Unconventional Thought is a weekly column by Raymond Mujuni
A friend of mine turned 35 last week.
It was a great occasion to wish him well onto the year and to celebrate him for a year of blood and sweat. He quit a good radio job a couple of months ago to concentrate on both fathering, marketing and creating content outside the official radio space.
But I digress.
To wish him a happy womb escape, I called him, sent in a few threats of dousing him in water and offered to both cake and a blank cheque book present.
He took me up on all offers except the water one – It’s a long held tradition here to pour water on people on their birthdays regardless of how well dressed they are or what place you find them.
So we arranged the cake date in the busy neighborhood of Acacia together with a mutual friend and set upon looking for three of the books he had recommended as his presents.
Only one of the three titles was available. ‘Daring Greatly’ a book written by Brene Brown, a professor who has great knowledge on empathy, shame, vulnerability and courage.
The book is such an appeal both by cover and preface that when I sat down at the coffee shop and my friend and mutual weren’t arriving, I chose to delve into it for a bit.
It opens with the courageous speech of Sir Winston Churchill famed as ‘The Man In the Arena’. It then explores the subjects of vulnerability and fear and talks in detail about daring greatly to achieve vulnerability.
Through the many page flips, it dawned on me that perhaps, the national dialogue we intend to have requires – possibly for the first time – the nation to be vulnerable.
I get that the leaders across different parties have wanted for eons to have a national dialogue about the future of the country. The future of the country, in itself, is a vague and lazy statement for power jostling.
If you speak to the opposition, the dialogue, in whatever way it happens, they insist, must map out how Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, President of the country for 32 years leaves power and if you speak to the President, the dialogue, in whatever way it happens, must maintain the peace and stability of the country and allow for the opposition to have a deep understanding of his definition of the country’s bottlenecks.
The opposition, in their quest for leadership, are greatly exposed. None of the existing political parties with the exception of UPC and DP have real governance experience of the country’s top office. Even the two that have it are thin on institutional strength to mentor leaders. The Uganda People’s Congress, for example, which was the first party to hold executive power currently has a thin 9 members of parliament and no grassroots’ networks to take, hold and maintain power even if it were handed on a silver or banana fiber platter.
It cannot influence a legislative endeavor too with just 9 of the over 420 members of parliament. The Democratic Party, with all its weight of lawyers cannot resolve its own internal power strife, their leader arrives at the table undermined by a section of the party and arrives short of the required numbers in parliament to mount a serious dialogue resolution. The shakiest seat of the dialogue is however reserved for the FDC, Uganda’s biggest opposition party, torn into two by competing ideas, with their immediate former president announcing a new party by January, unable to keep all the ducks in parliament in a row but with a visibly strong internal democracy that allows self-critique – even if that turns detrimental.
So, the opposition must admit, painfully and factually that they are vulnerable in their capacity to take, hold and maintain power to use it for any intent they may have. And that admission is important for what contributions they can make to a national dialogue.
The biggest concession of vulnerability though must come from the President and his party, the NRM.
It is that after 32 years at the helm of the office, the turbine and formulation of ideas seems to have hit a snag. The party is incapacitated in attracting fresh and young blood that can cause internal reform and keep it at par with the demands of a developing country. It’s leaders have been fingered out in grand corruption scandals denting the image of the party that had initially set its course as a revolutionary entity.
It is also that the party functionaries have no real power beyond that which is accorded to them by the Chairman. Its that in the absence of either the chairman of the party or the state power that comes with him, the party is vulnerable to hacks and power jostling that exposes the state – should they keep state power.
Vulnerability at the national dialogue will help the country understand that NRM and Museveni have been the men in the arena and in understanding them, the opposition will offer them the much needed legitimacy and empathy to open to even greater conversations that include transition, power shifts and potentially a better democracy – That’s the unconventional thought.
There’s no reason why my friend’s 36th birthday shouldn’t find him enjoying the fruits of this vulnerability and then perhaps his book list will evolve to include titles that can be found.