Culture: Missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle called Uganda

Friday August 9 2019

Okodan Akwap

Okodan Akwap  


On July 31, Buganda Kingdom celebrated the 26th anniversary of the coronation of Kabaka Ronald Mutebi. The theme of the celebration was: ‘The role of cultural leaders in providing health and education.’ I think that was a very relevant theme considering the limitations of government in providing such services.
Today, our diverse cultures and cultural leaders play a very important role of communicating values, beliefs and customs throughout Uganda. Indeed, throgh the centuries, many Ugandans have derived strong feelings of group identity and solidarity from their unique cultures. In that regard, cultural institutions in Uganda, especially the established kingdoms such as Buganda, Bunyoro and Tooro, have made a mark when it comes to considerations of social cohesion and provision of educational, health and other services to many Ugandans.
Culture, it should be remembered, is simply a way of life of a group of people whose behaviours, beliefs, values and symbols are expected to be passed from one generation to the next. However, in Uganda and Kenya, culture is largely a tribal thing. In that sense, culture has tended to function more as an instrument for separation rather than unification of citizens. I became sharply aware of this fact when I was at Kampala International University from 2006 to 2017. Ugandan and Kenyan students had organised themselves under tribal associations. Tanzanians were different. They were united under the umbrella of KIUTASA (KIU Tanzania Students Association), yet their country has more than 100 tribes. Why is that so?
Nationalism, propelled forward by Kiswahili as the national language, is the enduring legacy the late Tanzanian leader, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere left behind after he went to the other side. For us, the jigsaw puzzle known as Uganda is woefully lacking a culture of nationalism. Similarly in Kenya, even though Kiswahili is the national language, Kenyans too are divided along ethnic configurations.
This partially explains how difficult it is for us to shake off traces of colonialism. It may also explain our failure at nation-building. Europeans created what was known as the ‘nation-state’ in 1648 after they got tired of fighting one another for decades. To make their creation work, they put in place functional institutions that delivered the required services.
We inherited the concept of a nation-state at independence. It worked for a little while. Now it is not working. Key institutions, including the three arms of government (Executive, Legislature and Judiciary) have been hijacked by highbrow liars, busybodies, corner cutters and masters of taking kickbacks. Good governance, justice, accountability ethics, etc, are songs for the birds.
Our society is far from being a web of healthy social relationships; it increasingly looks like an arena of conflict between the haves and the have-nots. There is hardly any ‘we-feeling’ among Ugandans except when they are rooting for the national football team, the Uganda Cranes. All the major aspects of material and non-material culture such as dressing, food, buildings, the way people greet one another, language, family, religion and education leave much to be desired in this country. Education is largely for passing exams, not acquiring understanding. Many buildings, especially in Kampala, are weak because cement was mixed with ash. Religion is now used for conning believers. And family values are under attack. It is time for political and cultural leaders to focus on building a culture of nationalism in Uganda.