By Titus Kakembo
Prof. Ngugi waThiong’o, one of Africa’s most celebrated authors was at Makerere University when Uganda got her independence on October 9, 1962.
When he returned earlier this year, the wordsmith challenged scholars to free themselves from foreign languages and cultures.
“You are likely to be abandoned and become intellectually enslaved to the Western ways like African scholars have let down Africa by failing to publish in native languages,” Ngugi said.
Ngugi returned to Uganda recently to mark the 50th anniversary of the University of East Africa.
Echoing post Uhuru achievements, the celebrations, attracted scholars and the university’s alumni from across East Africa.
Ngugi did not spare scholars who claim to be specialists of African history, culture, society and politics, the barbs.
“You have a linguistic challenge and the responsibility to publish in your mother tongues if they are to survive,” Ngugi voiced a fond view. “Knowledge about Africa should not be seen through the lenses of European eyes and written about in their languages.”
He said if you know all the languages of the world and you do not know your mother tongue and culture that is not independence.
“The way forward is to know your language and add to it all the languages of the world – to me that is empowerment,” Ngugi added.
Pausing for the point to drive home, Ngugi asked his audience to choose between intellectual enslavement and intellectual empowerment.
In a flashback, when Uganda attained her independence, author of a play -The Black Hermit (staged that day)- painted a verbal picture of the social, economic and political climate then.
“The joy in the populace, about self-rule, was palpable,” recounted Ngugi.
“That day the roads were graced with the colours of the new flag as my second home got independence before my first home.”
In 1963 Ngugi went back to Kenya. His return was like a thread connecting the 1960s to the present.
Careless whispers were audible in the audience about how Makerere University
has produced movers and shakers in the region.
Mentioned were expresidents Julius Nyerere, Hassan Mwinyi and Mwai Kibaki, who were academically seasoned in Uganda.
Paul Kagame joined the league of politicians mentioned. Ambitiously reasserting itself as a tourist destination, education and business hub, today Uganda cannot be ignored on the African continent.
Ngugi would be delighted to learn that Uganda like most of Africa is having an infrastructure boom. And a lot has changed since he wrote the play, The Hermit, to grace the first Uhuru occasion.
Ngugi recounts that by independence the country boasted a comparably good road network, a high standard of living, good healthcare in East Africa.
This fabric was torn to shreds in the first half of the Golden Jubilee after Idi Amin deposed Apollo Milton Obote in 1972.
What is in place today?
“There are interstate railways, multi-national corporations opening up shop and tourism is booming.
There is an African Development Bank’s infrastructure bon scheme expected to raise $22b for ports, railways, roads and energy, the minister of tourism and antiquities, Maria Mutagambwa says.
Hippopotami and buffaloes at Murchison Falls National Park, one of Uganda’s oldest tourist sites Picture by Titus Kakembo
However, China’s presence in the economy as we celebrate 51 years of independence cannot be ignored.
“China has brought undreamed of infrastructure capital, attracted mining/ oil drilling companies and competing for resource exploitation,” observes John Opira, an economist.
An investment that builds a road to help farmers get their produce to the market leads to increased incomes.
Another change that altered business in Uganda since independence was privatisation. When protection could not be sustained, utilities like Umeme, Coffee Marketing Board and Uganda Hotels were sold.
The Uganda Tourism Operators Association president Herbert Byaruhanga says: “Tourism will not be the same as it was in the 1960s.
Tourists now come armed with cameras not to kill wild animals.” UWA executive director Andrew Seguya concurs.
“There are so many new products to attract guests than what we had by independence time.
“We have birds, gorilla tracking, nature walk, the Batwa trail and community tourism.”
In a Fountain Publication, Uganda 30 Years, blame for the demise of the state it piled on political parties formed along religious and tribal sentiments.
“Parties were not based on ideological differences,” wrote late Eriya Kategaya in a foreword. There was no common political thread which bound the members of these political parties together.”
In 1986 when the National Resistance Movement shot its way to power, it introduced an all inclusive government with other parties which included the Conservative Party, Democratic Party and the Uganda Peoples Congress.