Lately, the talk around foreign powers’ involvement in local business (politics and socio-economics) seems to be a narrative that is being artificially sold with the aim of explaining some of the prevailing blemishes in the country. Those who are advancing such loose-tongued narratives indicate that ‘foreign interference’ is fomenting more problems than opportunities/solutions for the local context.
I am one of those who contend that local challenges can aptly be fixed by local solutions. And local solutions should emerge organically from within the context of the challenge/problem. The context can be historical, political, cultural, social, economic or otherwise. There is, however, no exclusivity in solution finding. Therefore, there is no group of people who have the exclusive place to figure out answers to community problems.
Emphasis on community-based solutions initiated by the communities themselves with support from local and/or foreign actors would yield more productive and beneficial outcomes for all.
That said, it is critical that we liberalise spaces through which anyone would feel free, confident and valued to be able to propose ideas, answers, solutions to problems – the whole concept of working ‘collectively’ to solve our own problems. And rightly so, that proficiency may or may not lie within the geographically defined borders of our respective communities. That is why we have to leverage from our relations with other communities – locally, regionally and internationally to fix what may be local problems. In doing so, we (Uganda) must place our interests, first (I mean the interests of the people of Uganda). This means repudiating any partnership that is not favourable to the peoples of Uganda.
We tend to consistently miss the point when we generalise our foreign relations! Not all cross-border relations are manipulative; some are actually good. Without necessarily going into what is good or bad for us with respect to foreign engagements, the simple principle should be choosing our friends carefully. When we identify our friends carefully, that should in no way mean those we have not chosen are our adversaries.
Today, some people and institutions are being labelled as “agents of foreign interest”. Such cataloguing would only make sense if indeed these people or institutions were advancing the interests of foreigners over those of the indigenous people. To me, such labelling is being used for blackmail purposes – with no moral foundation whatsoever.
In the kind of world we are living in today, we cannot afford to choose to be islands – economically, politically or otherwise. We cannot afford the cost of discord among ourselves inspired by our very own subjectively defined pejorative narratives. Each one of us, regardless of origin, brings something to the table.
Before we frame our friends from across borders, we should weigh if the (foreign) support they offer reveals weaknesses or strengths in the model of advancing development in our respective countries. For me, that should be the real test.
I don’t think support to better healthcare, education, security and other critical services is a bad thing; likewise, I don’t think calls for political stability or support for democratic processes is a bad thing either. These and many more are the real issues that the Ugandans want addressed – so, it doesn’t matter who raises them or lends a hand to fix them, as long as they are doing it with a genuine commitment.
The misrepresentation that foreign support is an attempt to buy influence through local institutions or individuals is sheer generalisation, propagandist and diversionary in nature. We all must work together for the mutual benefit of our communities.
Mr Kaheru is the coordinator, Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda. firstname.lastname@example.org