Of democracy and change

Author: Phillip Matogo. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Everything seems to have slowed to stagnation. This has caused apathy in the country as people have started believing that the more things change, the more they stay the same. 

Today, more than 150 years ago, on November 19, 1863, former US president Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech at the close of ceremonies dedicating the battlefield cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. 

In his speech, Lincoln came up with the most apt definition of democracy. Which was “that government of the people, by the people, for the people” and nobody has bettered this definition. 

However, it was not the speechifying of the democratic creed that attracts my attention. Rather, it is the fact that the event was in a brand new cemetery.

Thus, the contrast of words being brought to life against a place where the dead are buried is the very essence of life. Namely that things and people tend to replace each other in the context of a life renewing itself in the face of the living and the dead.

In politics, this can be likened to organicism. This a political or social theory characterised by ideas set forth by various late 19th Century social scientists who considered human society to be similar to an organism, and individual humans to be analogous to the cells of an organism.

In brief, we are all born, grow and die. This applies to states too, says the theory of organicism. 

However, in Uganda, this theory seems to be in abeyance with regard to our politics. 

Everything seems to have slowed to stagnation. This has caused apathy in the country as people have started believing that the more things change, the more they stay the same. 

This has bred a powerful undercurrent of conservatism to our politics. 

Conservatism, in politics, speaks in favour of institutions and practices that have evolved gradually and are manifestations of continuity and stability.

It does not speak to the transformation of society through radicalism and revolution. 

This could explain the average Ugandan’s unwillingness to opt for drastic changes since, it is widely believed, change could bring more of the same or even worse.

Yet a healthy society balances conservatism with liberalism in view of the power of contradictions. 

The power of contradictions help us see both sides of a story. But in Uganda, the only side of the story being told these days relates to the government’s ascendancy. This has disempowered the average citizen: they’re not being able to access the whole story.

As a result, Ugandans are more cynical than ever. 

To be sure, people who deem Ugandan politics to be Animal Farm by other means may have to view Ugandan society in slightly less craven terms.

With respect to the presiding cynicism in our society, Uganda may be looked at as Animal Farm with the population of a single animal: Benjamin. 

A cynical, pessimistic donkey, Benjamin, a character in Animal Farm, continually undercut the animals’ enthusiasm with his cryptic remark, “Donkeys live a long time.”

Anyway, this level of cynicism could be reduced if we had plural politics in fact instead of just in theory. But this is not likely to be the case since the ruling government exercises its power in terms of its dominance. 

So dominant is the ruling party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), that other narratives belonging to other parties are shunted aside or simply ignored. 

This is why the ruling parties’ conservatism is the defining quality of Ugandan society. 

As a consequence, Ugandan politics becomes a one-note expression of a country which has been deprived of its powers of expressions by a titled political field.

Still, all is not lost.  

If we genuinely support a multiplicity of political narratives, we will help foster a diverse, more cohesive Uganda.

Mr Philip Matogo is a professional copywriter  
[email protected]