“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” goes the phrase famously uttered back when American presidents were still eloquent. Its resonance can be felt even here, in this Uganda of ours.
I never ask what Uganda can do for me. I don’t want to hear the answer.
Mostly because I have seen Uganda drive and park. Uganda’s cars drive with such entitlement, so much brutish bullying and, if not a complete lack of understanding of geometry, a total lack of caring for it. And when they are not moving, when the cars are empty and have been put in the corner to just wait, they are even worse.
You park like you are having sex badly. Ugandan parking is best described, not even as bad, but as unkempt. Dishevelled. That is how you park.
Which is not to say I do not love my country. It’s annoying, but my patriot bona fides are clear and evident. I have never tasted Ethiopian coffee. I only drink Masaba and Kanungu brews. When I meet a person from Europe or America, for some reason my Luganda accent becomes even stronger. I say “pulaimalireh” instead of primarily. I don’t use VPN. I just don’t tweet unless I am on wifi.
I may be cynical sometimes, but I am committed to doing every inch of my part, as far as it is possible, to help Uganda survive, if not succeed. I know what I can do for my country, and I do it well. Clap for me. God upholds O Uganda through people like me.
Patriotism was on the table for discussion last week when the country’s football team, The Uganda Cranes, briefly sat down to strike in the middle of a continental tournament. Narrowed down to the barest of basics: someone jammed to give them money which they felt they deserved.
FUFA said they had released the money. The players felt more was due. There is doubt and shadow all over the field– like “diving”, a player rolling around the pitch as if he sustained multiple spinal fractures when another guy’s toe touched him lightly; is he hurt? Is he not? Is it some combination of the two? We don’t know so let’s just move on to the resultant criticism: the claims of unpatriotic attitudes.
But what if we are getting it upside down? What if our reading of the situation, like our behaviour when it comes to traffic lanes, is back to front, upside down, and inside out?
We assume that “You” is the people and “Country” is the government: What about the other way around?
What if we, us, the citizens, including the ballers, the patients, the school-kids, pensioners, the bank depositors … what if we are the Country?
And what if you are FUFA or any of its affiliated state organisations –Parliament, cabinet, UNRA, BoU, the cops, UNEB etc.
That means the Country showed up, in full Cranes kit and put their guts on the line to do their job, and now asks what FUFA can do for them: Which is, holla with colour. Break the bread. Make it rain. Some money.
And then the You claimed the Country was unpatriotic.
Uganda can be annoying but truth be told. I would never want to be anywhere else. I belong here. There is a bond underneath all the exasperation that links me to this patch of earth that will never let me be satisfied elsewhere.
And it is this bond that keeps me dissatisfied. Every country has bad drivers but I would rather suffer mine. Because here it is my people, my land, my rights, and my duties.
Here is where I have the right to demand that the police protect and not harass my people. Here is where I have the right to assert my freedom to associate. But I don’t. I just get out of the way when the sirens blare that the permanent secretary’s kid is being driven to the swimming pool and we should all clear a path.
So I throw my shock absorbers in the ditch by the roadside.
Here I am, languishing in agony with all my neuroses and indigestion and ingrown toenails and what do I hear? That the state is going to take 4 percent of my income for a health scheme. To me this doesn’t mean I will get timely and guaranteed services as a citizen, it just means that from now on I will have four percent less to spend on my medication. I don’t expect anything else.
Complacency, surrender, to shrug it off and “just allow” is one thing we can do, but we can also demand for more. We can insist that we be better. We can sit down and say we won’t kick until You do what you are supposed to do for your Country.
The fact that the Cranes believed that if they make their point strongly enough it will be heard shows that they believed Uganda can work.
Again, I wasn’t in Egypt so I can’t speak for the details of the Cranes deal: was it a dive, or was it a foul?
I can, however, speak on the chatter in the town square and say, maybe daring to ask for more is not as unpatriotic as settling for less.