Independence Day in Uganda

uganda flagToday (October 9, 2015), Uganda turns 53. Yes, 53 years of Independence from Britain. 53 years of self-rule. 53 years of nation building.

As a Canadian, Independence Day means something very different to me than it does to the average Ugandan. The best way to explain it, is to say that I inherently feel Canadian (although on a practical level, after 11 years in Uganda, that’s not entirely true). I am, however, descended from the colonial power that ruled Canada for a couple hundred years, before handing over power to it’s non-indigenous population. We basically tweaked British rule and lifestyle and carried on. No huge leap for us and our collective history (much different story for Canada’s First Nations and French populations). And not really comparable to the African colonial/independence experience (understatement of the year).

Every year, I ask my friends and colleagues what independence means to them. Some just look at me sideways and laugh a bit, saying “I don’t really go in for that, it’s just another day”. Or, more caustically “Independence from what?”

For those who don’t know, almost all countries in Africa were created not by their original inhabitants. Rather, huge tracts of land (resources) were carved up and named by non-African colonial powers, to suit them. Once each country became independent, it’s population found it was lumped together with some very disparate people. So, yeah, it’s likely very hard to identify predominantly with a recent, foreign created framework, like nationhood, when traditional clan and tribal structures have served their members for generations.

kipsiroUganda’s government puts on a huge celebration every October 9th. In order to be inclusive, the celebrations are held in a different town each year. A move in the right direction for building national pride. I am seeing other attempts to bring about a sense of national pride in Uganda. We’ve got a few famous runners, boxers, and rowers that Ugandans admire. Football and rugby teams also seem to unite. Then there’s the alcohol – Uganda Waragi “The Spirit That Binds Us”, and Bell lager “Uganda’s Heritage”.

These may get the ball rolling, but are they meaningful enough to cement a national identity? How about some world travel for Ugandans? My friends who have lived abroad tend to appreciate what Uganda has to offer more than those who can’t compare it to other countries. Or does Uganda just need more time to get to know itself, to independently build itself?

Ugandans! What does Independence Day mean to you? What does Uganda mean to you? Do you feel Ugandan?

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