Sunday August 3 2014

The 21st Century: Off with a bad start

By Timothy Kalyegira

I notice, wherever I have travelled around the country on my photo research trip, that church compounds are well-cultivated. The grass is trimmed regularly, flowers are planted and these church properties are usually among the best-maintained in any small town.

But in the same town where church premises are treated with respect and well taken care of, the church parishioners often live in dirty slums and villages.

There appears to be a belief or assumption that it is okay for residents to live in dirty surroundings but houses of worship and places of God are sacred and every effort must be made to keep them looking as beautiful as possible.

It raises all sorts of important matters.
The first and most obvious is that Ugandans still hold God or religion in special esteem. They are usually casual and apathetic about nearly everything else, but not their God.

The second is that the dirty streets and slums we see all over Kampala and other towns are that way not because Ugandans are incapable of being clean, but because they just don’t care anymore.

To restore Uganda to sanity, then, will require the direct active hand of the church. Not the government, not politicians, but the church and other religious institutions.

The church and religion are the only institutions that have a sufficient hold on the minds and allegiance of the ordinary people.
There is simply no more morale or interest in anything public in Uganda any more.

Those who work go through the motions of official duty, with an eye on how they directly benefit from their offices.

The public no longer expects anything from the government and in fact when the government announces programmes like child immunisation or the national ID project, they are greeted with suspicion.

Since the government does not care about its people, goes the thinking, any aggressively promoted programmes must either be yet another opportunity to steal public finds or, possibly, a secret operation to poison their children.

The other thing I notice is what I’ve been writing about over the last two weeks, which is that the European seems to command a special degree of respect in the African mind as a capable administrator.

Bitter experience
Whatever we thought when the 21st Century started with its promise of spreading technology and democracy, it has so far turned out as a very bitter and disappointing experience for many, many people around the world.

In much of Africa, the state has all but collapsed and no longer serves much purpose in people’s daily lives.

The website E-International Relations Students, wiring in June 2012, traced the role of African post-independence elites in this state collapse:

“The movement for independence was spearheaded by a small group of educated Africans, who had been kept away from good jobs and political power by the racist bias of the colonial state (Gordon, 2007). The majority of Africans, engaged in subsistence farming, were not initially involved in this struggle for independence. The rural masses would follow later, when the above-mentioned elites would decide to mobilize them.

One can see that, in general, there was no unified independence movement but, rather, an alliance of interests involving those Africans who had been educated and propped up by the colonisers.

This is reflected by the social origin of the first heads of state of the newly-independent African countries. Léopold Senghor in Senegal, Léon M’Ba in Gabon, Kwame Nkruhmah in Ghana and Patrice Lumumba in Congo were all members of this social group.”

This is partly seen in the tragic stories from time to time about Africans on rubber boats attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea in the hope of securing a better life in Europe.

The common view is that these unfortunate Africans have been brainwashed, and in large part that is true. But on the other hand, refugees do not embark on such dangerous and life-changing journeys without much thought or without much suffering.

So many millions of Africans live near sub-human lives in their own countries that they find it no more dangerous to venture to Europe that remain at home and die.

We have recently been witnessing hundreds of children from failed states in Latin America packed by their weeping mothers onto trains headed for the United States.

The reason for this is not just a love for the flashy life of America. Gang violence in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras has gotten to the point where few young people stand a chance to live to the age of 20, so taking them to America, seated on the rooftops of speeding train is the only desperate way their parents known how to give them a chance in life.

As the American broadcaster PBS explained it in a June 20 news feature, “Countries in what’s known as the isthmus, the region that stretches from Nicaragua to Guatemala, have the highest murder rates in the world, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Data from that office shows Honduras is home to the deadliest city in the world, San Pedro Sula, where 169 out of every 100,000 people are murdered. The murder rate in Guatemala is nearly as bad and getting worse. And while El Salvador has seen a slight decrease in murders, it is still ranked fifth globally, according to the latest figures available.”

The only voice of authority left in these failed and rapidly collapsing African and Latin American states is religion.
This might explain, in part, the phenomenal growth of firebrand Pentecostal Christianity in Africa and Latin America and its Islamic counterpart in Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia.

This is going to be a very unhappy century for us. It is difficult for most of us to understand how there can be so much bloodshed and human displacement in the century of spreading education and digital technology.
But that is where we are headed.