Over the last decade or so, there has been a lot of political talk on patriotism in our country.
Defined by those eager to preach it as “unconditional love and sacrifice for one’s country”, patriotism has been linked to nationalism, selflessness, development, historical awareness, military skills and so on.
In a newspaper article recently, an assistant commissioner in charge of education, information and communication at the national secretariat for patriotism clubs summed up the mission of their work: “All differences, be they religious, tribal, gender and others ought to be erased in our minds.”
How is such a mission of a standard, robotic society going to be executed? How are peoples’ minds going to be erased? These are interesting times! The fact that this mission is articulated by a senior figure in a national patriotism organization negates any possibility of such an assertion embodying isolatable views of some deluded speaker.
Such an idea might embody extracts from an underway plan of action. And this alone should scare us all into opposition against the emergence of this envisioned super human (The Patriot), socially designed to swallow all difference.
What does it mean to teach people to love their country? What makes it necessary? Should not such love, like the love of children towards their parents, be self-evident or ‘natural’?
In any case, the necessity for a special patriotism pedagogy to citizens of a country marks the first expression of failure. It is to suggest that the natural love of citizens towards their land has been rendered impossible.
Hence, if convinced that people’s love for their country has actually diminished, those professing patriotism, if they are serious, have to first ask why. Instead of aiming at erasing people’s minds, it will seek to engage them in a collective pursuit of ‘the problem’.
One can imagine that just as the failure of natural love of children towards their parents can be traced in the very being of parents; the failure of natural love of citizens towards their country can be traced in the very being of leaders. Both forms of failure can be observed in a basic shift: from naturality to enforcement.
In Uganda’s case, should anyone wonder why ‘the patriotism project’ is run by men and women in uniform? Love for the country, which is thought to no longer happen naturally, has to be enforced.
But then, what is it meant by “their country”? Is it the 241,038km² geographical space called Uganda? But why should it necessitate enforcement?
This land is not only the source of our livelihood; it is an embodiment of our histories, and a site for our cultures. We are born here. We will probably be buried here.
Quite instinctively, for as long as they have it, people will die protecting their land. No need for enforcement. This being so, the reference point then lies somewhere else. Perhaps by “your country” the implication is “your government”. But even at this point, people have to be taken seriously.
If this is a government they have willingly chosen, a peoples’ government conducting a peoples’ affairs, this love should be self-evident. To need to enforce it implies a detachment of people from such government.
From the above, therefore, people do not need to be taught to love their land. Neither is the teaching necessary for people to love a government of their true choice.
What they call “patriotism”, at this level, is actually ‘parrot-ism’. I mean the inculcation of a parrot-like behaviour of automatic repetition of every received notion.
It is parrotism that properly defines the end result of political activities in our country deployed under the cover of patriotism. Its vision of society is one of total docility. Outright conformism! It does not simply envision this kind of society; it tries to create one.
And where else could such a programme of indoctrination be experimented than in institutions of learning? To whom could it be more effectual than on young ones, those attending school?
This is not a polemic against patriotism per se, but questions must always be raised on the necessity of its teaching.
What I totally object to is the peculiar form of patriotism being advanced by our government, one I have called parrotism. It does not teach our young people to question, but to affirm. Like parrots, to unthinkingly mimic, repeat.
The author is a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research.