There are many opportunities for Uganda – but just as many challenges. Diseases – including the continued threat of HIV/AIDS – continue to take their toll. The education system needs to be relevant to society, and for those leaving institutions of learning, jobs need to be created. We might have more wealth, but disparities and divisions have also grown. Our cultural diversity is still used as an instrument of division and not unity. As a society, we do not seem to have and nurture a culture of dialogue. Our debt burden continues to grow and we have signed international treaties that we do not yet know how to honour. As we move ahead, new and sometimes more difficult challenges will emerge. The threat of terrorism, the uncertainty of climate change and the swings of the global economy are but a few examples. So much done, yet so much more to do.
Amidst these huge challenges, our personal lives are also changing: an increased number of educated women, human rights activism and the primacy of individual rights is challenging traditional patriarchal structures and cultures that denied women an equal share of rights. As a result, competition and conflict between women and men is reshaping social relations and institutions with some rejecting traditional institutional models whilst others still hearken for a return to the past.
As people migrate to the cities in search of new opportunities, or as land is converted to new uses, the social ties that bind us together are strained and reshaped, with profound impact on our moral and social values; our environment and health. What should we do?
In this time of great strains and transitions, many unwritten laws govern our attitudes – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Amidst these unwritten laws, we struggle to build a solid future based on bankrupt ideologies, low participation, poor accountability and weak economic muscle. These elements, aided by social and cultural factors, combine to form a vicious cycle that is hard to break. Why, for instance, does corruption still persist in spite of all measures to curb it? Perhaps the roots of such evil are to be found in popular sayings such as ‘Nfunira wa?’ (What’s in it for me?), ‘Twatera embundu tushemerereiwe kurya’ (We fought for the liberation of the country, therefore we should eat) or ‘Ebyaffe’ (These things belong to us, therefore they should be returned to us). These sayings reflect our attitudes and are used to justify selfishness and corruption.
As we face competing demands, there is a lingering worry in the minds of many – that the country has lost its way, that it is guided by ‘illusions based on delusions’.
In spite of the confusion, the country moves ahead. Democracy is taking root – from lining up behind candidates in 1987, to the ballot box in 2001 and towards a multiparty system in 2006, progress is taking place. The question remains however: will all of this create a true democracy? Or will the unwritten laws of leadership in Uganda continue to guide the country?
Discussing the Undiscussable
As we struggle to cope with the fears and uncertainties of the present day, there is still the big and seemingly insurmountable wall of those undiscussable issues. Since the 1960s, politics in Uganda has been violent, with the military playing a key role in facilitating unconstitutional changes of leadership. Destruction of property and the loss of lives have repeatedly retarded development, devastating infrastructure, services and lives. Even today, our peace is not yet complete with the North still ravaged by violent conflict.
Our violent past has left us with many bitter memories and feelings. Trauma and a deeply felt sense of loss and injustice still haunt many of us. A number of Ugandans are still waiting for an opportunity to revenge; others find it hard to speak with or agree with others. Such pent-up emotional tensions underwrite the mistrust and lack of tolerance that permeates our society.
This means that when all is said and done, Uganda today is a country of two realities: whilst most parts of the country enjoy relative peace and stability – and the progress that comes with this – Northern Uganda continues to be insecure and bears the brunt of a vicious and violent conflict. Stories of women and children sexually exploited; children orphaned; the spread of diseases – notably HIV/AIDS - provide the sub context of this conflict. There are over 1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) . Many survive on the margins, disillusioned and traumatized, wondering if life will ever get better for them.
Faced with these two difficulties, and many other dilemmas, Uganda is seemingly trapped between ‘here’ and ‘there’. Which way do we go? As we move forward, new problems and challenges emerge. Are we on the right path? Should we turn back? And if we are to turn back, what do we go back to?