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How to harmonise culture with modernity

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Added 21st December 2016 10:53 AM

Skip the desirable and switch to the possible.

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By Samuel Baligidde

Men fight, according to Socio-Psychologist Sigmund Freud, because of humanity’s aggressive tendencies that cannot be suppressed but could be channelled into constructive forms other than war or violence.

This reminds me of a Karimojong Clusters Conference held at Moroto a few years ago at which prominent Karimojong  politician David Pulkol reiterated then Minister for Karamoja and First Lady Hon Janet Museveni’s seemingly simple riddle to the Karimojong Elders to imagine the development that would have been attained if the energy they had expended in the generations-old practice of cattle-rustling had been utilized for developmental activities such as engaging in organised agriculture and mixed farming.

When a team of university researchers met an Elder of one of the Clusters, Mr Pulkol delivered the same message whereupon the Old man asked for a school to be built to educate his people and bring attitude change! They were humbled by the act of a Karimojong Elder asking for a school instead of guns or training the Karacunas on how to execute a perfect cattle raid.

Alluding to the difficulty of persuading people with strong cultural orientation to abandon certain deeply-embedded cultural practices while talking to a former commander of the Police Anti-stock theft Unit a few years later, I mentioned how a chartered private university and UPEACE engaged in a project for harnessing culture for peace, unity and development among the Karimojong.

‘A bad practice does not qualify to be culture’, my friend Peter Ematu shot back partly absolving Kabaka Ronald Mutebi’s skipping of a ritual involving taking a Nakku [underage virgin for a wife in fulfilment of a traditional cultural ceremony] because he perceived it inappropriate and obsolete in this modern era. The practice was henceforth technically and permanently abolished effectively demonstrating the influence and authority cultural leaders wield which ceteris paribus [all things being equal] could be harnessed for anything ranging from development to peace-building.

Skip the desirable and switch to the possible. Excuse me for turning the ‘Negotiation’ conversation into a boring unending hymn but whatever it takes leaders at all levels should always listen, listen and listen; build trust and confidence; focus more on the needs of the people not their own positions; not threaten or bully; be fair and supportive; be patient and persistent in their search for peace; ensure ownership of decisions and agreements. An aspect of moral and political consensus would be the absence of violent methods in resolving conflict even though lack of violence doesn’t indicate the presence of consensus because sometimes people may abstain from violence because of the coercive power of the state.

Pitifully, we live in a complex and uncertain world; unable to peep into the impenetrateable blank of the future where intra-state conflicts and rivalries, national and cultural histories, myths and prejudices flourish; where force and heroism rather than rational calculations prevail. Understanding our ecosystems, interconnected social and economic parameters could assist leaders to avoid actions that are detrimental to their image and the well-being of the people they lead. Although Chaos Theory, borrowed from the mathematical sciences, teaches us to expect the unexpected, paying attention to disruptions caused by the interdependence pervading politics and culture is quite necessary.

Sudden surges of disruptive discontent and desire for preserving distinctive identities and cultures can be managed through peaceful means including negotiations, mediation, arbitration and good offices, among others.  Unfortunately, the obsolescence of war, ritualization and pacification of humanity are shattered visions rendering Hegel’s philosophy of history weak and Kant’s ideals implausible.

The writer, a former diplomat, is a member of the private Think-Tank Uganda Council of Foreign Relations

 

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