Writing our future, forgetting our past

Emilly Comfort Maractho

What you need to know:

  • It has become hard to think about any leadership in this country beyond President Museveni... 

The polarising discussion we have seen in the past weeks over the salary disparity between Science and Arts teachers, reminds us that we can be vulnerable and angry in the face of dispossession.

Most of us, are surprised by the sheer level of pay gap, and how it is glossed over by those who should treat this matter carefully. It has been sad, watching the threats that Arts teachers have been subjected to, as if the issues they raise are not valid. But it also speaks volumes, about our inability to listen, and our high level of intolerance, that ultimately, will be our undoing.

On June 23, I was privileged to attend the launch of two books by Bishop Fred Sheldon Mwesigwa and a film, written and directed by his daughter, Nsiimenta Shevon. The well attended event at Mestil Hotel, spoke volumes in terms of our fears and hopes for the country.

I met the good Bishop Sheldon in 2008 at Uganda Christian University (UCU), where he was a senior lecturer at the time. We often met in the corridors and talked about my opinion pieces.  I have always admired Bishop Sheldon’s ability to start even difficult conversations, to stay on issues that we need to keep our eyes on, and to challenge us to think deeply about things that matter.

But it is not Bishop Mwesigwa that I am here to write about. It is the daughters’ film, Miika that I wish to reflect on. I have known Ms Nsiimenta Shevon for a couple of years, and she is quite and gentle. It would have been hard to imagine that her head is cooking up many things, including a thoughtful and reflective film.

According to the film synopsis, Miika is inspired by the traumatic fates met by many in Uganda’s violent political past. The film is a haunting tale of desperation birthing courage in a young and passionate heart. ‘Locked in a trance by the horrors she witnesses, 14-year-old Miika, with a little help decides to take matters into her hands. This time with the language they taught her. This time, they will listen.’

Besides the production being professional and excellent in every way, the film is loaded in meaning. Writing requires courage, especially writing about difficult subjects like violence and abuse of power. The impact of war on children, and how they respond is reflective of a past that continues to linger, that has defined our actions as a nation.

When I had just started writing in the early 2000s, I was told my generation did not understand what Uganda went through during the 1970s, that somehow, because no one wanted to remember those days, we would do anything to maintain the status quo. Through the years, it has become hard to think about any leadership in this country beyond President Museveni, because the fear of returning to the violent past is ever present. Those who have made our democracy about maintaining the current ‘good life’ where we all sleep in peace, use the violent past to insist, that anything else would be catastrophic.

I recall vividly, the 1996 elections, and the threats of returning to the dark past, if President Museveni was not elected, at the time, on individual merit. It was confusing for a young person like me. It would push me to do my undergraduate dissertation on the future of democracy in Uganda. And looking back on my research of the 2001 elections, those fears remain present.

In crafting the narrative of the violent past, and the ‘good fortune’ of our times, we often see the solution in demanding silence. As social media gets violent in so many ways, with anger that some of us do not understand, we must begin to ask ourselves how long the silence will carry us.

It was not surprising, that the discussion at the launch of the books and film quickly turned into deeper reflections about how we may cultivate tolerance, whether religious or tribal. It was interesting, to see that Nsiimenta and her story had forced us to think deeply about silence and violence. I hope that more young people begin to engage with these issues in a more reflective way, painting the picture of what will happen if we do not listen. People eventually respond, that is for sure. I am inspired by both Bishop Sheldon and Shevon for their courage to speak and write at a time when most of us have lost the courage to do so.

Ms Maractho (PhD) is the director of Africa Policy Centre and senior lecturer at Uganda Christian University.                       [email protected]


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