By J. Senyonjo
What is nationalism? Is it possible to be nationalistic while neglecting, or suppressing the constituent regions that make up a nation?
Nationalism in artificially created entities like Uganda is not a biological process such as giving birth to a new-born child whose genes you share, and the very existence of whom is inseparable from your own existence. Most super-imposed political structures worldwide such as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia that suppress pre-existing political realities crumble sooner or later, and while they last, they are maintained by overwhelming repression that eschews democracy.
Most African countries have embedded within them many pre-colonial state structures, political groupings, loyalties and cultural systems based on pre-European political organization. Therein lies the key to Africa's seemingly unending political crises. African elites inherited the artificial European nation-states, along with the repressive colonial laws and mechanisms meant to consolidate European exploitation of resources at the expense of indigenous political autonomy. Our independence elites went even further, they sought to totally destroy the ancient African identities and political systems in order to consolidate the new super-states. These attempts at the total destruction of indigenous African methods of organization [instead of building upon them], coupled with centralization of all economic resources, of necessity led to resistance, and in tandem, repression. Worse still, since the instruments of coercive power by colonial designs of divide and rule were disbursed in favour of certain groups, resistance against state coercion tended to be seen in ethnic terms, either by those holding the power, or the resistors, and in many cases, by both.
The reality is that most African countries are de facto federations of different peoples, though African nations are almost universally organized in contravention of this basic fact. When one is managing people in any environment, he/she has to appreciate the different personalities under his/her control and devise the most effective means of achieving organizational objectives while maximizing each person's potential. Adopting a one size fits all management style does not work, even in corporate environments. Of course, there are always basic commonalities expected, but beyond those the genius of diversity works wonders superior to what conformity can deliver, or sustain.
It would follow from the premise that African countries are de facto federations that there would naturally be regional sub-nationalisms which if swept under the rug manifest themselves in all sorts of undesirable ways. The sub-national spirit in Uganda is evidenced by regional scrambles for positions in the central government, complaints of marginalization, and gross nepotism favouring elites from the rulers' home areas.
Now sub-nationalism, or rather pride in one's cultural heritage, and one's region, and a desire to develop them is not a bad thing, but it has to be an equal opportunity game. When I see the Ekitaguriro dance from Ankole, the circumcision dance from Mbale, the Bwola or Ding Ding dances from Acholiland and the Runyege from Bunyoro, I am enthralled. I see a dynamism of peoples with traditions that, when nurtured, could enrich the super-state with stories and wisdom that could collectively shape a new political entity happily rooted in a celebrated diversity. I see gems worth preserving, but what entity can preserve them better than the people to whom they belong? And what political arrangement is better suited to enabling geographically-based people thrive in all their totality than federalism?
Imagine a Uganda full of culturally and economically vibrant, peaceful regions, with inevitable cross-pollination at the national level, wouldn't it be a paradise that tourists flock to?
Now, it is important to note that any arrangement that brings together different groups or people ought to be equitable in order for it to work properly, or to be accepted by all as legitimate. That is, all constituent units, big and small, should have the same basic rights and privileges. Imagine a polygamous African household with several wives and children living under one roof with a man; imagine too that the man grants one wife and her children favours and privileges denied to the others. Isn't that a recipe for a rather acrimonious, and contentious living arrangement?
In the case of Uganda, nothing short of genuine federalism for all can lead to a deep sense of nationalism that would, whenever necessary, transcend local concerns in favour of national goals. It would seem rather paradoxical that allowing for genuine regional autonomy could lead to the hitherto elusive sense of Ugandan nationalism, but it is not. Consent, arising out of a perception of a mutually enriching association, whether in personal, business or political relationships is the glue that holds everything together. In the case of Uganda, the various regions never consented to give up their capacity to organize their local economic, political and cultural affairs. Post-colonial African leaders took the regions' consent for granted, assuming that nation-state jurisdictions rooted in European legal systems would more or less automatically translate into natural legitimacy in the minds of an ordinary African with mental ties to centuries of African tradition, along with its attendant political mediation and governance mechanisms.
