At a distance, our country’s predicament appears akin to the biblical end of days. The ‘times of difficulty’ the writer narrates in second Timothy chapter three do not belong to the domain of the future in many of our lives. They are real, concrete conditions under which lives of many are trapped – economic misery, hunger, landlessness, political turmoil, crime life, and innumerable forms of unfreedom. But should it mean that conditions as these that stand in the way of people’s ability to live life in dignity be passed on as belonging to another realm, beyond that of humans? That nothing can be done about it?
In Uganda today, and across the totalizing neoliberal empire; the tendencies to project problems that emanate from the way society is organized by human actions (hence changeable by the very actions) as ‘natural’ problems, and the projection of the prevailing contingent version of social organization as ‘omnipotent’ and necessary are well known tendencies.
But ideologically sharp illusions as these can work only up to a certain point. Beyond that point; real, concrete problems in society must be ‘addressed’ in whichever way that might be. Faced with this uncompromising reality; those who find themselves at the political epitome of the whole usually respond with fantastic ‘solutions’. In the process, really strange things happen.
At the global level, the ugly faces of racism now freely decorate the banners of “promoters of progress”. Is it not true today that victims of forms of (neo-)colonialism (political, economic, cultural, etc.) must be coerced into admission to all forms of racist, degrading and demonizing categories (“backward”, “underdeveloped”, “poor”, “third world”, etc.) as a qualification for the politically sweet and socially destructive ‘aid’ packages, like military ‘aid’?
In our Ugandan setting; the ‘solutions’ deployed by high-level politics to deep-seated societal problems have not been less dramatic. One can mention but a few. For instance; hungry and angry voices crying out loud on streets – “Gavumenti Etuyambe!” – are fed with tear gas. Street cameras have been proposed to “solve” urban crime. Public servants seeking dignified working conditions receive guarantees of expulsion. Did not we hear also a government minister advising ‘village youths’ to migrate to cities “to solve” environmental degradation?
For some time now, youths have been “shouting too much” about unemployment. The ‘solution’? A good number (over 10 million) were recruited into a volunteer “crime prevention” force. Fantastic indeed: crime prevention volunteerism for unemployed youths! Others are either officially shipped out of their country, as “labour exports”, to places like the Middle East through bilateral MoUs, or officially encouraged to ship themselves for ‘kyeyo’ abroad.
The hot discursive cake now is the possible ‘amendment’ of article 102 (b) of the 1995 constitution – the follow-up legislation on Presidential age limit after earlier ‘success’ on term limits. Do not these ‘amendments’, above everything else, embody a core ‘solution’ of the prevailing political machine to the country’s major political problem since ‘independence’ – the problem of political instability? The embodied ‘solution’ is dictatorship. The whole idea seems to be as follows: let ‘us’ ensure that ‘our’ leader, projected as immortal, carries on without “obstruction” to ensure ‘political stability’ and the continuity of Society generally. Have not we heard people speaking as if to suggest that Society will cease to function without the leader?
A close look at these and many of our beloved ‘solutions’ to complex issues in our Society stabs imagination. The level of violence they exert to life in Society is indeed enormous. This violence is not only physical (like the violence of tear gas and bullets on hungry bodies), it is also psychological. Not only immediate but also long-term. The well-known practice that meaningful solutions to societal problems should embrace a process that involves as many of its members as possible – after all, such problems pertain to Society as a whole – is being effectively displaced. Either through easy technological fixes (think of street cameras to “solve” urban crime), legalization of illegalities that encroach on individual agency under the pretext of “public order management”, or through the perpetuation of all junk versions of commonplace impoverishing top-down remedies which reduce complete human beings to nothing less than passive beggars (think of operation “wealth creation”). The Society that results from this way of proceeding is a ‘dead’ Society. It cannot be allowed to take root. I think here we must totally embrace the central concept of the 1980-1986 guerrilla war in Uganda led by President Museveni: Resistance. For in it, together, we can continue to re-assert our belonging to a Society, and our common commitment to better the way we organize it.