In size, it is four times bigger than Uganda but with slightly less than 2.3 million people. Population-wise, you would say that Uganda is 15 times more densely populated than Namibia, also formerly known as South West Africa. Home to the Namib and Kalahari Deserts, Namibia held its fifth presidential elections on 28th November 2014 amidst an aura of peace and composure that would pass for that gentle breeze blowing from its neighboring Atlantic ocean.
Weeks to the Election Day, the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) was hit by the reality of lack of enough vehicles to transport the polling material and personnel across the country during the polling period. To complement its existing vehicles, ECN put out a call to ‘well-wishers’ to offer their 4x4 vehicles for use. A total of 270 private cars were needed to guarantee the smooth flow of operations. Just days after the call, ECN received over 2,000 vehicles from private individuals happy and willing to offer both their vehicles and driving services – needless (and essential) to note, free of charge!
This got me thinking, if our own Electoral Commission put out a public call for pro bono assistance, how many of us (Ugandans) would be happily willing to offer our services or property without having to charge anything?
A couple of weeks ago, I attended the first annual socio-economic summit organized by the Civil Society-Private and Public Sector Forum, Uganda. One of the highlight counsel that ran through most of the presentations made by senior figures (both from with in and outside Uganda) was the urgent need to deal with the creeping sense of ‘nfunira mu wa?’ literally translated as “what is in it for me?” Lately, it is typical of many Ugandans to seek to see what and how they personally/individually gain from a service that they may pursue to render – especially if the prospects of a direct remuneration aren’t that evident.
It is partly because of this growing (or maturing) spirit that the legendary community service or “Bulungi Bwansi” as was known then, has lately been replaced with the drenched chi of egomania. What used to be service above self has mutated into ‘self service’ or ‘bulyomu kwefaako’ – a country wallowing in the disturbing egocentric crapulence of ‘mpa nkuwe’ loosely meaning ‘something for something, and nothing for nothing’.
The old ethos are now what we are struggling to aspire for – a contemporary example is the virtue of patriotism. Then, it was fulfilling to provide service to society, it was actually natural to do service to ones community, it was a norm to ‘give to society’, today, we have transited to the ‘blues’ of the universal law of the market – quid pro quo.
It is probably not surprising any more that the past societal nobilities are now just being imagined, judged and remembered through a variety of figurative comparisons alike what I am doing in this piece.
Much as it is not surprising that we are now struggling to ‘teach’ patriotism in schools, it should not astound any one that we fathom passing laws compelling Ugandans to ‘love’ their country. Similarly, it shouldn’t come as a shock that a paid (government or even private sector) worker will still ask for a bribe or accept one (‘kitu kidogo’) in the name of rendering a service that they are duty-bound to provide.
Whereas I would partly blame it on the constricted nature of our economy – which is forcing people to try and make an extra buck from everything, anything and in ‘any’ way, I still remain very against letting these false market forces erode our past virtues that made us who we are.
At the end of the day, we are Ugandans, and because we are, we should not allow to be taught to love, to trust, to be truthful, and to give our very own country; we should not just cogitate about our ‘old’ community service virtues; we shouldn’t just reminisce about our ‘old’ sense of national pride, unity and nationalism.
That is what we should be, because that is what made us who and what we are – Ugandans.
It is time to re-nurture these values and not just ‘teach’ them in classrooms or even legislate over them – but ‘live’ them. It is after then, that we will begin to reconnect with the good old times, that many of us (Ugandans) only remember when we hear musical ballads from back in the day!