By Fr Fred Jenga, CSC
Years back when in high school with wakina Honourable Nusurah Tiperu (EALA-MP) and ACP Michael Mugabi (RPC-Kampala South), we had an interesting teacher by the names of Kyembuzi Taalye. A lawyer by training and a vowed Makerere ‘Northcorter’ - we all adored him for his convictions about Africa and the ability to communicate that to us.
Kyembuzi taught contemporary African history and problems of new states. He taught us the evolution of African communities into the current states that we know them. He introduced us to the thinking of W.E.B Dubois, Samora Machel, Edwardo Mondlane, Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyerere and a host of others who were behind the emergence of Pan Africanism. By the time we left high school, the thinking of these men and the sacrifices they made for the African cause stirred our hearts; and each felt indebted to do something about making Africa better.
Lulu Itipa’s recent opinion in The New Vision (Patriotism Clubs will salvage the youth) on the merits and design of the Patriotism programme got me thinking. Whereas Kyembuzi effortlessly persuaded us about Pan Africanism, the Government seems to be trying too much with Patriotism and in the process appears to be ‘forcing’ a programme. While other kinds of programmes can somehow be forced with great effect, it is difficult to ‘force love’ – more so love of one’s country. I am not afraid to re-state my view that funds allocated in our national budget for ‘teaching patriotism’ need to be re-allocated to other critical sectors such as health and education.
A casual observation of what is happening with Patriotism Clubs portrays a replica of the ‘cadre courses’ of old. Two years back I spent a weekend preaching a ‘spiritual retreat’ to students of Trinity College Nabbingo. Every morning I was woken up by the sound of the girls running mchaka mchaka heading to the football pitch for the drills. Later I saw them with their ‘guns’ (read: sticks) heading to the dormitories for clean-up and breakfast.
Whereas I respect the designers of the programme, one thing that we need to ask ourselves is whether the numerous cadre courses have made us better Ugandans. What impact have they had on changing our attitudes towards other people’s tribes? How have they changed our work ethic? Have they made us more honest in our handling of public funds? Have these programmes made Ugandans more respectful of the country’s environment? Have they improved our service delivery? Have these courses helped Members of Parliament to put national interests ahead of other interests? What has been the effect of these programmes on the democratic process of our country?
A lack of coherent answers to some of these questions may perhaps be a sign that we need to evaluate the programmes and think through whether they deserve further committal of financial resources. With the glaring challenges in the health and education sectors of the country, I do not think the teaching of Patriotism is such an urgent issue now.
It is absurd that financial resources can be committed to a conceptually imprecise programme while excellent and clear programmes such as Universal Primary Education and Universal Secondary Education go under resourced. Let us prioritise and strengthen programs such as UPE and USE and simply fold Patriotism into these programmes.
There are numerous clubs and movements within our education system with proven education pedagogy such as scouting, wildlife club, interact, and Red Cross - that need to be encouraged so as to pass on the same values we intend to inculcate. At the very centre of Patriotism is a concern for the Common Good, and that is what these clubs and movements are all about. I suggest we approach the issue of Patriotism differently.
The writer is a Graduate Student at the University of Portland, USA