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This is the last piece I am writing and winding up this column. Since 1992 as a young university student serving in the Pan African Movement and as a student leader, I have worked for the Movement as a volunteer, teacher, researcher, writer, logistician, communicator, mobiliser and sometimes its fervent critic. In fact, from working at both the law and the countrywide sensitization to start the Youth Councils in 1993/94, to the heated debates during the cross over period in the 1999 referendum, through the various elections and the efforts to re-align its communication, to the ideas that begun the Youth Venture Capital Scheme, precursor to the current Youth Fund, my colleagues and I have been involved in the work of strengthening the Movement Idea for our generation.
Our eye has especially been keen on history and the fact that if a people can’t hear their liberation organization’s story told by the second and third generation beyond the founders, that story will be lost sooner or later to the world.
Why do we do this?
I learned from my late father when I was small that when you are confronted with a situation requiring hard decisions especially at a personal level, you do not shy away, oscillate, or postpone. You do not complain in the shadows or shirk responsibility in order to look good amongst your colleagues because of societal pressures to conform. He taught me to take the necessary sacrifice, which is a call for any citizen in his/her time.
He told me you take action because you are accountable to the next generation; and when they ask what you did to solve this problem that others might have shied away from, you do not make excuses, instead you tell them the part you played however small this might be, and it is up to them to judge whether you made a difference or not. In our teaching and mentorship of the Movement principles and practices and helping build collective values with the youth, we liken what we do to the work of a good carpenter.
From a tree that is cut, dried and brought to the yard, the carpenter drills, grinds and does the final sanding for production of good wood. By doing this, the carpenter isn’t hurting the tree. He/she is making something of higher value- something of a premium value and usable by all society out of the wood. In the process the sawdust falling off, piles up in the carpentry shop, sometimes irritating the eyes of those who show up at his workstation.
Visitors to the workshop who are knowledgeable might like to take the sawdust and make wood blocks and ceiling boards as another form of value out of the carpenter’s work. They find more use beyond the furniture the carpenter has made. But to those with no idea what to do instead burn the sawdust causing smoke and hurting the environment.
Likewise, in the last 66 weeks, our writing has sought to compress the last 3.8 billion years of our planet and all civilization. We have explored the foundations of man and society, the regaining of freedom by the African and the tools the Movement has used to reshape Uganda. We have analyzed the performance of our agricultural sector, the health and education services sectors pointing out what the future demands and the journey we have made so far as a nation, especially in the last 30 years. We have analyzed the quality of our export infrastructure to help Uganda compete in the wider world. We have shown our capabilities in science and technology – the gaps therein and how to improve it, explained the strategies to re-tool our civil service for it to deliver better quality service to Ugandans, explained the battle plan against the cancer of corruption eating away our society and proposed changes we can make in our economic planning to prepare the nation for a competitive world that our children will inevitably face. This, we believe is the real sharpening of tomorrow’s leaders from the young people we meet.
It is key that we meet them at the point of conviction, knowledge and understanding rather than through riots and/or money they wrongly search for in politics. This is the carpentry workshop we have been in and the dirty mental overalls we have worn thanklessly amidst abuse and cynicism from skeptics for so long. We do this so as to keep at the anvil and bring more youth into the Movement.
We have always been the evangelists of the Movement gospel preaching openly the need to return to the basic principles that made the Movement great in the first place and kept it attractive. But the sawdust from our carpentry workshop seems to have fallen in the eyes of some three categories of people and they have all reacted differently.
The first group maintains it is not our place to teach because there are people mandated, qualified and duly authorized to teach, not us. At every turn, we have had to confront the question: Who are you, who authorized you, who finances you and why is it you not other people? To this, our answer has been simple but firm: we do not believe that the right to be engaged is relegated to a few in the political class but rather, it is the responsibility of every citizen to seek to make a positive contribution to the growth of their nation.
Yes, there are structures, protocols and positions but the men and women whose blood was shed in the jungles of Luwero, Gulu, Masaka, Mbarara, Kabale, Kampala, Mbale etc. since the 1970s, were not authorized by anybody. In fact, many of us know that if the traditional churches were to rely only on official priests and pastors to teach, the Christian faith wouldn’t be as large and diverse as it is today. History teaches us in life, it is common people who pick battles and lead them based on their conviction not position or salary, their station in life notwithstanding.
Times and conditions have changed in the Movement from how we were in the 1970s but the principles remain intact. Sacrifice and patriotism aren’t taught or given facilities in order for them to flourish as virtues. In fact, patriotism is enhanced not in any way diminished by danger. Therefore, those with ability to do something to extend an idea or an institution’s capacity don’t always have to wait to be told to do the right thing.
They should be encouraged not vilified and ostracized and our society should learn to affirm the good among us not to discourage them. The men and women who died in our conflicts were driven by a need to see a better country and more importantly, they were fulfilling their civic duty in their generation. A majority of them had no official position in society whatsoever. Their sacrifices and those of our present leaders have brought our nation this far.
The second category are those who would rather not see us sharpen anything at all and in fact would wish no ‘carpentry workshop’ for teaching the young generation exists. In Ankore, the term for sharpening a tool, especially stuff that you use to carry both the strong metallic bottom (Omuhuunda) of the spear and the sharp tip (Ekyoogyi), is called ‘Okushongora’. It is the term we invariably call on when we speak of preparing a child for a tough future. Likewise, sharpening our youth, to this category of people, perhaps exposes their own weaknesses. To them, our ‘kushongora’ effort and the sawdust it generates, seems a threat. They scratch their eyes and they don’t see anything. To them, our work seems hidden in plain sight. They, therefore, choose deliberately to falsify debate on the various topics we have analyzed over the period, I think even perhaps they read less because otherwise they would have seen that our writing isn’t empty criticism but has solutions to some of the teething problems affecting our country. They have chosen to sum all our work into one word- Succession – as if we have no constitution as a country or aren’t aware of it or they pretend that this is a magic wand to solve all our country’s problems. They choose to make our training and writing the scapegoat. I would like to appeal to all those Movement supporters and the people we work with, to read the words of Saint Paul in the book of Romans, chapter 16:17. It says “I urge you brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Jesus Christ but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery, they deceive the minds of naïve people”
The third category is the most important to me, the broad base of the Movement that is found all across our country who have been confused or negatively affected by the misrepresentation coming out of some quarters of the media over the past couple of weeks. Mrs. Betty Maumbe, wife of the late Jack Maumbe Mukhwana, best exemplifies this category. The late Maumbe had been a friend and someone I interviewed many times. It had always intrigued me how a few young men from Bugisu (Peter Natoolo, Wadada Nabudere, Magode Ikuya and others) in the mid 1960s would be so aware of world events that they formed the Uganda/Vietnam solidarity committee. At his funeral ceremony recently Mrs. Maumbe shared with me her concern about what they had been reading in the press. I said she needed to ignore the voices that thrive on propagating lies and falsehoods and that my teaching, which she knew I had done with groups in the Bugisu sub region since the 1990s, had not changed. I have endeavored over the last two weeks to clarify on my position to our Movement base across the country via different media channels. Those who are truly interested in strengthening our party, it’s structures, our government institutions and our nation as a whole, will pick out whatever they find to be useful and of merit. I am encouraged that young people are increasingly more engaged in this constructive discourse because we each have a responsibility to make a positive contribution to our great country in whatever fields we are involved in, and that has been the message at the core of this writing series.
I think Winston Churchill put it succinctly when he said;
“ Every day you make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.”
And so the work continues.
I thank you the readers once again for keeping with me on this journey and the New Vision newspaper for kindly allowing us this precious space over the period.
God bless you all.
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