Tragedy struck the district of Bududa, yet again. Mother nature pummelled mudslides that swept many to death and destroyed everything along the way.
Bududa is dear to many, including your columnist; it’s part of my ancestral roots. When disaster strikes closer home, the feeling of devastation is enormous.
On behalf of the board of directors and the membership of the North America Masaba Cultural Association (NAMCA), which I am honoured to be its president, I wish to extend our deepest condolences to the bereaved people of Bududa. We share in their grief. We offer our sympathies and solidarity to the survivors of the disaster. These are very traumatic times.
Bududa or what we have always called Manjiya (formerly Manjiya county) is an incredibly gifted land. It is special and serene. Rich and beautiful.
The agricultural returns from land cultivation are arguably unmatched by any other part of Uganda that I know. It’s a fecund land from which just about any organic food can grow in bounds.
More important, though, the people of Manjiya are extremely enterprising and remarkably productive. The area has successively produced some highly gifted individuals who are serving our country and beyond – in academia, in the legal fraternity and the judiciary, and in politics. The brilliant John Baptist Nambeshe, MP, stands way above the current crowd in our otherwise supine national parliament. He is an invaluable resource.
But it has become increasingly apparent that the great blessings of Manjiya are getting heavily weighed down by the vulnerability to natural disaster during times of torrential rains. The same land that is so valuable and on which people derive livelihoods has become a death trap. This is a tough situation.
For many reading about the disasters and imagining matters from afar, there is a reckless temptation to rush to condemn the victims and survivors – ‘why don’t they leave?’‘They were told to leave and get out of harm’s way after the huge disaster in 2010.’ Well, this is the kind of cheap and unhelpful grandstanding that is as insensitive as it is ignorant.
First, one needs to have faced the daunting decision of leaving your ancestral lands for some distant new place, over which you have no attachment, only then can you be informed enough to condemn the people of Bududa.
As The Observer put it succinctly in an editorial piece last week, ‘These are human beings with economic needs, traditional and cultural attachments to their cradle.’ There is more that goes into the calculus than the mere act of running away to safety.
Second, we know that we have a government that is very low on efficient performance yet scores very highly on blatant corruption and financial malfeasance. We have to wonder what can come out of a serious resettlement operation headed by a deputy prime minister in the evening of his life? The results can only be unflattering.
We have had depressing stories of theft of the very resettlement funds meant to give people a start to an alternative settlement. That we are capable of being such a callous lot is no news to Uganda – the Bududa crisis predictably cannot escape the callousness of public officials who run over the lives of the needy to greedily profiteer personally.
We are a country that lacks a collective national consciousness necessary to treat the Bududa situation as a critical national crisis. If we did, then Bududa would have been treated with the collective seriousness it deserves.
Beyond a rushed forced relocation of people, in any event pursued because some officials are plotting to slice off some of the allocated money, how much research has gone into understanding the real ecological and environmental dynamics? And the social milieu?
What’s more, it is now known that Bududa is prone to possible mudslides. When a disaster strikes, it can’t come as a huge surprise; it has to be somehow anticipated. So, what emergency response mechanisms have been built and what resources are set on standby especially when weather forecasts show heavy rains coming up during a certain period?
Right now the people of Bududa need empathy and concrete support, not condemnation and insensitive lectures. They know their situation far better than any ‘expert’ commenting from afar. We should afford them our love and support.
The Baduda, or ‘Bakhulumu’ as we generally call them, are a very resilient people. They are intrepid fighters. The souls of the survivors may be crashed in the meantime by the trauma of tragedy, but they will rise up and fight on. Their spirit cannot easily burn out.
The rest of us, Ugandans, can give a helping hand but we can’t do it with the usual paternalism and disrespect. We have to listen to them and understand their sorrows, their fears and their anxieties. Only then can a serious and sustainable relocation or resettlement plan make sense.
We don’t know enough about the broader landscape in Bududa. We need to do better to know more. Much may not be expected from the current crop of people in charge of our government affairs, but there is far more they can do before buying land in Kiryandongo.
The author is an assistant professor of political science at North Carolina State University.