Every year comes with its challenges and opportunities. When a year comes to an end, we tend to remember the last moments more. Many highs, many lows; but for Uganda the dying moments of 2017 could easily qualify as dampening. I will tell you why I think so, in a moment; but first, let’s toast to the opportunities well seized as well as the challenges encountered. Challenges are our best friends; they teach us lessons to be better people. As we toast to a New Year, let’s celebrate life, let’s commiserate with those who lost their dear ones.
At a more professional level, it is just right and fitting that we empathize with our media friends whose resolve to keep Ugandans informed could have either landed them in jail or left them physically and emotionally bruised. Let’s salute the men and women in leadership positions who stood with Uganda amidst the murky political torrents. As we party away a year of scars, wounds, healing and successes, let’s also remember to toast to the men and women in uniform, especially those who did their work dedicatedly with professionalism amidst undue pressures and persuasions.
Three cheers for those who opened their hands to warmly receive and help the refugees who fled wars, calamities and other situations from their original home countries. Let’s pay tribute to all those Ugandans who worked tirelessly to preserve and improve their environment. Let’s acknowledge those men and women who stood against any form of injustices – social, economic or otherwise. Of course, we need to pay special homage to those who fought viciously against the scourge of corruption that has eaten deeply into our society. Let’s not forget to express our invaluable gratitude to those who made a step towards reawakening the value system upon which Ugandan was originally founded (Ubuntu).
Let’s pass on our special gratitude to all those who defied odds to create and nurture opportunities for Uganda and Ugandans. Let’s salute all those who put Uganda on the map for good reasons irrespective of field. Three cheers to the men and women who brought life to earth, those who nurtured lives and those who saved lives. Let’s toast to those who produced unadulterated food that fueled our souls and bodies. Back to my pet subject, for most of the civic groups working on governance issues, 2017 has been yet another tough year.
The year ending will be remembered as that of a ‘broken promise’. Advocacy civil society groups continued to bear the brunt of a skeptical regime. Besides implementing their programmes in a highly suspicious atmosphere, civic outfits had to contend with vilification, office break-ins, technological intrusions, unclear security incidents, alongside navigating the unchartered waters of a new regulatory framework for NGOs. Some voices critical of government policies and actions were scornfully viewed with not-so-much attention paid to the issues they were raising.
Independent expository works by researchers, academics, philanthropists and media that were deemed thorny towards government occasionally attracted the unkind eye of the state. Book censorship increasingly became a troubling trend. An assessment of both 2016 (which was an election year) and 2017 clearly reveals that a lot of energies were expended on bigoted politicking rather than championing socio-economic development. The last quarter of 2017 for instance has seen a lot of attention paid to amending the Constitution to remove the age limits for presidential candidates. Unfortunately, by giving this amendment primacy over other ‘matters of national importance’, government only succeeded in one thing; keeping the country on a political agenda, continuing from 2016, which was an election year. By so doing, government’s moral authority to claim that Ugandans spend a lot of time politicking rather than doing productive work may have been successfully punctured. Ugandans are not the kind of people interested in spending too much time politicking; Ugandans want a corrupt-free society, they want good quality education, they need accessible quality health care; Ugandans want jobs for their children, they want political stability; Ugandans want to feel part and parcel of Uganda; Ugandans want safe-guards that will guarantee peaceful leadership transition at all levels; and most importantly, Ugandans want a Uganda that works for each of them.
The final bend to 2018 harbored clear testaments that the bridge between citizens and the state has either weakened or is now inexistent. As citizens thought they were getting over a litany of broken promises and social contracts, the linchpin between the wanainchi and the state did it again; they broke the hearts of many Ugandans when they removed age limitations for presidential candidates contrary to the wishes of majority of citizens. Like the saying goes, “since hunters have learned to shoot without missing, birds will have no choice but learn to fly without perching”; now, citizens have to inevitably learn to represent their views and aspirations without necessarily going through the ‘middle-men/women’ who have recently handed the citizens a raw deal.
The rough 2017 may have only made citizens and civic actors even stronger. Citizens have to inevitably confront 2018 with hope and resilience. While 2017 may have explicitly demonstrated that citizens are at the periphery, 2018 offers a new opportunity for wanainchi to expand frontiers and ensure they are at the center of their country’s destiny. It is high time that citizens engage new gears to sort the challenges that have affected the country in the previous years. A genuine dialogic approach is worthy exploring. We need to resolve to whine and criticize less, but challenge and act more. May the New Year inspire a unity of purpose to build the Uganda that works for each one of us. May our choices and resolutions for 2018 reflect our collective hopes rather than fears!
By Crispy Kaheru