Muniini K. Mulera
An old man’s crisis of patriotism
Posted Monday, February 4 2013 at 02:48
My elderly friend, a retired school teacher in Mparo, Rukiga, Kigezi, tosses and turns in his bed, his insomnia a consequence of many unanswered questions tagging at his heart.
What does it really mean to be a Ugandan citizen? Does he have the same rights and privileges as all these other people he reads and hears about?
For example, does all the stuff in the Constitution which talks about the right and duty to defend and resist any group of persons seeking to overthrow the established constitutional order really apply to him?
Would he not be whipped senseless if he tried to peacefully resist the plans by the current military rulers to overthrow the parliament of Uganda?
To think that his son gave everything in the struggle for freedom! He switches to more practical concerns as stories of the colonial and immediate post-colonial period flicker in and out of history’s mist.
His children attended school way back then at a cost that was so affordable that his teacher’s salary, supplemented with profits from his banana plantation enabled him to educate four of them and meet his other expenses. The bright fellows received the best education at two of the finest government secondary schools, before going on to the world-famous Makerere University, their entire stay paid for by the Uganda government.
Fifty years later, the old man hears from his neighbours and other acquaintances that their children cannot afford to go to college or university. Their examination results are so abysmal that they cannot compete with students from the rich-schools in the Kampala area.
The cycle of poverty which used to be broken by a good education is back in full swing in Kigezi. “I am sure this is the same story in every district in this country,” the old man mumbles.
Memories of free health care at Mparo Health Centre flood back, as though emerging from a smoky tunnel to a distant land. The care they enjoyed was better than that offered in many hospitals today. These days he does not even bother to go there. Why bother when he knows the answer: “The drugs are out of stock, Mzee.”
If consultation with other doctors was necessary in the old days, he was always assured of an affordable and predictable bus ride on a well-maintained road from Kangondo to the big town 50 km away where prompt and free medical attention awaited him at Kabale Hospital.
Now he does not even think about Kabale Hospital. Not even his enlarging prostate has persuaded him to take the trip to Kabale. He has no money to spare. Oh, there was a time when his efforts at banana farming benefited from free consultation with local agricultural and veterinary officers. He had free access to a weekly market at Kangondo where he could count on a moneyed local clientele, including the wives of miners who received regular remittances from their husbands at Kilembe Mines. Nowadays he is not sure how he survives.
He remembers the days when he was assured of justice and he felt that the government actually cared about him those days. Perhaps that is why he used to receive his salary on time. He did not enjoy paying the graduated taxes, of course, but he knew that the chiefs did not steal the money and that it was always put to good use for the common good.
Perhaps corruption existed back then. How come he had not heard of the word? How is it that he respected the elected officials and other big men? He could never have imagined any of the big men being sent to the “place with no fire” (prison).
The old man suddenly remembers a lecture he heard on radio a few months earlier. It was a monologue about patriotism. “Of course I know my duties as a citizen of Uganda,” he mumbles. “I respect the national symbols and the rights of others. I am always ready to do my part in the service of my community and my country.”