Federalism, at its most basic level, entails a mutually agreeable pact [consent] between the centre and the constituent units to live under one national umbrella, with mutual obligations, as well as the capacity for constituent entities to cater for regional economic, cultural and political realities peculiar to them, instead of fully depending on the wisdom and good will of central government bureaucrats. It is the channel through which legitimacy of the nation-state and democracy can take hold in Africa since it diffuses the importance of the central government as a means to economic and political advancement.
So Rook, ensuring that all regions are organized politically and economically is not bigotry, on the contrary, it is the first step towards genuine, and proud nationalism for our entity called Uganda.
Rook you wrote:
People like OJ may feel proud and good when Joseph pats him on the back and says his postings have been "well balanced" and without bias. OJ should first take a look at Joseph's posting to see whose side he, Joseph, has been firmly defending and or articulating. Being what he is-"a Northerner" he might fail to see the biasness of Joseph and the patriotism he exhibits towards his ethnicity and simply bask in the warmth of the praise they heap on him. He wants to be the present day Ochieng perhaps?
OJ, these people use such weakness in you to get their "Ebyaffe"! The Cardinal (Nsubuga) used that to confuse the Okello´s. Now you 20 years down the road and with all the terrible sufferings that that Foley has caused us, is at it again! Acting the house "Nigger"!
Now that is incendiary stuff. Even though you posted your piece on FedsNet, I know your anger was aroused by Oryema's constructive criticism of Obote on Northernlight, another forum which most members on FedsNet are not subscribed to. Thus, I think for many your vitriolic statements regarding Oryema must have come as a surprise. You were so annoyed by Oryema that you went to the extent of belittling him as the equivalent of an Uncle Tom in the Ugandan context [the house nigger reference]. I think that says a lot more about your psychology as it relates to the Ugandan reality than it does Oryema's!
Oryema contributions on Northernlight strike me as those of a confident, and proud 'northerner' [he created the Northernlight yahoo group] who is not afraid to examine the strengths and weakness of the North, its prized institutions, and leaders, such as Obote. He is clearly very northern oriented -- he has been planning a northern conference -- and would like to see a strong, united northern region. On this point, he strongly differs with FedsNet's position of separate ethnic regions in the north: Acholi, Lango, West Nile, Teso and Karamoja.
FedsNet's position is that while there could be an alliance of all northern regions, each region is best served by its own regional administration comprised of elected sons and daughters of the soil, with an affinity and strong understanding of the local language, culture and needs. We think larger regions, comprised of several major ethnic groups would transfer many of the problems we currently have at the national level to such a region.
Nevertheless, Oryema's attempt to persuade the UPC and the North to examine Uganda's past history critically, and plan for the future, is a breath of fresh air which is likely to strengthen the north rather than weaken it. The capacity for constructive self-criticism and self-examination is important for progress. Any party, or group, that fails to assess the past objectively, critically, logically and honestly is a party that is doomed to repeat mistakes, and one that does not inspire confidence regarding its capacity to rule effectively and democratically. Therefore voices like Oryema's should be welcomed by you, and your like-minded colleagues, rather than shunned.
As you may have noticed, in this and other forums, the Baganda have a great capacity for self-criticism, and sometimes, self-examination. They often criticize themselves, and their leaders, sometimes including the Kabaka. Nothing is wrong with criticising one's own people, if it is done constructively. One only becomes a traitor when one conspires or plots against his people to destroy, or diminish their essential institutions without due consultation with them and their leaders; Binaisa and Bidandi Ssali, among others, are said, by some, to fit that description.
I would not characterize Oryema as weak. I respect his capacity to analyze issues, and sometimes alter his views, where necessary. He is certainly not one to be used by the likes of me, or others. He has very strong views, and at one point several months ago he wrote a piece regarding Northern-Southern relations that got me so riled up that I wrote a piece so hard-charging that, after some reflection, I chose not to post it on FedsNet, especially when I realized that he was genuinely grappling with the issues, and was modifying his position, as he got more time to reflect.
Finally, as regards bias in my postings, I am rather amused by your assessment. I would love to get some examples from you indicating my bias. I will leave that one there for now.