Updated: Feb 6, 2019
Wading through pieces of the past to examine who we have become as a people. What will we keep and what will we agree to discard?
How framing the past in candour can open doors to true freedom
The past 30+ years have been fundamental to Uganda as a nation. They were, if we can say, our formative years. In psychology, an infant’s first years are the most important to their development. Studies show that child development old is most crucial between 0-4 years of age in cognitive understanding and personality shaping. This is the time when all foundational truths are instilled in the toddler, giving him/her a basis and point of reference for their moral and cognitive behaviours.
Taking the above context, imagine that the last 30 years of Uganda’s history represent the first three years of our national formative years, assuming that every ten years are equivalent to one comprehensive national year. As in a troubled teen or youth, the answers to our developmental problems lie in our history. As the greats of history have reiterated, we are a sum total of everything we have done until the present moment. So let us take that long hard look at the past 30 years from the point at which we had enough peace and stability as a nation to think about each other as a unified people.
1986 - We are Liberated! The road for Uganda's history for many of the young people today does not go back farther than 1979. There are few who remember the shattered streets and fierce faces of military uniform clad men. We are a war generation who never saw, experienced, or felt the war pangs and yet we continue to pay the price for not remembering. The Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) has over the last few years published an increased growth in the population of young people, often touting the youth percentages to be in the range of 78%. Here is a startling fact, in 2017, 97% of the population was below the age of 65. Sixty - Five, guys!! That means that about thirty six million people are all in their productive age. We ought to be BOOOMIIINNG! And yet we aren't. (more on that in future posts)
The number of people born post war and crisis are increasing and I agree with our President in believing that this is a good thing. A nation and a people are as great as their posterity. The issue lies not in a large population, but in an unknowing population that believes the superficial knowledge fed to them through various systems without forming their own critical opinions about the world around them. This coupled with a laissez-faire attitude to work and building ones legacy largely because of the abundance all around us, make for a disconcerting stagnation cocktail.
Having been through a tumultuous and unsettled 20 something years since independence, the population grew up in hardships with their parents searching for all means to regain what they'd lost or find what they never had. It was a ripe moment to reinvent oneself because everything had been broken down. There were rebels turned freedom fighters turned national heroes storm the city with songs of victory, families reunited and speaking tribe to tribe as brothers. I imagine although 1986 must have been a dark scene in Uganda; it must have also been a very hopeful vision for those who had lived to see it. It was a time of asking who was alive and where they could be found, a time of long talks recounting the now tragically funny acts they played to live.
Life in a Bubble
Underneath all this unity, lay the foundations of a deep-rooted aggression and loss that birthed depression and post-traumatic stress in many, young and old. These have since manifest in the forms of complex coping strategies, and an array of the attachment theory on display in the lives of families. As with other post conflict situations, risk behaviours, impunity, narcissism and other immoral activity rose. It is not unusual for young nations to go through these changes, in fact, several western nations, the ones our people praise and adore, went through some of the most confusing times, from enlisting young men to go to war for their country on bogus missions to burning women and accusing them of being witches (probably because they were much wiser and more strategic in their thinking). Phases of national evolution often bring along an identity crisis stage in which the population is determining who they are in that present moment.
And so as the buildings on the streets of the cities were being re-erected, internal mechanisms were being broken down, some left disconnected and hanging in space. When the population internalised the state of ruin, the new leadership did its best to institute a workable governing system. What a task it must have been to turn such chaos to order! Trained fighters turned institutional heads, and young men given the world to carry on their shoulders without ever having lived out a youthful existence. Disorder found its way through alcoholism, party spirits and wreck less abandonment for life through sexually perverse behaviours and class type casting. I now understand that these all are elements of post traumatic stress that have been cited in other armies and veterans returning home from war. The suicide rate for example for the American Army veterans is 45 deaths per 100,000 population. It is something that is now called a national emergency even in countries where the veterans and survivors of war have it slightly better than us.
The soldiers who for several years had maintained a strict code of conduct in the 'bush' suddenly defied all military protocol in their private lifestyles, often abandoning health regimens and causing impromptu scenes of public fear through indiscipline. Similarly, the overly oppressed population used the calm and stability to hoard everything they could using legal and illegal means. Again, it was not new that a population coming from scarcity would want to compensate their constant fear of not having enough by trying to accumulate too much in a short period. Amazingly, the tales of these incidents were always animated and grandiose, praising the act and agreeing that strength is seen in those who exhibit grandiose power over others to get what they want, never mind that the some of these individuals once espoused revolutionary ideologies. The children of that time, now youth of this age, heard these stories in awe. Some encountered them first hand. They left an imprint in their psyche, the subconscious ego that stores all things like a sponge only to regurgitate them without warning or permission.
