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COVID-19: Let us harness our national values during and after lockdown

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Added 8th May 2020 01:25 PM

The lockdown has indeed taught us many things. First, the desire to get closer to God(pray); secondly, eating sparingly (you have no idea when you will return to work); thirdly, listening(news) to authorities to understand what is happening and any form of guidelines issued; fourth, keeping fit(shading off effects of eating, sleeping and watching TV). Making money is not a priority now.

COVID-19: Let us harness our national values during and after lockdown

Dr Julius Warren Kule

The lockdown has indeed taught us many things. First, the desire to get closer to God(pray); secondly, eating sparingly (you have no idea when you will return to work); thirdly, listening(news) to authorities to understand what is happening and any form of guidelines issued; fourth, keeping fit(shading off effects of eating, sleeping and watching TV). Making money is not a priority now.

By Dr. Julius Warren Kule

Change is the only constant and predictable phenomenon. The rest are not. We always say, if you don't change, then change will change you. The results from forced change are always disastrous.

If there are lessons to learn, COVID-19 has taught us many things. Ugandans of all walks of life are locked down in their respective homes. It does not matter the size of the house and its location. The fact is that we are all under lockdown, fighting one invisible enemy, COVID-19. The beautiful houses and lawns in our compounds, the nice cars we drive do not mean anything right now. We all have one goal, to survive and see light past COVID-19.

Sometime last year, a friend requested me to buy a bicycle at 300.000. I wondered why on earth; I would buy a bicycle. He was selling the bicycle using two arguments. First, for my health (bicycle riding improves the functioning of the heart and improves muscular performance), and secondly, if I wanted to quickly buy something at the shop, the bicycle would come in handy. I did not buy the two arguments.

My reasons for not were; I am a registered member of a certain health club thus, I always do aerobics. Secondly, I don't buy on impulse. I always plan my purchases. We laughed off my excuses for not buying the bicycle. Instead, I offered to buy him a cup of tea and our usual rolex. We enjoyed the tea at a place I later learned, he owns.

The news about COVID-19 and the looming national lockdown caused a scare across the spectrum. The effects are already devastating. Business owners, the rich and poor, governments, and the most religious were all in fear. Aware of the devastating effect COVID-19 would cause to our health system and the economy at large, President Museveni was quick to announce a national lockdown. With time, lockdown guidelines were clearly spelled out. I later learned on TV and other media outlets that the use of private cars had been banned. At the time, I was out of the country. I blamed my judgment.

I thought that I should have bought the bicycle since bicycles are among the permitted category. I quickly called my friend, indicated to him that with lots of eating and with fitness centres closed; I had decided to buy the bicycle.

I knew, my wife would probably pick an interest and learn how to ride. My friend laughed and told me that bicycles were selling like a hot cake. He told me that if I had 1 million, he would deliver. I told him that I would get back to him. I am yet to. I am hopeful that lockdown restrictions will be eased and the buyer's market will set in. My friend will find a better reason to ask me to buy the bicycle at a lower price.

The lockdown has indeed taught us many things. First, the desire to get closer to God(pray); secondly, eating sparingly (you have no idea when you will return to work); thirdly, listening(news) to authorities to understand what is happening and any form of guidelines issued; fourth,  keeping fit(shading off effects of eating, sleeping and watching TV). Making money is not a priority now.

In an effort to meet the short term needs of the vulnerable groups of people during the lockdown, the government embarked on distributing food parcels. The President appealed to Ugandans to contribute to the emergency fund or contribute items that would be of help during the lockdown. Ugandans of all walks of life have been making contributions.

Last week, I called to ask my aunt how the local community was responding to the President's appeal. At the time of the call, my aunt was grinding (erithundula in Lukhonzo) dry cassava from which she would donate a few kilos of cassava flour (Bakonzo love Obundu or Tapioca).

Meanwhile, at the national level, the President has been reading names of companies and individuals who have made contributions. Individuals have been recognized regardless of their political affiliation.

Important to note, there have not been reports of discrimination in giving food parcels based on political party. I want to believe that the delay to get to all is a logistical challenge that will soon be addressed.

The selfless contributions have brought forth one important thing. Ugandans are resilient and are mindful of their national motto; For God and My country. During the lockdown, every Ugandan has played a role. Our men and women in uniform have continued to keep us safe, our frontline medical personnel have worked tirelessly to save lives, our farmers continue to till the land to ensure that we have what to eat, the Ministry of Health has ensured that the tests and updates are provided of all cases tested.

Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng and her team have exhibited brilliance in addressing health-related matters. The National Emergency Taskforce is equally playing an important role in ensuring that the necessary decisions are made, materials, and items reach the respective areas in time. Citizens have obeyed guidelines and continue to abide by the law. The President has offered leadership in these difficult times. The list is endless.

In our quiet, we need to reflect. If we can exhibit the best in us as Ugandans during a crisis, why can't we be better in times of calmness? What tribe is COVID-19? These questions should raise fundamental discussions at the family and national levels.

The actions and good gestures of our people show that every Ugandan has potential (remember the song,… Olina potential…?). The potential to act with one common goal, driven by our national values.

COVID-19 has forced us to act as citizens, and not as idiots or tribalists. The concepts were popularised during the formation of Greek democracy. The idiots are not per se mentally deficient.

They are simply self-centered. The idiots perceive the state as a private object that could be used to advance selfish interests. This category of people lack public philosophy and are always on the lookout for opportunities to advance personal needs. Idiots pretend to be advocates of the public good. Instead, they use the public for personal gain

The Greeks classified the second category of people as the tribalists. Greeks did not have a problem with people belonging to a tribe. In fact, people feel safe and proud if they associate with a particular tribe. The trouble with this group is a failure to think beyond the tribe. To them, the tribe is a sense of security.

They pay allegiance and worship the tribe. This group tends to act outwards with a tribal mentality. If they ascend to public offices, offices are used to advance tribal interests. This group tends to surround themselves with tribemates because they feel insure beyond a tribe.

The last group is the citizen. This describes the ideal person. They live and act with a common purpose and identity of a nation. They act civil and fair to others. The nation is more important than the individual.

This group recognizes itself as a member of the commonwealth. This category understands its rights and also knows that rights and liberties bring into play responsibilities. If they ascend to public offices, this group will surround itself with the best of citizens regardless of the tribe they belong to, after all the nation is supreme.

From the above, I will take the most basic definition of a nation to mean... people with common self-image, purpose, and moral nature with respect to the institutional framework.

On the other hand, values are fundamental beliefs that guide attitudes and actions. Values are reflected in our behaviours(actions). Values play a crucial role in motivating and guiding human action and are constitutive elements in the construction of collective and personal identities. National identity is basic cultures, sets of beliefs, desires that are distinctive in the light of certain contextual factors and constitute society's structure.

Our values are reflected in our behaviours.  These behaviours can be things such; greed, love, unity, tribalism among others (bad and good).

Drawing from the National Ethical Values Policy of 2013, there are 10 national values; 1)Respect for Humanity and environment, (2) Honesty; uphold and defend the truth at all times, (3) Justice and fairness in dealing with others, (4)Hard work for self-reliance, (5) Integrity; moral uprightness and sound character, (6)Creativity and innovativeness, (7)Social Responsibility, (8)Social Harmony, (9) National Unity and (10)National Consciousness and patriotism

I am not familiar with our new secondary school curriculum. I want to believe that these values informed the process of curriculum design. Quite often, I have heard the Minister of Education emphasise the need for character-based education. Her arguments for character-based education are anchored on our national values. The word "Kuyiya" (creative) is widely used in the country. This word speaks to national values 4 and 6. The lockdown and post lockdown will call for more "Kuyiya". Remember, it's not the strongest that will survive, but the most agile or adaptive.

A number of countries in Asia are believed to have developed their growth and development models based on values and character. Japanese for example, believe that trust is a fundamental principle of work practice. Singapore and South Korea emphasise character-based education. In the region, Rwanda has developed what it calls, "indangagaciro z'abanyarwanda"(national values). These values guide individual and national decision-making processes, including guiding people's actions and behaviours.

Referred to as the Pearl of Africa, Uganda is a beautiful country, blessed by nature. How do we define our nation Uganda? What is our identity? Who are we, idiot, tribalist, or citizen? I am not getting into the realms of political science. I am simply emphasising the need to harness the Ugandanness in us. If we harness our national values, Ugandans will find purpose, help individuals act in tough times, and ensure that when making decisions, we put our nation first.

COVID-19 calls for no individualised approach to issues. The fight against COVID-19 will succeed if we all act in the interest of our country, one people with one goal, and a common destiny. It's time to call ourselves a nation with a common identity.

If we understand our roles in society and define ourselves as citizens, we will be able to contribute to nation-building.

Stay safe as you continue to ‘Kuyiya'

The writer is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Swaziland

kulewarren@gmail.com

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