Africa: Of Patriotism and Its False Prophets in Uganda

Photo: The Observer

One of Museveni’s campaign buses (file photo).


On a recent visit to see my nephew Norman who is a student at Arua Municipality, I noticed near the school gate an interesting signpost which reads, “Mvara Secondary School Patriotism Club warmly welcomes you” which intrigued me and triggered some thoughts about patriotism.

Patriotism is a word which came in vogue during the NRM regime whose top brass love to brag about how patriotic they are. If only they could practise half of what they preach, Uganda would be a paradise for all citizens. But the reality on the ground is quite different. Truth be told, patriotism promoted in Uganda today looks more like ethnic chauvinism wrapped in national colours. The deeds of our rulers have exposed their empty and deliberately misleading rhetoric about patriotism.

What is patriotism? Who is a patriot? What does a patriot look like?

According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, “patriotism is love of your country and willingness to defend it.” The dictionary does not say how one should defend the country and who the enemy is, but we can safely assume that one need not limit the means used to guns, arrows and such lethal types.

In Uganda some men who have shamelessly exploited wananchi and plundered the resources of our beloved country make the loudest noise about patriotism. Others whose hands are soiled with blood of their fellow citizens also claim to be patriots and heroes!

If you love your country, you cannot at the same time be an oppressor and exploiter of wananchi; you would not routinely violate the human rights and fundamental freedoms of fellow citizens; plunder the meagre national resources of the country and perpetuate the culture of impunity in your country.

Talking about impunity reminds me of Prof George Kanyeihamba’s opinion published in the Sunday Monitor of October 16 titled, “In Uganda justice has become a fugitive of corruption, abuse of office” which is mindboggling. I thank Prof Kanyeihamba for sharing that incredible and unacceptable story with Ugandans.

It is shocking that Uganda police officers who should uphold respect for the rule of law; routinely violate the same with impunity. What a disgrace!

Corruption, impunity and telling blatant lies constantly are the hallmarks of the NRM regime and will remain the enduring legacy of a decadent regime built on false foundation. The damage which the NRM regime has done to the body politic and moral fibre of Uganda is enormous and will take decades to undo.

In 1983, Nigerian author Chinua Achebe (RIP) published an essay on patriotism which is a classic piece on the subject. The essay was published in his book The trouble with Nigeria.

According to Achebe, “a patriot is a person who loves his country, not a person who says he loves his country. He is not even a person who shouts or swears or recites or sings his love of his country. He is one who cares deeply about the happiness and well-being of his country and all its people.” That definition would disqualify 95 per cent of those who love to shout about patriotism in Uganda.

Achebe continues, “Patriotism is an emotion of love directed by a critical intelligence. A true patriot will always demand the highest standards of his country and accept nothing, but the best for and from his people. He will be outspoken in condemnation of their shortcomings without giving way to superiority, despair or cynicism.” He condemns mediocrity which is sadly condoned and accepted in Uganda.

Achebe’s definition of patriotism would disqualify another four per cent of Uganda’s chest-thumping pseudo-patriots. One wishes they could just shut up and eat their stolen emere (food) quietly without making so much empty and useless noise.

Achebe provides only one example of a person who qualifies to be a patriot and he is not a Nigerian, but Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, a man who may soon be canonised a Saint by the Pope.

Unlike most contemporary African leaders who abuse, exploit, oppress and treat their fellow citizens with contempt, like mere subjects, Nyerere was a classic servant-leader and a man of the people. His light continues to shine brightly many years after he passed on. Mwalimu’s legacy will inspire and guide true patriots of Africa for generations. Nyerere has left lasting and positive impact on me.

On a personal note, much as I have always been a patriot, my career as a Ugandan diplomat for more than 30 years did a lot to equip, groom and transform me into an outspoken patriot, not simply one who is content to be a passive onlooker.

For almost two decades I regularly sat at the Uganda desk at OAU, UN, Non-aligned and other international conferences. I spoke for and defended Uganda, often with passion. I advocated for understanding and assistance for Uganda and Africa.

During the 1970s and 1980s we regularly condemned and verbally fought apartheid, racism and racial discrimination at the UN and I made sure Uganda’s flag flew proudly at full mast. I am not boasting, but telling the truth, as my friend and comrade-in-struggle, Ambassador William Naggaga and others can attest.

Patriotism is an attitude and a feeling which cannot be taught in schools as the NRM regime claims to be doing. If Uganda’s leaders could practise what they preach about patriotism, their good example would easily rub on wananchi and spread like bush fire.

Mr Acemah is a political scientist, consultant and a retired career diplomat. 

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