Sometimes you do not know what you have been missing until you get or experience it.
Our aspirations and dreams are often determined by what we know or can imagine. To a great extent, our level of exposure and imagination limits our national aspirations and targets too. There are many things we need and deserve but do not demand or work for them because we deem them impossible or, at best, wild dreams.
Because many of us have only directly experienced the leadership of Idi Amin, Milton Obote, Tito Okello Lutwa, Godfrey Binaisa, Yusuf Lule and Yoweri Museveni, we can hardly imagine beyond.
Hence comparative reference is often to Uganda’s past, not examples from other countries whose leadership stories may sound like fairy tales. Understanding and growing in consciousness of one’s history is useful, but, if not done in the right measure, it has the inadvertent effect of chaining peoples onto history with more emphasis on where they have come from than where they are going.
Many people who travel to more organised countries return not only with a feeling of disillusionment but also a nagging pain of being betrayed, and anger towards those who should do certain things but choose not to do them in full knowledge of the implications to others. Some come back with a defeated spirit, resigned to a feeling that ‘it will take us ages to get there.’
It is not unusual for people to ask, ‘but how do our leaders feel when they travel?’ In their so many visits, how do they feel when they visit countries where systems work? Well, my probably mistaken assumption is that their consciences are still working.
Not to stretch too far, how about us ordinary citizens who will carefully avoid littering while in Rwanda or UK but dump anywhere when we return to Kampala!
The moral psychology of this behavior could be that, maybe human behaviour is often determined by the fears and rewards around it. Where there are no imaginable negative/painful consequences to wrong behaviour and it has some advantages to performing it, then we shall do it. And vice versa. In moral philosophy, this is referred to as the consequentialist approach, more specifically, ethical egoism.
On the other side of the knowledge and wish dialectic, it is also commonly said that you do not know what you have until you lose it. It is easy to take for granted the things we have in abundance, only to appreciate their value when they are no longer available or when we meet those who yearn to have them. Thus was the proverbial man who always complained that he had no shoes, until he met another who had no feet.
This is not to suggest a false climax as in the view that we should always be contented with what we have, but that we should appreciate the complex dialectic of desires and lack that sometimes blinds us to what we have.
One of the unfortunate consequences of political desperation is that it breeds a national pessimism that may not allow us to see what remains to be proud of. Certainly Uganda deserves much better in terms of leadership ethics and the provision of public services. But, even if patriotism was none of one’s business, Uganda is a wonderfully gifted country.
When you travel to the so-called highly developed countries, you admire their progress in social order, infrastructure and technology. But some aspect of life still seems to be missing. You miss the random boda boda man that spontaneously engages you into conversation about this and that without being bothered by boundaries and other stretched notions of personal space.
You miss talking without social obligation to always communicate for a purpose or make sense to your audience, just to talk and be listened to. To ask: ‘did you see the rain?’, without expecting an answer that would add to your weather facts. Somehow you get satisfied by the human connection that comes along with a random chat that is not preceded or followed by: ‘how may I help you?’
Have you ever craved a sweet banana while in Europe, then you get one from the supermarket with excitement, only to taste and throw it away in disappointment! You get to learn how exceptional the Ugandan banana is, beyond mere relativism of taste.
You get to appreciate the privilege in having access to fresh food. The fact that you can have for your food, all year through, stuff that is straight from the garden - not refrigerated! Chicken that was slaughtered that morning, beef that is still steaming as it hangs in the butchery, huge avocados from the roadside…leave alone the recent ugly head of unscrupulous ill-regulated business practices that are bringing in formalin and other poisons.
In many places, we simply have to throw a seed, and it grows to yield abundantly without any extra care. Many of the pawpaw, mango, avocado and jackfruit trees in our plantations grew on their own; no watering, no fertilizer. In some countries in the Middle East, soil has to be imported!
I lived around Nairobi for some time and witnessed firsthand how bad soils can be. We would have to bring in red soil from a distance to be able to plant some flowers and bananas around!
At times, the sun burns really hard, but it never gets to winter’s roughness. It may only kill us by drought and famine, but not by direct effect.
Maybe our natural advantage has contributed to our overreliance on nature and hesitation to innovate, even when times started to change. Despite all our chaos, very few foreigners come here and wish to leave. Maybe we are that pampered child of nature, spoilt by abundance, even when it progressively gets less.
The author works with the Center for African Studies at Uganda Martyrs University, Nkozi.