On February 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr delivered his “The Drum Major Instinct” sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church at Atlanta, Georgia. In this sermon, he reflects on the overriding human desire for recognition. The desire to be first. In other words, to march at the head of the band. To lead the parade. To be the drum major. In his sermon, he calls this desire the “drum major instinct”. In contrast, he proposes an alternative kind of ambition one can achieve through a life of service: “I just want to leave a committed life behind,” he says towards the close of his sermon.
King takes his text from the book of Mark. Specifically Chapter 10: 35-45: “And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came unto him saying, ‘Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire.’ And he said unto them, ‘What would ye that I should do for you?’ And they said unto him, ‘Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.’
“But Jesus said unto them, ‘Ye know not what ye ask: Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? And be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?’ And they said unto him, ‘We can.’ And Jesus said unto them, ‘Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of, and with the baptism that I am baptised withal shall ye be baptised: but to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared.”
And then Jesus lectures them on how the world judges leaders based on power and position and domination of the led by the leaders. Denouncing hegemonic leadership, Jesus says: “But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your servant: and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.”
In 1986, NRM proclaimed a ‘broad-based government’ under the so called “Movement” system. The movement system was a thinly disguised one party government. Various individuals from the historical political parties, namely Conservative Party, Democratic Party and Uganda Peoples Congress, were co-opted into the government. This caused divisions in these parties.
In UPC, the exiled leader, Milton Obote kept his hold on the party by naming a presidential policy commission led by the fiery Cecilia Ogwal, who was then assistant secretary general. She became the face of the Opposition until she disagreed with Obote and got booted out of office. The presence of senior DP leaders in the Museveni government on the basis of what the party leader called “a gentleman’s agreement” irked some leaders like Michael Kaggwa who launched the DP Mobilisers group.
In CP, John Ken Lukyamuzi, who was then the secretary general of the party, continued being a fiery critic of the government in which his boss Mayanja-Nkangi was serving. This kind of uncoordinated Opposition was imposed by the modus operandi of the NRM and Yoweri Museveni which, is basically anti-organisation.
Despite these contradictions, the focus on restoration of multiparty democracy unified the Opposition and in 1996, the Inter-Political Forces Cooperation, against massive rigging and violence, gave dissenting voices a clear choice.
As we prepare to face the NRM, which is cloaked in the garment of the Ugandan State, the biggest failing of the Opposition will come from the drum major instinct! But there’s a way to deal with this. King advises that we should not be “taken by advertisers” (our fanatical supporters) who think being on top can lead to self-worth.
He denounces the “snobbish exclusivism” that leads people to care more about their positions than their mission to serve a cause beyond their narrow interests. Let the Opposition sit together and define the mission then look for the person to lead the charge for change. To do the reverse by each party attempting to impose a fait accompli on others will fragment the forces of change.