During the past decade, two perspectives have emerged to challenge our traditional acceptance and support for culture’s role in Ugandan politics.
By Paul Wanaye Wamimbi
The relation between Culture and politics continues to be an important theme in political philosophy, despite the 1995 Constitution, which bars cultural leaders from participating in politics.
During the past decade, two perspectives have emerged to challenge our traditional acceptance and support for culture's role in Ugandan politics. First is the position that cultural ideas and theological notions are sectarian and private in nature and, therefore, should not influence public dialogue. Second is that concepts of social justice derived from secular, non-culturally-based thinking offer a more suitable set of guidelines for establishing moral norms in society than those derived from culture?
The first perspective should be dismissed out of hand in a presumed democratic country like Uganda. Proponents of that view showed a deep misunderstanding of the role culture played in society. Culture was a driving force that shaped the values and beliefs of individuals. Culture helped the majority of people in Uganda discern their beliefs; they - not "cultural" - in turn influenced politics according to their chosen beliefs.
To say the personal values and beliefs of the majority should be discounted solely because they are based on cultural principles is patently absurd. The ideologies and theologies of people of belief should be as much respected as anyone's, regardless of the source of their formation. Those who excluded them merely searched for an "ace in the hole" they used it to trump those who disagreed with them on certain issues.
By saying "culture" rather than "people of belief" should be excluded from politics we are simply giving cultural bigots a free pass. It is a specious play on words to give the impression that proponents of exclusion campaigned against some abstract force rather than real, live people. They were not.
Additionally, though, cultural bigots used the term "culture" erroneously. Cultural institutions are systems of values and beliefs. Yet detractors of culture launched an assault on some while accepting others almost without scrutiny.
The second perspective (that non-cultural-based moral guidelines where better than those derived from cultural thinking) is a bit more complex. At its core, however, is the thesis that culture tend to talk about norms and moral standards in absolute, educated and uneducated terms that people cannot live up to.
History provides endless examples where leaders proclaiming certain cultural convictions failed to live up to them, especially in the 1960's. But individual human failing does not disqualify the moral standard; it merely means some people failed to meet it. We should not eliminate traffic laws just because we have all received a ticket. Since certain standards are always worthwhile, the standards should survive and define a desired set of norms to aspire to. When defining these standards, people of a cultural belief deserve a seat at the table as much as anyone else. It is our country, too.
History and current circumstance make a strong case that the presence of cultural institution politically in the makeup of a country's core values leads to a more vibrant culture. Its absence leads to decay and human misery.
The current assault on culture is simply the latest version of bigotry we must overcome, if Uganda is to reach maturity and maintain the "liberty and justice for all" that we pledge. Let us get over it.
The writer is the youth minister at the Inzu Yamasaaba