Friday, 23 December 2011

How individual merit killed Uganda’s collective spirit

Back in those good old days, Christmas was not as glamorous in Uganda as it is today. There were no mobile phones and no Facebook. And there were no Harriers, Premios, Rav4 and not even the now very common Ipsum.
Coming from a peasant family, I remember Christmas as a day my siblings and I anticipated to eat rice and meat, probably get some new second hand clothes after selling our chicken or sometimes goats. The village belles would treat their hair in a crude way—literally burn it using some perforated metallic stuff in which burning charcoal was put. After enduring real heat which sometimes burnt them, the babes would emerge with soft and darkened hair. Dude! They would look hot. And usually, Christmas would coincide with moonlight. The brief freedom parents gave children to mix at night, provided us the young ones the opportunity to ‘celebrate’ Christmas. There would be jukebox and wow, your guess is as good as mine.
But one thing still stands out. Christmas was a prolonged celebration. It would last two months, at least in Teso. The trick was that several households in the village would prepare to host each other. There was a lot of ajon [local gin]. Goats were in abundance and every family would slaughter them to celebrate Christmas. It was also a time households which had issues would sort them out before the New Year; for if you didn’t make up with those you hurt as a family, no one would honour your invitation to celebrate Christmas. And going it solo, would earn you a reputation of being the most selfish [lo’ebit] in the village.
A sense of sharing was in abundance. A sense of community was not betrayed.   In our peasantry, there was abundance of collective spirit.  Those are also the same days when a teacher was a person of honour, who if you disrespected them, would cause your parents serve your buttocks with enough raids. Today, in my same village in Teso, this sense of community is a thing of the past. It goes beyond Teso; it’s now a Ugandan culture.
So how did we arrive at this?  Individual merit has brought us thus far. When President Museveni captured power in 1986, the message was unity; a fundamental change. The gospel was preached to the extent that many Ugandans are now guilty of failing to fathom that it was a superfluous message geared at destroying the social fabric that held Uganda as a unit.  The NRM rode on the wheel of deceit so fast that it even blindfolded the intellectuals. As the peasants opposed the sale of Uganda Airlines, the destruction of Coffee Marketing Board, Lint Marketing Board, the cooperative unions, labour unions; the intellectuals argued it away and branded those opposed to the events as reactionaries. The intellectuals helped entrench the selfish motive of the new leaders under the fertile imagination that an open economy would benefit all.
President Museveni hoodwinked multiparty believers beginning with DP’s best brains that he had ushered in a broad-based government. In fact he asked DP to give him names of its best brains to help in building the broad based regime. That time saw  Dr Paul Ssemogerere lead DP’s good brains like Kisamba Mugerwa, Ssebaana Kizito, John Kakooza, Adoko Nekyon [ he later crossed to UPC], Wasswa Ziritwaula and Dr Specioza Kazibwe, just to name a few; to join the ‘broad-based’ regime.
UPC hardliners stayed away thus attracted the ridicule of Museveni. Later some UPC leaders like Richard Kaijuka, Ephraim Kamuntu etc. joined the NRM politics, ostensibly to oppose it from within. The late UPC President Milton Obote warned that joining Museveni would mean an endorsement of the latter’s plan to ‘destroy’ the country. However, after tapping DP’s brains, Mr Museveni discarded them and announced that multi-party politics was disruptive, therefore; not tenable. He later again reverted to it, only after realising that he had done enough to confuse the Ugandan mindset not to cherish public good.   Parties served to keep people together as a group.
NRM had to dismantle them first to kill that spirit of standing together to push for a cause. The agenda of a party mobilized people together. But NRM made most Ugandans imagine that individual exploits was the way to go. And examples of individuals who gained a lot were many. By the time parties were allowed to operate, the spirit of cohesion had long been ruined hence the current squabbles rocking the Opposition.
Unknown to most Ugandans was the fact that state resources were either diverted or out rightly stolen to benefit individuals at the expense of public service. Slowly, hospitals collapsed; then followed the schools and the roads.  Everything now is in pieces.  But a few individuals stand out controlling economic empires. They, however, cannot provide the basic social infrastructure yet the state resources still mainly end up with individuals, who having seen the folly of believing in the state, have opted to serve self-interests. So relegated is the sense of community that even if a dog died in the middle of the road, no one would bother throw it—everyone would endure the stench—because  everyone is waiting for the nonexistent government organ to throw it away. No one cares to ask why the health center nearby is mismamaged. And If you are knocked on the way, chances are that you would find no Good Samaritan or you would not be attended to at the hospital because you are not among the ‘Who is Who?”  Road carnage is rising partly because every driver feels they are on the road on individual merit.
The economy is suffering partly because the Cooperative Unions that used to bring people together to discuss and get a common solution to their economic woes are long dead. It’s now a reign of individual merit. Those in public offices used them for personal gain because it’s now individual merit philosophy. The private sector is poorly management because the entrepreneurs think they are what they are on individual merit while the employees believe they are employed on individual merit, ‘so what is in it for me?”  Good for all philosophy like it was in my village is no longer there. But shall we get out of this? Yes. But first change the philosophy and the value system. Individual merit just cant sort us out.

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