Saturday June 22 2013

What are you doing to make Uganda a better country?

By David F. K. Mpanga

Last week, I wrote about our collective and individual responsibility to bring about change and received an overwhelming reader response. The vast majority agreed with the gist of the message but many queried its practicality for all manner of real life reasons.

Some gave real life examples of things that they have tried to do to make their lives better only to be let down by the apathy or antipathy in the community. Others said that they tried to do something but gave up because nothing that they did seemed to have any meaningful or measurable impact on the problems that they see around them. A minority of the respondents derided me for being a dreamer and some, within this derisive subset, asked what, if anything, I am doing to bring about the change that I want to see.

Before deciding to write what is essentially a response to readers’ comments, I had to deal with a fundamental rule of writing. As a weekly columnist, it’s never wise to use a column as a platform to respond to readers’ comments, whether positive or negative. The danger being that the column can easily descend into a weekly back-and-forth debate between the columnist and an increasingly narrow band of diehard admirers and hecklers.

However, I felt moved to bend the rule a little because of the importance of the subject of responsible and pro-active citizenry to the future of our families, our neighbourhoods, our communities, our towns, our cities and, ultimately, our nation. At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, we must quickly come to the realisation that absolutely nothing positive will happen until each one of us does something to make things better. We must not only come to this realisation but we must act upon it.

One reader urged me to repeat this message because, like all truths, it needs to be said again and again until it becomes accepted as a norm. He said that if it were otherwise, there would be no readings or sermons in churches all over the world every Saturday and Sunday. Christianity has been around for nearly 2,000 years but its leaders and followers still see the need to remind themselves of its essential truths and lessons every week. In support of the repeated message, another reader urged me to consider the fact that Coca-Cola and all other big brands in the world still spend billions of dollars promoting themselves because only repetition keeps a brand and its message alive and fresh in the minds of consumers.

Fortified in the wisdom of returning to this particular theme and responding to the readers’ comments, my first response draws on my recent and ongoing experience of fatherhood. Being the last born child in my family, I did not have the privilege of watching children grow up at close range until I became a father. One of the things that I have found absolutely amazing is the instinctive optimism and determination that a child is born with. Watching a child learn how to sit up, crawl, walk and talk is both joyous and amazing.

They try and try, a little at a time, with many failures, until they get it right. So if a child doesn’t give up on walking just because it fell down hard and hit its head the first time it let go of the table top it was holding onto, why would you, a fully formed adult, give up on simple things like time-keeping, cleaning up your homestead or participating at your local school because you tried and failed?

Nothing in this life worth having, comes easy or quickly, least of all change, so dust yourself off and try again. Revive the childlike optimism and determination; keep going at it and encourage others to do the same. In time, the result that you are seeking will begin to show.
To those who feel daunted by it all and have no idea where to start, take courage and start where you should, at the beginning; right where you are using all that you can muster.

It is true that you will not and cannot, as an individual, solve everything. I cannot make anyone who is sick better because I haven’t got any medical training but that has never stopped me from waking up every morning to go to work as a lawyer. The doctor also goes to work secure in the knowledge that the lawyer is out there solving the legal issues. What am I trying to say? Saying that you will not do anything because you cannot solve everything is a lame and, frankly, very poor excuse. Do your part and then you will have the authority to ask of others what they are doing to make this country better.

As for those who think that I am a dreamer, I say “thank you” because that is exactly what I want to be. We must dare to dream and rise above the mundane and comfortable mediocrity that is holding us back.

As for those who asked me what I am doing to make Uganda a better place, my answer is simple – I am doing many small things including writing this piece. What are you doing? Get up, get out and do something.