Here's one reason why we should decriminalise the word "Change" in Uganda's politics

Each professional field will always have its lingua. In the civil society field where I am from, you will most probably find words such as “grassroots” commonly used.  These may however not be as common as you will find “methodology” in research or phrases like, “story angle” in the media circles.

Over a decade or two ago, political sloganeering in Uganda was heavily punctuated with various expressions, which at the center carried the word “change”.  In the 1996 election, the “we want change” camp battled with the “no change team” and the “no change” took the day.  While “change” was used to describe affection or the lack of it towards certain political ideas, today it has become one of the most detested words in Uganda’s politics.  Talk of stigmatization.  The word “change” has been strongly stigmatized.  Political, social and economic banter that has single or repetitive reference to “change” will be gauged and treated to the petty political polarization grid.

The word "change" has lately re-surfaced as a popular and unpopular noun in the run-up to the 2016 elections.  “Change” has been a big theme on the candidates’ campaign trail.  While every candidate is pounding furiously on the "change" drum, the noun now seems to be just exclusive to those in the political trenches. Religious leaders, public workers, civil society folks who have intentionally or unintentionally invoked the word “change” in their conversations have been judged very harshly as agents working to undermine or advance the current establishment. 

As the election rolls, let’s not be too simplistic to narrow serious discourses to mere nouns – “change” or “no change”. 

It is essential that Ugandans make a pledge in this election season – a promise that this time round, the election will not be an event to merely sloganeer “change” or “no change”.  Ugandans should be looking out for bigger things – the real issues.

“Change” or “no change”, what Ugandans want are clear safeguards and guarantees for better quality of life and better services.  And for that matter, “change” should not be mistaken to simplistically presuppose a change of person in the “driver’s” sit or a change of face.  Change should be seen as that qualitative advancement, say, from good to better or from better to best – a holistic progression that covers society’s form and substance.

For those simple minds that are preoccupied with cataloguing people and narratives as pro-change or conservative, I implore you to do better and instead catalogue the policy issues that are streaming through the current political banter.  Ugandans must thus rise above petty politicking.

Whichever side of the political grid one may be, we must appreciate that change or transformation is a fact of life. Change is sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. 

As a country, we must decriminalize and remove the stigma that comes with the “change” or “no change” expressions.  These are mere words, and no body should be criminalized for their use – at the end of the day, we are all Ugandans and we should remain so.


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