Reclaim African identity and culture

What you need to know:

  • ... the necessity for international mobility, retention of one’s cultural identity is a critical element in one’s claim of independence. 

Dear Tingasiga:
On October 9, Uganda celebrates 59 years of political independence. It will be a day for many to engage in revelry, complete with song, dance, and culinary overdose. President Yoweri Museveni will deliver a speech highlighting his government’s social and economic achievements, his personal role in the struggle for independence and the ideological re-orientation of the country that engages his mind while others sleep. 

The president will celebrate the dramatic increase of tax revenue since his ascension to power nearly 36 years ago, and hurriedly skim over the exponential growth of imports of foreign made goods that are favoured by the Ugandan consumer.

The rich will be praised. The poor will be condemned, even ridiculed. Humiliation is the African way of motivating the strugglers.  

A war against corruption will be declared for the 35th time. The spectacularly corrupt will applaud. The exploits of our military forces will be given centre stage. Neighbouring countries will take note.  However, it is when Museveni turns to the struggle against imperialism that his oratory skills will come to the fore and hold me captive for a few precious minutes. 

A call for resistance against neo-imperialism will be renewed. The President’s contempt for African pre-colonial chiefs will be revisited with passion. Yet  Museveni should give our ancestors a break. Their belief in magic and superstition made them easy prey for the magicians from Europe whose tools induced worship of the invader and surrender of our continent’s assets.  Their internal wars made them eager to sell off their enemies, in exchange for trinkets.

For example, I excuse Buchunku, the representative of Omugabe Ntare V of Nkore, who made a blood brotherhood pact with Henry Morton Stanley, the agent of imperial Britain, on July 23, 1889.  Buchunku and his king did not know their visitor’s intention to rob them of their land and independence. I do not excuse the current rulers of Africa and their courtiers who have handed over the continent’s natural resources to new imperialist exploiters with an appetite that makes the Europeans sound like saints. 

But that is a subject that we have flogged to death. Of greater interest to me is the paradox of flag independence of an educated people that remain stubbornly married to a foreign identity.  Notwithstanding the necessity for international mobility, retention of one’s cultural identity is a critical element in one’s claim of independence.  

The two largest diaspora groups – the Indo-Pakistani people and the Chinese – are living proof of this.  The British and French ruled parts of Asia for long periods. However, their subjects, at home and the diaspora, remain proud of their cultures, complete with personal and place names that celebrate their centuries’ old heritage.

With political independence, place names in many parts of Asia were restored to traditional ones. Examples: Cambodia reverted to Kampuchea, Burma to Myanmar, Ceylon to Sri Lanka, Bombay to Mumbai, Calcutta to Kolkata, Baroda to Vadodara, Madras to Chennai, and Canton to Guangzhou.  

I will have occasion to address the subject of personal names, which is very dear to my heart. I may also revisit the matter of reclaiming the lost names of Africa’s lakes, rivers, and mountains. I will probably not bother with names of streets and buildings that were constructed by the colonial regimes.  It is the identity of our new creations that I will focus on today. 

Some of my relatives live in Kensington Heights, a pleasant, gated community in Kyanja, Kampala, that is an example of an independent society with an intact colonial mentality.  The pretty houses in Kensington Heights are serviced by streets with names like Kensington Avenue, Knightsbridge, Piccadilly, Regent Park, Pall Mall, Grosvenor Gardens, Mayfair, and Park Lane. I am not kidding.  

The Kampala-Entebbe area alone boasts of dozens of new hotels, restaurants and schools with names that celebrate our colonial and European identity. In addition to the better-known Half-London, examples of hotels include Las Vegas Garden, Keelan Ace Villas, Royal Victoria House, Emin Pasha, The Athena, Lake Victoria Serena, Golden Tulip Canaan Kampala, Cassia Lodge, Arcadia Suites, Harts, Manhattan Guesthouse, Florida, Eliana, Valencia, and Euro Suites.  

Does Washington View still exist?  Schools: St. Lawrence, Acorns, Boston International, and Vienna College are a few of those that readily come to mind.

I recently received an advertisement by someone selling apartments in a housing project called Casa Grande Villas. This is in Kitende, Buganda, a region with a very rich history from which the owners can pick great names for their project. Surely this is 2021, not 1921. 

This is not just a Kampala phenomenon. For example, the Kabaare area, Kigyezi offers you the White Horse Inn, (sorry, no horses), Albertine Resort, Manhattan, and California Hotel. You can get excellent grooming at the Miami Salon before repairing to the stately Kings Hotel in this highland area that has not had any king except the British monarch.

I am sure every town in Uganda has these self-denying examples of establishments built and owned by people that are more enlightened than our precolonial ancestors. One wonders whether the owners of these places find nothing beautiful about our identity.

Why not name a new block of flats or hotel after the developer’s mother or one of our good monarchs of the past, or our great intellectuals, our honest public servants, our beautiful landscapes and animals and other things that speak of pride in our heritage? 

Happily, we have establishments whose owners have done exactly that. Examples among Kampala area hotels are Kahondo Buffalo, Kasalina Gardens, Hotel Africana, Humura, Kabira Country Club, Nyumbani, Makutano, African Tribe, Ssanga Courts and Kilimanjaro Inn. In Kabaare area we have Bunyonyi Safaris, Bird Nest, Byoona Amagara and Amasiko Lodge.  

Names of places may not be considered important in a society whose priority is economic development. However, who we are is a priceless commodity that needs jealous guarding. The African slaves were stripped of their identities when they arrived in the Americas and elsewhere. They continue to struggle with the consequences of that crime against their ancestors.

The colonialists did not have enough time to complete the agenda to turn us into pseudo-Europeans. We are doing a good job of realizing their unstated goal.

Perhaps President Museveni can lend his influence to change this mindset of self-denial, even self-hate, that makes Kensington Heights a more attractive address than Kintu Heights. It is time to reclaim our African identity and cultural independence.  

Why, it is a pre-requisite to buying Ugandan-made products instead of the shiploads of imported used goods and other poor-quality stuff.

Mulera is a medical doctor.

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