By Muganzi Isharaza Muhanguzi
So Alex Mukulu has come upon a revolutionary idea. Forget the 30 years of bananas that got him into some sort of trouble with the powers that be. Forget too the moving narrative musical exploration of our past that got him a standing ovation during the 2007 CHOGM.
This is far more revolutionary. Alex Mukulu wants to teach Ugandans how to be patriotic when singing the national anthem. In fact, Alex Mukulu wants to teach the national anthem how to be patriotic.
For $75,000, the renowned playwright is going to take our Anthem and 'boost' it with "a standard under which anybody who sings it must not fall below" and with the hope that eventually, "that will encourage people to know more of its meaning, to know more about their country and about the future”. Got it? No? Nor did I initially. So let's break this down a little further.
The government of Uganda wants to boost tourism. Apart from the money Nkuba Kyeyos (Ugandans living abroad) send into the country, tourism is the highest forex exchange earner. Compared to our neighbours, however, we are simply joking around.
You see, although we boast of being home to over 50% of the world's remaining mountain gorillas, over 900 bird species, the source of the world's longest river and the largest fresh water body on the continent, our neighbours still earn more from tourism than we do.
Whereas Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda received round about the same number of tourists in 2011 (1,151,356, 1,095,945 and 1,151,000 respectively), Tanzania earned $1.5b, Kenya $1.13b and Uganda $805m. In fact, Rwanda earned $743.5m, just a few million dollars shy of our income.
You would think that for a sector that is by any measure a cash cow, government would highlight it in its agenda every year. Not in Uganda. The only times the President seems to remember tourism is when a complete solar eclipse is happening...we all know how many of those we've had since independence, right?
Anyway, I digress. My point here is that few would disagree with the fact that our tourism needs boosting. We had a tremendous opportunity to announce our arrival on the international tourism stage during CHOGM. Instead, billions were spent on building hotels that seven years later have not yet been completed, luxurious cars that are now collectors' items and quite a few private mansions and businesses.
We had yet another when Lonely Planet ranked us the number one place to visit in 2012. Again, our government simply clapped its hands, patted us on the back for being noticed and moved on to more important things like walk to work demonstrators. And now, we are being told that the reason we don't earn that much money in tourism is because we sing our National Anthem without passion and apparently don't even know what we are singing about when we do.
Alex Mukulu is by far one of Uganda's most gifted playwrights. His works inspired some of us budding dramatists and playwrights through primary and high school. There was a time when the man's every word was a quotable quote. But alas I fear, he has become a victim of his own success.
Who told him that people come to Uganda because of its National Anthem? How many people reading this post know the anthem of Jamaica? Or Brazil? Or maybe China? How about Malaysia?
Just a few weeks ago, I was teaching a class here in the UK about life in Uganda specifically and Africa generally. I proudly sang them my country's national anthem and the kids were extremely impressed. No, it wasn't because the rhythm was better than Miley Cyrus' most recent hit single or that the words were better than John Legend's mega hits. Actually, they were impressed because none of them (including their teacher) could sing their anthem (some wondered if England even had one).
No Mukulu, there is nothing wrong with our Anthem. We do not need a remix or a standard measure of how to sing it. When people visit our nation, it's not so that they find out how well we know our anthem or its meaning. In fact at a certain level, it is completely demeaning to Ugandans to insinuate that we somehow do not know our history or where we want to be. But beyond the insulting assumptions you are making about us, beyond the inexcusably elitist suggestion that we should all somehow go through music class and learn the right keys and notes to use when singing the anthem, here is why you should return that sh180m to the sender; we actually LOVE our National Anthem.
What you call 'mourning' is actually a phrase of endearment. Oh Uganda isn't supposed to be sung like as one would a recessional hymn at a funeral. It's supposed to be sung like a lover overwhelmed with passion. It's absurd that I should be the one to point that out to you, seeing as you are the supposed expert here. But if ever, dear Mukulu, you are in doubt about the things I speak of, pay a visit, I beg, to Nambole stadium when our nation's football team is playing and hear Ugandans bellow our Anthem's tunes.
If that does not satisfy you, visit any primary school and listen to the little ones sing during parade time. Watch the earnestness in their innocent faces as they pledge allegiance to their motherland. Listen beyond their mispronunciation of the words 'uphold thee' (which they most probably will sing as 'apol zeeee!') and you will hear the prayer Prof. Wilberforce Kakoma penned.
But if none of this should convince you, then remember this: Remember that there is nothing that will tell of our country's past, present or future as our Flag and National Anthem. You see, while some have tried to brand everything that existed before 1986 as bad, our Anthem tells of our founding fathers' dreams.
Of their knowledge that our soils were fertile enough to feed every hungry Ugandan. Of their unyielding confidence that our tribal and ethnic differences would always be secondary to our national unity. That our leaders should at all times remember that it was for freedom and liberty that this nation was formed.
It also tells of our forefathers' faith in the goodwill of our neighbours and continent. Now if that doesn't energise you Mukulu, believe me, nothing will.
Yes Mukulu, this may come as a surprise to you, but our Anthem is fine just the way it is. We Ugandans are a curious lot. We know a lot more than we let off about our past. Now it may be that you, my dear elder, have some trouble figuring out what the future holds for you. That's fine. Take all the time you need figuring that out. But for the sake of our beloved Pearl, please don't make your personal struggles a national identity crisis.
We are fine thank you. In fact, we will even say a prayer for you tonight; Oh Mukulu may God uphold thee, and that wasn't a mourn.
The writer is a Ugandan living in the United Kingdom