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New book explores diversity, pluralism in Uganda politics

Museveni (L) welcomed by Richard Todwong and leaders of Zombo

Top academics grapple with identity and diversity issues

While Uganda’s cultural diversity is a source of national pride, it needs to be managed and harnessed, especially as the country goes into the 2016 elections, a new collection of essays advises.

The 19 essays are titled ‘Managing Diversity – Uganda’s Experience’ and published by the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU) on behalf of the Pluralism Knowledge Programme (PKP) partners in Uganda.

“Ugandans are fond of saying that their nation is culturally rich and diverse, but rarely do they investigate the consequences and challenges of managing such heterogeneity, both within their communities and as a nation,” CCFU says in the introduction to the publication.

According to CCFU, these challenges seem ever more present: whether it is the complicated relationship between cultural institutions (usually representing ethnic interests) and the unitary state; the fragmentation of the national territory into numerous districts, or the complicated distribution of political posts according to region, ethnicity and religion (often, it seems, ahead of competence).

“Wherever one looks, it, indeed, seems that managing diversity remains a challenge in Uganda today,” CCFU argues.

“Is this surprising? Uganda’s recent history reminds us that this artificial colonial creation is still a young, uncertain entity whose citizens usually find solace and expression in sub-national forms of identity, rather than in their ‘Ugandanness,’ a concept that remains difficult to define. It is through these forms of identity that searching and securing resources – whether recognition, jobs, contracts or others – is often undertaken.”

In his essay titled ‘The Politics of Identity: Assessing the Influence of Ethnicity, Religion and Gender in Uganda – A Literature Review,’ Fulgencio Kayiso stresses that

“the politics of inclusion and exclusion are central to understating the politics and identity.”

Kayiso notes that these have continued to reproduce themselves over time: as in the colonial and post-colonial ‘divide-and-rule’ policy; forced political integration into the nation-state; skewed access to resources; and authoritarian government.

“Forms of identity that impose limits to people’s access to these resources are principally ethnicity and nationality but also include political affiliation, class, religion, education, language and gender,” he argues.

Kayiso further contends that the consequences of this state of affairs include ‘over-centralisation of power’ in Uganda, development of a ‘personality cult’ and the emasculation of national institutions.

Emmanuel Maraka’s essay ‘The Role of Patronage in Shaping Uganda’s Economic, Social and Political Spheres – A Literature Review’ also focuses on the politics of identity, how it influences access to resources, while noting that managing patronage can also facilitate the management of diversity.

Both positive and negative connotations and effects of patronage are reviewed by Maraka; how it is ingrained in the culture of Ugandans, having been present from pre-colonial times, and having a continuing effect on identity, development and state formation.

According to Maraka, the positive aspects of patronage include a force for inclusion and care of the weak and the poor and, more broadly, for managing social, economic and political affairs.

On the negative side, patronage and clientelism are recognised as hindering poverty eradication when relationships are hierarchical and power sharing unequal. “In Uganda, it is entrenched “from top to bottom”; its effects on culture are pervasive (such as in the notion that “politics is the way to get rich” and in fostering paternalistic values among the country’s leaders),” Maraka writes.

In another essay, ‘Politico-Cultural Pluralism, Diversity and Public Order Management in Uganda Today – A Discussion Paper’, Prof John-Jean Barya recalls that Uganda is an artificial colonial creation, with different ethnicities and nations who do not see themselves as one people.

The non-political elements of the different people’s cultures, Barya argues, are rarely controversial, but tensions usually arise where culture meets political processes and power, such as in the dispute between the central state and nationalities that demand more autonomy.

Barya observes that while the Constitution of Uganda lays down human rights standards that protect the freedoms necessary in a pluralistic society and a multiparty system, today’s public order management regime – in terms of practice, legislation, political pronouncements – undermines efforts at managing diversity.

That regime, he argues, has done little to foster pluralism. Taken together, several legislative instruments are intended to stifle freedom of association, the right to dissent, media freedom and are against the spirit of encouraging unity in diversity whether at a political, civil or cultural level.

Tabitha Naisiko contributed an essay on ‘Managing Diversity: Perspectives from Eight African Countries – A Review of APRM Reports’. She identifies two main implications for Uganda: to avoid conflicts, issues of ethnicity in national development cannot be taken for granted; and managing diversity is essential in sharing national resources and services equitably.

“This calls for inclusiveness in building people’s potentials to become productive members of the community and to contribute to its sustainability,” she argues.

The book, published in 2014, has been deposited with PFP partner universities in Uganda and is highly recommended to academics, university students, policy makers, politicians and diplomats.

Since 2009, PKP has brought together Ugandan universities and civil society organisations to better understand the challenges associated with managing diversity, and translated this knowledge into strategies for promoting pluralism in practice.

The programme defines pluralism as the energetic engagement with diversity. While diversity is taken to be a given, pluralism is an achievement Ugandans must strive for.

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