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Bravo Ugandans for the cancer run, but let us add something!

Call of duty, I missed the latest cancer run in Kampala. I, therefore, have a priceless appreciation to the participants, sponsors, well-wishers and everybody.

Judging by the spirit and the money raised, we really can move mountains. And move them we must. Only if we heed the wisdom of four people, very unrelated but instructive in struggles that lead to transformation and profound change. Cancer, with all her cousin killer diseases, is a monster.

And like all monsters, it must be feared and fought. Wisdom number one in this fight comes from my paternal grandmother, Costa Nyakato Nakate (Bless her soul).

In the days she superintended over our lives as we grew up, one common nuisance and monster in village homes were the army red ants (empazi, nyarwino, ensanafu). Our popular weapon against them as children were flames of fire.

Yet, according to Grandma, this invited the ants for more frequent visits, since they took our action for a welcoming gesture: ‘…last time we visited, they entertained us by a bonfire to warm ourselves; so, let us go back’, ….the ants would resolve, and thus visit again.

The remedy, she counselled, was whipping them with a stinking shrub locally called mukazimurofa. And it worked!

As we genuinely and sincerely do the running and all that goes with it, we need a dose of the ‘stinking shrub’ to awaken into us a moment of reflection. Instead of the party mood and dancing that caps the running, we need a collective soul-piercing reflective mood.

Wisdom Two from journalist Daniel Kalinaki argues that beyond ‘…running and jumping...,’   we should demand what is due to us as taxpaying citizens. Let us borrow a leaf from Wisdom Three, erstwhile guerrilla leader Yoweri Museveni.

During one of the rallies with wananchi in Luweero Triangle, a picture published in the NRA/NRM newsletter, Resistance News, of those times, shows everybody raising their hands.

This was in response to the question posed by Museveni seeking to know how many people present had lost relatives to Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) soldiers. This sad memory pierces and energises, leading to action.

One major factor why transformative or profound change in organisations  [and countries] does not always succeed to  create  the desired impact, according to Wisdom Four,  is because the planning, meetings  and communication about the intended change are usually held in celebratory mood and ambiance: boardrooms exuding richness and success( wall-to-wall deep carpets, oil paintings, rich wood furniture, etc).

This, argues John P Kotter in his famous work Leading Change, sends out the signal of everything being alright, thus the complacency that militates against the desired change. It is this celebratory approach that partly accounts for Uganda losing the battle against HIV/Aids.

Yet we tamed it in the 1980s and 90s, with only one radio station, thanks to the ‘stinking shrub’ approach. It is this comfort zone and complacency that we need to avoid in our struggles against cancer and her cousin monsters.

Running, we shall run. To cause visible change, let each runner carry a memorial placard of a relative, friend or neighbour who succumbed to cancer and other killer monsters.

Let them carry placards demanding resource prioritisation. Placards demanding the National Environment Management Authority to ban kaveera. Placards against air or water pollution by factories.  Placards demanding universal health insurance.

Let us run on a Wednesday afternoon, and have silent memorial walks along designated routes, capping it all in a three-hour sombre sitting in parliament gardens.

The next time I am running, I will carry a memorial placard for my fallen uncles Charles Kasaasira, Thomas Oweishemwe…my MP Gregory Matovu...my cousin Deus Ssenkunja... Cancer must be defeated.

The author is a partner at Peers Consult, Kampala and CET Consulting, Kigali.