty is rampant and people are crying’, while others say that there is no real independence in Uganda due to lack of freedom of speech, poor governance and corruption.
While discussing all the problems that Uganda is facing, a colleague who started his own NGO here in Arua told me that he thinks that the British should re-colonise Uganda again as Uganda was more organised then. If continued colonisation had meant higher standards of living, better administration and education, was independence 52 years ago worth it?
Freedom fighters in Africa such as Kenyatta (of Kenya) and Nkrumah (of Ghana) had a desire to “liberate [their countries] from colonialism and break all the chains of European imperialism” and most definitely thought that independence was worth it. Their dreams for self-governance were noble and good and were soon to become a reality.
Sometimes, however, that noble cause seems to have crumbled to dust when people are kept bound by chains of poverty and injustice. Martin Luther King talks about the need for ‘psychological freedom’, for minds as well as bodies to be set free, for people to realise their self-potential. Nelson Mandela was able to remain ‘free’ within himself despite being imprisoned on Robben Island. The real Mandela couldn’t be chained.
Beneath the surface, independence and freedom are hard concepts to really grasp. In the democratic West, while we consider ourselves 'free' it seems that the media, propaganda and advertising have an invisible but powerful hold on all of us.
Jesus was a freedom fighter and I like what he stood for. One time he said that he came to “proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed…” Despite the Israelites being a part of the Roman Empire at the time and so lacking their own independence, Jesus came to teach about a greater freedom that we can all experience.
Independence Day here in Uganda is a time for celebration of freedom from colonial rule, however, there are still so many ways in which Ugandans are all held captive and need freedom. I hope and sometimes dream that more Ugandans and others around the world in various states of captivity and imprisonment, whether from poverty, lack of self-belief, or injustice, can recognise and embrace more freedom and truly live a life to the full.
Uganda's National Anthem
1. Oh Uganda! may God uphold thee,
We lay our future in thy hand.
Together we'll always stand.
2. Oh Uganda! the land of freedom.
Our love and labour we give,
And with neighbours all
At our country's call
In peace and friendship we'll live.
3. Oh Uganda! the land that feeds us
By sun and fertile soil grown.
For our own dear land,
We'll always stand:
The Pearl of Africa's Crown.