Uganda at 50 should be about celebrating unity in diversity
Posted Wednesday, May 23 2012 at 00:00
What does it mean to be Ugandan or Canadian or American? A good place to start to understand this question is to explore a country’s national narrative on issues that unite or divide that society. What is the story that people tell each other, and others, about their country?
In countries without a coherent national narrative, the sense of national identity can be fractured and uncertain. Democratic countries usually have a narrative about its people, its history and values, but the shared story is not always predicated on truth. Sometimes, the narrative is more about the country they want, rather than the country they have. Creating national cohesion is partially an exercise in looking at what kind of country you want, and partially a branding exercise.
Ask any Canadian about their country and they’ll frequently repeat the same stories, symbols and myths: the cold winters, our peacekeeping, and its inclusiveness of different people. The Canadian government itself sponsors commercials that show moments in Canadian history: explorers in canoes meeting the Aboriginals for the first time and Canada’s role in the defence of human rights. These images are now ingrained in peoples’ imaginations as uniquely Canadian.
These commercials shape Canadian history in a way that reminds viewers that Canadians are inclusive (the explorers and Aboriginals working together), that we have faced international challenges (creating the concept of peacekeeping) and it is a place with a proud history. The British can point to the Queen, the Empire and tea as national symbols. Americans offer ‘the American Dream’, supported by Hollywood, capitalism and an overwhelming international presence. Even movies like Transformers reinforce these ideas: only the Americans have the guts and freedom to tackle the ‘bad guys’.
At 50 years, Ugandans need to evaluate what makes them ‘Ugandan’. The popular image of the Crane is a start; it is an identifiable symbol that Ugandans claim as their own, much as Canadians claim the moose as ‘Canadian’ and the Americans the bald eagle. But beyond that, what values do Ugandans share? Are Ugandans resilient people, people who can teach other African countries about overcoming a violent past to forge a new, democratic country? The United States overcame both the Civil War and the American Revolution, both of which violently divided the country, to create a country that remains united today.
Uganda needs to decide what its values are and how they have been shaped, or influenced, by the past. Creating national cohesion is both an exercise in hopeful optimism (what do you want your country to be?) and branding: creating a coherent, unforgettable set of memories and images that come to mind when thinking of Uganda.
It is not a cynical exercise; creating national cohesion is vital for a democratic country. It unites people and allows a diverse population to forge common links. Canada has the most diverse population in the world, yet is able to function because people believe it stands for shared values. These images can be cynically exploited, but they do speak to something that is larger than each citizen. Motifs relating to the frontier, capitalism and wealth are used in American movies, commercials, and political speeches. These concepts are ingrained in the American psyche. Similarly, France uses the ideals espoused during the violent French Revolution of 1787 as its national motto today: liberté, égalitié, fraternité.
These examples show that countries can overcome a divided populace to construct a strong, democratic and united country. National cohesion reminds citizens that the government is supposed to defend the country and its beliefs; if people do not know what their country represents, how can a government adequately defend values and principles important to its citizens? Having a diverse population in Uganda is something that should be celebrated. Uganda needs to bring each tribe, and its beliefs and traditions, into the mainstream. By celebrating its diverse heritage and resilient people, Uganda can create a country where people are proud of each other, their government and the marvelous mosaic of their unique cultures.
Ms Griffin is as an Intern at Uganda Youth Network.