Sunday August 3 2014

To change or not to change the anthem?

Uganda Cranes players sing the national anthem

Uganda Cranes players sing the national anthem before a recent match at Mandela National Stadium, Namboole. PHOTO by Joseph Kiggundu 

By Faustin Mugabe

“The National Anthem will not be changed,” Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, who is also the leader of government business in the Parliament, said this on July 9, putting to rest a matter that had rocked the nation for days.

“The National Anthem is not being changed. There is no such consideration whatsoever to change the Anthem…” This was in response to a clarification sought by Bulamogi MP Kenneth Lubogo on whether the government intended to change the National Anthem and in whose interest.

Prior to the Prime Minister’s clarification, Ms Maria Mutagamba, the minister for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, had told the press that there would be some work done on the anthem in order to make it more appealing so as to boost tourism in the country.

An American music expert and a Ugandan playwright Alex Mukulu were also present during the press conference. Mukulu later told the press of the need to change the National Anthem. And he said: “The fact that our National Anthem begins with letter O…, we have been crying since Independence”. In 2012, during the 50-years of Uganda’s independence media campaign, Mukulu expressed interest to have the Uganda Anthem changed.

The changes
However, Ms Mutagamba later told the press at the Parliament: ‘We are not changing it [Anthem] but we want to put words in action, in drama, in acting, so that people appreciate themselves with it. We want someone to produce something visual so that when you sing the National Anthem, you can see yourself being part of it not just reciting a song”.

Recently, when this newspaper sought to talk to Mukulu for the record, he suggested talking to Mutagamba before responding to us.
In the return call, he said the minister wanted to talk to Sunday Monitor personally. But when this reporter went to her office she was held in a meeting. The secretary to the minister promised to return the call in vain.

The anthem was composed in 1962 by George William Kakoma.
So is the anthem one of the tourists attractions in Uganda? Mr Herbert Byaruhanga, the president of Uganda Tourism Association and chairman Uganda Safari Guides Association, says the National Anthem cannot attract tourists to a country.

“Tourists do not come to Uganda because of the National Anthem. They come to Uganda because of our beautiful natural resources which our anthem also appreciates and the good packages we offer”.

Tourism in Uganda is focused on Uganda’s landscape and wildlife.
Uganda has a very diverse culture, landscape, flora, and fauna. Game viewing is the most popular tourist activity in Uganda. Wild animals like lions, buffaloes, giraffes, antelopes, elephants are common in Uganda’s ten national parks. Uganda is one of only three countries where it is possible to visit the endangered mountain gorillas. The others are Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Tourism is a major driver of employment, investment and foreign exchange, contributing Shs4.9 trillion (US$1.88 billion or €1.4 billion as of August 2013) to Uganda’s GDP in the financial year 2012-13.
Why some countries changed their anthems
Switzerland is in the process of changing its National Anthem pending the approval of the 26 federal states. On July 8, 2014, BBC radio hosted a team of experts who discussed the Swiss attempt to change their National Anthem known as the Swiss Psalm.

One of the reasons made by the Swiss Society for the Public Good (SSUP) an organisation which up holds national values is that the Swiss Psalm sounds like an ancient hymn and very few Swiss can sing the hard lyrics on national occasions.

The SSUP also claim that the Swiss Psalm is too old to suit modern times. It was composed by a Swiss Monk Alberich Zwyssig in 1814. But it was not until 1981 that it was adopted as the National Anthem of Switzerland.

The first attempt to change the Swiss Anthem was made by a legislator in 2004 calling for a modern tune but failed. The second was two years later. On January 1, 2014, the Swiss government launched a national competition to write a new patriotic National Anthem. The Swiss Psalm is one of the oldest National Anthems.
Netherlands was probably the first nation to change their National Anthem. The exact date, year and the composer of the ‘Wilhelmus’ the Dutch Anthem is obscure. However, it is believed that it was first composed between 1569 and 1578.

With 15 verses, the Wilhelmus is one of the longest National Anthems. And it is believed that the composer of the Wilhelmus was a patriotic Dutch exile who had fled the war but cherished the king and living in exile in Germany according to the lyrics.

Due to its length, only the first verse and sixth verse are sung on national functions. In 1813, when the Netherlands kingdom was established, the Wilhelmus was abandoned.

And two years later, a national contest was held to choose the new Anthem, and the Wien Nederland’s Bloed meaning: ‘Whose Dutch Blood’ replaced the Wilhelmus as the new anthem. In 1830, again the Wien Nederland’s Bloed was replaced with the Wilhelmus as the Dutch Anthem.

Russia has also changed its National Anthem several times. Its anthem was first changed in 1945 shortly after the WWII, then 1977, and again in 1993 after the fall of the Soviet Union. In 2000, President Vladimir Putin instigated the restoration of the famous Soviet Union anthem but with new lyrics and melody in order to evoke and glorify the history and prowess of the Soviet Union.
Germany Anthem was composed in 1841 but was also changed after WW II. The new Germany wanted to rebrand from the Nazi Germany. After WW II, the first stanza which says ‘Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles’ meaning ‘Germany, Germany above everything’ which was a call to build a united Germany was abandoned.

However, West Germany retained the third stanza which called for, ‘Unity, Justice and Freedom’ East Germany created a new anthem ‘Risen from Ruins’. And after the reunification of Germany officially on October 3, 1990, the third stanza of the Unity, Justice and Freedom was reinstated in the rebranded National Anthem for the United Germany.

South africa
The ‘Nkosi SikeleliAfrica’ was also a hymn which in Xhosa one of the South African languages means ‘God Bless Africa’ was first composed in 1897 by Enoch Sontongo. Sontongo was a black South African Methodist primary school teacher.

Although it was initially a hymn, it soon became a powerful tool for arousing the black people crowds to resist the oppressive apartheid regime.

In August 1998, the South African Drum magazine wrote about the history ‘Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica’. In 1921, the ‘Die Stem Van Suid’ Africa which in Afrikaans means ‘The call of South Africa’ was composed and made the National Anthem.

But in 1936 God Save the King/Queen was composed with the influence of the British descendants in South Africa. And as a result, the ‘Die Van Suid Africa’ and the ‘God Save the King/Queen’ were made the Co-National Anthems of South Africa until 1957 when the parliament voted to have a single anthem; and the ‘Die Stem Suid Africa’ became the National Anthem until 1997 when the ‘Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica’ and the ‘Die Stem Suid Africa’ were officially merged to form a single anthem.
At the swearing-in ceremony of President Nelson Mandela in 1994, both songs were played independently. Nepal and Iraq are some of the countries that have also changed the National Anthems. While in Zambia, America and Canada, legislators defeated the motion to change their National Anthem.

All the countries that have changed the anthem have done so for political reasons. If the project to change the Uganda Anthem had succeeded, Uganda would have been the first country in the world to change the National Anthem purely on non political reasons.

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