Saturday November 17 2012

We should embrace human diversity to enable meaningful co-existance

The international Day of Tolerance is celebrated on November 16 every year across the globe since it was declared by UNESCO in 1995. The day creates time and space for people to dialogue, learn about respecting and recognising the rights and beliefs of others. It is also a time of reflection and debate on the negative effects of intolerance.

Tolerance according to UNESCO is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. It is fostered by knowledge, openness, communication, and freedom of thought, conscience and belief. Tolerance is harmony in difference. It is not only a moral duty; it is also a political and legal requirement. Tolerance is the virtue that makes peace possible and contributes to the replacement of the culture of war by a culture of peace.

In a world that is more connected than ever, intolerance is not an option, and ‘passive tolerance’ or mere peaceful coexistence is not enough. The mixing of different identities and the rapprochement of diverse cultures, between States but also within societies, calls for us to devise models of citizenship and social participation where individuals manage to live together truly, rather than just ‘side by side’. Simple citizens or public leaders at every level can help to demonstrate that tolerance is the way to make the most of human diversity as a source of vitality, creation and social cohesion.

A country like Uganda with more than 65 ethnic groups each with a distinct culture and with a host of different religious denominations and lately vibrant political affiliations is bound to suffer from different manifestations of intolerance. Stereotyping other people is a common practice in Uganda and it cuts across religions where one group will accuse the others for not being genuine worshippers. It cuts across cultures where one group superimposes its culture on the others deemed inferior. On a political front, stereotyping can be when one party accuses the others to all the problems Uganda has gone through.

Stereotyping is therefore one of the ways where intolerance is manifested. It is therefore important for a country like Uganda to embrace the day so that we are able to cross our ethnicity, religious, cultural as well as knowledge borders in order for us to foster tolerance and meaningful co-existence.

Building real tolerance in Uganda today calls for each of us to improve our skills and our ability to embrace our diversity, by sharing knowledge, mastering languages, discovering other people’s cultures and learning the lessons of history.

Josephine Nakimuli Kigozi,