Incredibly, as with all worldly deceptions, the outer façade portrayed a season of ‘good times’ characterised with loud discos, flourishing entertainment and music industries and rampant alcoholism. In reality, this was a time of family upheaval. Wives and mothers cried themselves to sleep as their husbands brought home children born out of wedlock, and sometimes even started their second homes with a whole new family. It was a time when children stopped asking where their fathers were or whether it was normal to be raised by distant relatives. The unit of the family was so disoriented that the concept of communal family structures extended to include acceptance and enabling of ancient tribal taboos that had kept our ancestors in check with their morals. It remains a mystery to me why and where the hush-hush culture of dying with one’s problems came from in this era, as though our problems are unique and must only be borne by us. In the past, most cultures in Uganda were accustomed to solving problems communally. In this time, there was tremendous secrecy and evil took advantage by coming in full force in the guise of reckless and risky lifestyles that led to high rise in substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, infidelity, mistrust, and self disregard or indifference (look out for the post on Disengagement to understand how damaging this last one is).
The True Wins
It wasn’t all downhill though, this was also the time when some wise Ugandans began their journey to economic success by investing in household necessities, manufacturing, and service delivery. The Indians returned and picked up where they'd left off, working silently establishing empires of their own. The tourism industry slowly picked up but was sadly dominated by said Indians and other foreigners because their minds were focused on progression and personal success, a place the average Ugandan did not have even in their distant plans. Somehow the ideology that the ‘land was ours’ became strangely misconstrued to mean there was no obligation to tender or nurture or have dominion over it.
The immediate systems and structures put in place by H.E. Yoweri Museveni were systems that reached the grassroots of all the people and ensured cohesive and stable flow of information both upwards and downwards of the governance stream. The parish chiefs and local councillors went a long way in establishing the needs of the people. And this was well sustained given the population at the time. Many hate to admit it, but this is one of the foundational strengths of the NRA/NRM ideology. Stability requires a review of the challenges allowing for divisiveness and then developing a system that will ensure the opposite. Many years later and almost 40 million strong in population, we are due for a review of our systems and structures.
My Own Prognosis
It is not strange therefore that on the one hand, we are a nation erupting with mass deception and serious psychological wounds, these are the processions of finding a way to healing, and on the other, we have had incredible growth spurts in the areas of economy, population, health and education and many more. One certainty I find is that for a few, and all we need is a few, there is every hope to take all that is our history and frame it through the lens of judgment-free understanding to find comfort, peace, and contentment in the present and to pave an unlimited future; free from past strongholds, pressures, and unwarranted expectations.
In all creation, the mind of the human is the single most fascinating thing to study, observe, and analyse. Our history has shown that in the past, we dealt with instant gratification on fleshly desires and this in our ‘formative years’, perhaps the time has come now when the mind ought to be set free from intellectual, religious, and neo-imperialist dogma that we let brand our nation and ourselves as a people.
Several studies now show that the conscious mind is a flurry of activity to wade through body connections and firings of neurons through the nervous system but also through a myriad of thoughts defined by Websters Dictionary as an idea or opinion produced by thinking, or occurring suddenly in the mind. It is in fact not sudden and the idea has a place of origin. Our thoughts are shaped by much much more including our experiences, our environment, and our passive acknowledgment of the influx of information available to us, but above all, thoughts are made valid by the agreement and belief we bring to them. In this case, the idea that an entire population of 38 Million strong is poor, and devastated by disease and war has been drilled into our minds for longer than we recall. We took that whole heartedly and made it our reality. Our ability to innovate and find inexpensive solutions to our own challenges was aborted through that agreement with over stating of a momentary occurrence.
Our heart/soul though, is as primal as can be and is rooted in the essence of our purpose here as unique individuals. Imagine if every veteran left that war knowing and believing that it was not in vain. Imagine if every family that was tormented turned around to give thanks for being spared and lived every single day wilfully ensuring that peace is their utmost priority. The values that would have been birthed from those two acts alone would have brought insane gains to our collective national value. It is true that it is never too late, there are still veterans out here who need an ear to listen and there are families who have embarked on building life long legacies that not only keep them but also contribute positively to their neighbours. These are the ones who ought to be making headlines.
The challenge from where I stand is this; how do we encourage more people to walk courageously an uncharted path to their inner desires so that their individual contribution can be appreciated by the nation through their diligent and supported efforts to improve a particular facet of the nation?
The jury is still out however for me, the decision is to uphold the values of truth, justice, and fairness in my and my family's affairs. With these, I trust that my personal contribution in the little and great things will be just as significant.
Share your walk, struggle and or commitment with us ... I republish this article on Tarehe Sita, the 6 day that marks the start of the NRA Revolution and I add a new layer to it.
What can we do to appreciate our veterans on this day? Throw around some ideas and let us discuss a feasible and sustainable small act we can perform collectively to impact the lives of those who give their lives every day for our safety and stability whether in the NRA, UPDF, or Uganda Police Force.
February 06 , 2019