A few weeks ago, civil rights activist the Rev Al Sharpton denounced America’s racist system.
Then, with rhetorical flourish, announced a march on Washington DC in late August on the anniversary of the historic 1963 protest led by Martin Luther King Jr.
At the funeral of George Floyd, killed when former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin put his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes, Sharpton spoke with soaring rhetoric:
“George Floyd’s story is the story of Black folks,” he said. “You kept your knee on our neck. We had creative skills, but we couldn’t get your knee off our neck. It’s time for us in George’s name to stand up and say, ‘Get your knee off our necks.”
Sharpton then called for a moment of silence for exactly eight minutes and 46 seconds, which was the amount of time Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck.
Eight minutes and 46 seconds stretched into a lifetime of agony as African-Americans were reminded how they’ve been relegated to the margins of America’s consciousness for far too long.
Around the world, everyone immediately fell into line with the black lives matter narrative.
This narrative seeks to rewrite history in the hand of the oppressed. So historic symbols of racism are being destroyed. Or are shrinking under a swinging axe as traditional mindsets break down to release new anxieties, fresh furies and much sought-after possibilities.
In Uganda, while we raise our voices against racism, its club-footed cousin breathes easily.
This relative of racism is tribalism. We hypocritically parrot the slogan “Black Lives Matter” while simultaneously employing prejudice to paint our country-folk with the broadest of brushes. Indeed, we see it every day and hear it every waking moment. No single tribe is left unblemished by the tar and feather of tribal classification.
“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity,” said Martin Luther King Jr. As if in echo of these words, a Ugandan tribalist will speak “knowledgably” about how each tribe behaves. This passes for wisdom.
However, “the more often a stupidity is repeated, the more it gets the appearance of wisdom,” said Voltaire, the French Enlightenment writer.
As we repeat these prejudicial views about our fellow Ugandans, these views assume the force of truisms, which lock us into faction characterised by mutual suspicion and hate.
The multiplier effect is that we only work with those who come from where we come from and thereby deny opportunity to Ugandans we deem to be different from us. This widens the gap between tribes and regions to devalue the Ugandan dream into a nightmare of raging envies.
Tribalism is indeed the source of all our woes. It festers with corruption as prejudice is placed above probity. It denies us value as supervised credit is directed away from the equitable distribution of wealth and power.
Again, it cripples governance as districts grow out of parochialism instead of patriotism. Neo-colonialism is also fostered as, in the words of Chinua Achebe, two brothers fight so a stranger reaps the harvest. Ugandan lives then cease to matter. They are atomised to the fragments of tribal disunity. Because, as an old saying goes, “those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
Tribalism has been a millstone around our necks. To paraphrase the Rev Sharpton, we must get this tribalism off our necks. Otherwise, we shall be reduced to a sum of our parts.
Then we’ll knock each other down so hard, we won’t be able to stand up in Uganda’s or George’s name.
Mr Matogo is a digital marketing manager with City Surprises Ltd