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OPINION: WE NEED CIVILITY IN THE 2021 GENERAL ELECTIONS

By Patrick Odongo Lango

My grandmother told me a story of two foolish boys who, after eating until their bellies hurt, burnt the granary because they thought they no longer needed it. To their surprise the next day, they woke up to biting hunger, and only then did they realize their mistake.

It is frightening to listen to, and read the anger, vitriol, and hate on the Uganda social media spaces. One might think that it is not citizens of one nation in conversation with each other. Spurred by a few foreign-based backers who have evil intentions against the country, many young Ugandans are being led to hate their fellow citizens simply because they hold contrary political opinions. There is a rise of a dangerous puritanical extremist movement whose avowed creed is “I am right, you must be dead”.

Most of these social media users are rarely people who commit themselves to deep and thoughtful deliberations about the consequences of their extremist actions to the wellbeing of the country. It is simple to bait them. Just post a doctored picture or video showing the “oppression by the NRM” and they will begin to share it online without a second thought about the veracity of the content. They seem to have embraced name-calling and insults as their preferred methods of communication. They’ve specialized in denigrating the name and person of the President by exploiting the very benevolence of President Museveni for his critics.

When we point to the paucity of well thought out policy alternatives coming from their camps, their simple retort is “you’ve been bought”. They are the kind that Gen Mugisha Muntu described as willing to embrace “any change” or as President Museveni said in 1986 preferring  “a mere change of guards” rather than a qualitative change in the affairs of the state. We do a disservice to this nation by embracing this simple notion. Recent history teaches us so. The Tahrir Square Revolution gave the Egyptians the satisfaction of overthrowing Hosni Mubarak, but without a well-laid foundation to build on, it quickly unraveled when Field Marshall Fattah el-Sisi staged a coup and imprisoned the leader of the revolution.

It is important that all agents of change be patient long-term players, who must consider all the combinations and permutations of their political rhetoric and moves. Uganda will be best served when we consider the aspirations of all Ugandans, not simply our respective support bases. I know that our political arguments can sometimes be annoyingly small and petty, but it would serve the general polity better if our current players recognize the mistakes that our neighbors in Kenya did that sent their country into grotesque post-election violence in 2007 that killed thousands and left scores injured and property destroyed.

We can choose a better path. Civil engagement, moderation of language, and looking at the bigger interests of Uganda is a better and more enlightened choice for all of us. It would be a sad commentary on this generation, if we chose a path of destructive politics and lay to wastes all the gains we have collectively made, simply to serve political ambitions.

I know the office of President is very important and alluring. Former President Binaisa famously quipped that “entebbe ewooma”, literary meaning “the seat is sweet”. But let’s be honest, how many average Ugandans interface with a President or are affected by a Presidential decision? Because of our institutional arrangements, the powers of the President are quite dispersed and limited. The size of the bureaucracy simply dilutes the powers of the President. So, if you wished to change the country, it would be far better to become the Chairman LC 1 of your village.

Eventually, we shall realize that the Office of the President is not a life and death issue for the majority of us. Let’s therefore not burn our country simply because of an election and engage each other as fellow citizens.

The Writer is an NRM party cadre from Minakulu in Oyam District

Facebook: Odongo Lango

Twitter: patrickodongosn

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