Tuesday, June 18, 2013

After the Uganda Cranes win, the Abimanyi Tribalism Antidote

His name was Emmanuel Okwi.

And as a result of his deed on Saturday, people whose names end with Mukasa, and Mbabazi, and Isabirye, and Mugisa, and Chandia, and Lokodo, and Odeke, and Cheptoyek, and Katuramu, were treated to a night of sheer ecstasy, when their flames of hidden patriotism were rekindled, brought to life and they proudly flaunted that famous blend of black, yellow and red.  

People like Tony Mawejje, David Obua and yes, Stephen Kiprotich had managed to do so before, to bring joy and a sense of united purpose to a country so divided along the volcanic fault lines of ethnicity, as ours is.

And yet, after the music had faded, the dust settled and the DJ had packed his plates and headed to his next jig, the sense of united purpose evaporated into gaseousness. We quickly returned to our old self where we define ourselves along the lines of ‘we’ and ‘them’. “Those Baganda” and “Those Bahima” and “Those Northies” returned to replace such wordings as “We Believe” and “We go.”

It feels like we were grunted a siesta in heaven, and, just like that, we had been banished away, back into the damnation that our existence really is.

But no. Just like we are good enough to forget our tribal differences, and, on the terraces of Namboole, hug whoever is in sight without considering what the size of their nose is, or the colour of their skin after a Cranes win, I believe we are better than the combined negative energy that our innate susceptibility to segregation brings forth.

We can take this opportunity to choose to look for the good in people from varying ethnicities, because we now know, only too well, that when we look hard, we will see it.

It has to be a choice. We cannot depend on our nature for this.

Human nature is probably one of the most corrupted forms of existence. Vices, such as hatred, anger and bigotry, are signed into the human signature like a seal. It occurs naturally to humans to resent, hate, and segregate. And if we are to defeat segregation, we need to accept this fact.

That is how humans act in their natural state, the state of the jungle, because essentially, humans are animals. The difference, however, is that we have advanced so much beyond other animals, we, literally, do not stay in the jungle anymore. We have devised means of beating our natural state of living in caves and trees to preferring the warmth of a duvet and the coolness of an air-conditioned office. What we have not fully done yet, is to manage to beat our innate nature that easily falls prey to such instincts as hatred and bigotry.

That is where the strength of informed will comes in. The negative stereotypes that exist about various ethnicities, may have a ring of truth to them. But they are not all there is about the people from a said group. It is probably true that there do exist arrogant Bakiga out there, and insincere Baganda and foolish Basoga and sexually immoral Batooro. But, hey, there are just as many in every ethnicity. And yet, each one of these ethnicities has something good to offer. All you have to do is look for it. And choose not to see the bad.

Our nature will drive us to see evil and hate people from different ethnicities. Our intelligence should drive us to tame ourselves, to bring ourselves into check and neutralise the wild jungle-man in us.

It takes such acts as tolerance, knowing not to laugh at a foreign language because you think it sounds like gibberish, forgetting that yours too, sounds like gibberish to them. It takes accepting that our cultures are different but that if we live and let live, we can improve each other and learn a lot from each other’s cultures. It takes openness to listen and learn and the serenity not to fall prey to the dangers of the false airs of ethnic superiority, where imperfect as you are, you can write off people from a certain region as ugly. It takes accepting that we cannot live in the pre-1880 ages anymore. The British came, screwed us, and like the masters of pragmatism that we are, we must learn how to live in a republic that does not reflect our ethnic roots.

And here comes the importance of intermarriage. I find that if a child is born to parents from diverging ethnicities, it is easier for that child to tolerate other ethnicities than one born to parents from the same tribe. A lot of the views that shape our attitudes towards certain ethnicities, start at home, on the dining table and behind those private doors where small family talk is made.

I cannot exactly ask you to look for love out of your tribe because love has no formulae. But yes, if at all you ever, ever fell in love with someone from another tribe, do not let the bigots wear you down. And yes, if you are a parent, teach your child that there is more to the world than the tribal boundaries they have been born into. You will have done all of us a whole lot of good.

The next time a Uganda Cranes win is registered, I will want to be there. I have been there before and would not exchange any other Ugandan experience for that. It is the ultimate Ugandan experience. I will want to nourish my nerves on that sense of oneness that has so badly eluded this country. We will be all so happy; we will be one tribe.

But I think waiting for the next Uganda Cranes game is too long a wait. So I will not wait till then. I will choose to beat down tribalism and leave it behind just like my race left the uncouth mannerisms of walking about undressed, in the past.


  1. Glad to see you're back.

  2. We cannot be deceived our nature.

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