Making sense of our Ugandan citizenship

By Bbiira Kiwanuka Nassa

Historically, Uganda was molded from 14 nations of Bukedi, Bunyoro, Buganda, Ankole, Kigezi, Acholi, Lango, Madi, Toro, Teso, Busoga, among others. These nations were forcefully made to form Uganda without clearly known terms of reference. Ugandans to date still believe and act not as Ugandans but as representatives of these traditional nations. The making of Uganda has also shaped the politics of the country by a way of it being a key consideration for appointments for political positions, civil service and social relations. Right from the era of the protectorate empire (1894 to 1962), there was no consensus building on the making of Uganda. At independence on the 9th October 1962, a resemblance of Uganda thinking together was started but only lasted for days after the union jack flag fell and a new dawn era of a new ruler ship inherited the white man. I still think we need to rethink the making of Uganda and create more meaning of our citizenship. There are two issues that ratifies our citizenship; that is tax and a vote. This form structured social contracts between a person in that country and their country’s government. However, even those who cast their votes and pay a lot of hefty taxes can decide to be dumb.

The making of Uganda has not been looked at with a non-myopic lens. We have citizens who behave like they were forced to belong to Uganda. Citizens who only think in terms of their small nations called tribes and ethnic groupings. Citizens behaving like tenants in their country. Ugandan citizens can decide to talk ill about their country while abroad as if where they are will turn out to be their motherland. The leadership of the country can decide to nag everyone to a point of citizen turning to God as if they were created without a mind and ability to shape their governance. I have always told my readers that our country is what it is because our citizens are what they are. The feel of disempowerment, everything done by their state and government is a privilege, rights are assured for as long you support that government in power and citizens are rather spectators of their governance. There is increasing notion that citizens have been turned so by their governments. Whereas we may believe this assertion, we may need to put it to test if it’s not the citizens that shaped these governments and their passive nature facilitated this process. Citizenship is not about speaking a language of that nation or country, not residing in that particular country or possession of identities such as national identity card or passport. All these, even non-citizens can achieve and even act better than these types of citizens. When you feel so attached to your political party, job or leader, you are slowly losing your citizenship and graduating to tenancy and peasant life. Citizenship is about taking responsibility of the happenings in your country, acute love for your mother land, becoming an active person not just residence in the country, a sense of ownership and belonging to a country, possession of that country’s value system such as honesty and trust, shaping and challenging the rules, a feel of being respected in that country by virtue of being a human being, being part of the decision making process not just being participated,  being informed about your country and the happenings through your actions and above all, citizenship is about questioning the status quo. There has not been deliberate research on why most development programs in Uganda register less than 25% success. The major issue has been lack of an active citizenship. We can’t have a people thinking of the day’s meal and not the country and expect progress. Citizens must question and challenge power. A citizen must feel entitled. Citizenship must push you to ask power why you just vote. Serious citizens must ask themselves how their taxes are used by their government and what in return their vote are. This can be understood through a deliberate assessment of the quality of services like security lights, security, health services, education, electricity, water, roads interlia and the mode of delivery of these services by a way of receiving them on merit without due influence, need to be connected to power, paying of bribed, among others.

David Blunkett, a British politician says that “strengthening our identity is one way of reinforcing people’s confidence and sense of citizenship and well-being.” if we want to build our country, let us build citizenship. Citizenship that questions why things are the way they are, people who bother about becoming the solutions, people who feel meriting to be at the centre not just voters or followers of their purported political parties. If we want to make any difference, then let us build and consolidate our citizenship. Once citizens begin to feel this sense of belonging to Uganda, they will not irrationally murder our constitution, will not steal and brand it corruption, will not allow the corrupt to even live with them and will not even allow room for the services to be offered in a poor manner. They will begin to feel the merit not the privilege. They will appreciate their rights and engage power meaningfully. I know for sure that citizenship has got the capacity to make the leadership so responsive and therefore much concerned about the would-be response of the citizens in whatever decision or action the leaders do or not do.

The writer is a development consultant, centre for ideas and innovation incubation

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