54 years old as a nation and what really is independence anyway?
20.12.2016 32 °C
Uganda as a nation is only 54 years old, celebrating its birthday on Independence day on October 9th*. The British administration handed over the running of the Ugandan people to the Ugandan government in 1962. 'Uhuru' (Swahili for freedom) here is a national holiday celebrated through marches, brass bands and choirs. Uhuru is one of the few days where some people will eat meat like chicken or goat.
We went round to our friends Richard and Eunice to eat beef, rice, cabbage and 'enyasa', the Lugbara staple made from cassava flour. (Lugbaras say that if you haven't eaten enyasa, you've haven't had anything to eat'). It was special to spend the day with some Ugandan friends.
Being Scottish, the concept of 'Independence' always makes me think deeply... and it is also a very current concept following the UK's Brexit vote.
One Ugandan friend called Stephen, one of the brightest people I know in Arua, told me he thinks that the British should still rule Uganda as it would be better off and more organised. When the British handed Uganda over, the country had a similar level of development as Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia. Since, then, however, Uganda has struggled developmentally. Currently, it sits as one of the poorest countries globally. It's Human Development Index rank, which measures health, education and standard of living, is 163 compared to Singapore's rank of 11th, South Korea's 17th position and Malaysia at 62. As such, in Uganda, many aspects of life can be a slog.
However, although the African borders are mainly a European construct, very few would say Uganda or another African nation should not be independent, despite hardships. Independence is something that is celebrated and highly prized. However, the problems Uganda has faced since Independence does pose questions as to what 'freedom' should actually look like. Is national freedom but high infant mortality rate a good trade-off? In any case, what does independence look like in a globalised world, is it 'real'?
Additionally, with 52 tribal groups in Uganda bunched together as one nation, how do each of these tribal groups consider their self-expression? Historically, the dominant Buganda people have vied for more power. Today, Uganda is in the international news because armed guards of Rwenzururu kingdom were bloodily subdued recently. The King was supposedly agitating for the creation of a separate state straddling Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. What does independence as part of a bigger 'nation' mean for these smaller, historically independent people groups?
Ugandan Independence day makes me consider what real human freedom really means. One of my heroes, Nelson Mandela, is a poignant example of how despite his imprisonment, he remained a 'free' person. He stayed free in his mind despite his circumstances. In prison, he earned a bachelor of law degree from the University of London and became a leader for fellow- prisoners. That is pretty impressive.
Conversely, the physical freedom we prize so highly in the West can often trap us. When I worked for Bethany Christian Trust in the drug and alcohol rehab, one of the things I was told was that the UK is an addictive society. We are shopaholics, workaholics, sex addicts, drug addicts, food addicts, image addicts. This seems to be getting worse with the advent of social media. We are facing a 'loneliness epidemic', a growth in depression and social breakdown. We get trapped doing the very things that are supposed to give us freedom. It doesn't often seem that our 'freedom' makes us happy. Instead, much of what we do has the potential to imprison us.
Ugandan independence is important, but there are other issues which are needed for real freedom. In Uganda, many people may still be imprisoned in terrible material poverty whereas materialism might be the problem in the UK.
Real freedom comes from something much different. I feel I have experienced what Jesus said "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed". Addicts I worked with in the rehab I already mentioned, for example, have seen their lives completely changed because of their faith in God.
What I hope for, and work for in Uganda through Lifestitches or Life-skills training at YWAM is for people to know their worth, to reach their potential and to be liberated in their mind and heart whatever circumstances they find themselves in.
*This blog was meant to be posted much earlier!