The word independence simply reminds me of three things, ‘growing up’, ‘taking on responsibilities’ and ‘having freedom’. There is always that time when you feel grown up physically, mentally and financially and all you want is to start managing yourself and your affairs. You therefore demand for your right to be free and try it out on your own. It might be safer to simply enjoy the ride as someone else is taking full control but at some time instincts will start to tickle your imagination and desire to seek autonomy. This is usually the genesis of the struggle to be independent that may not be ceased until independence is attained.
We celebrate the Declaration of Independence for two reasons. It represents an official handover of this great nation from the colonial masters to Ugandans. Secondly it represents the core of our beliefs, the aspirations and the very makeup of our identity as citizens of Uganda. Sometimes the concept of what it means to be a citizen of Uganda may seem unclear. Whereas a good number of Ugandans are very passionate about our country, there are others who cannot accept patriotism as a wholesale, no-strings-attached concept. But those who already deeply love their country, those who know what it means to be a Ugandan and know what we hold dearly as citizens, the declaration of Independence can be a guidepost.
I would love to believe that Independence Day is a celebration of “freedom” and a day of parties, filled with barbecues, fireworks, relaxation and reflections on achievements made since we received autonomy from the colonial powers. Unfortunately the reality is grimmer, because not everyone in this country shares the “independence” we commemorate on this day. There is a section of the population that will ask you why we celebrate Independence Day and when you tell them that we are celebrating the day we got freedom, they quickly ask you: Whose freedom are we celebrating?
People’s assessment of freedom seems to be more than just allowing people to rule themselves. It is not about getting a parrot out of a small cage and putting it in a bigger cage with some reasonable space for it to move around and stretch its wings. It should be about breaking the walls that surround us and also blow off the ceiling. People keep asking themselves fundamental questions: Where is the freedom when justice is a preserve for the rich, when thousands of people are incarcerated and rotting in jails even without trial, when people are illegally detained and others are victims of extrajudicial killings, when corruption neighs louder than thunder, when land evictions are the order of the day, when labour and employment laws are not in favour of the employees and when personal security is an individual responsibility.
The bitter truth is that, until such time that people’s rights are honoured and economic independence positively affects the ordinary people, then political independence celebrations and observations are a complete waste of time. The whole concept of political independence was to allow locals to become masters of their own domain and destiny. Actually, the same way local politicians fought colonial masters for independence, is the way ordinary citizens continue to fight local politicians for better governance. It was a case of digging up one hole to cover up another.
A popular writer rightly put it: “And for some of us, the fruits of independence can only be got second handed”. And that is only if you are lucky to get them because the politicians up there won’t allow even a drop of our independence blessings to trickle down to the citizens. You must have a tall relative to become a beneficiary. Politicians feel Independence Day more than the common man because they grant themselves a public holiday away from work and may even give themselves Independence Day spending cash. The common who lives from hand to mouth on a daily basis cannot afford the luxury of staying away from work for even a single day. And there is another argument that the amount of money we spend on these celebrations every year can erect two health centre III hospitals in a sub county and you can now imagine how many such hospitals would be operational since we started celebrating independence.
As we celebrate and commemorate the valour and spirit of the freedom fighters who fought for the independence of this nation. We must note that there is yet another bigger battle to fight and that’s individual economic independence of every citizen. You are not going to raise the spirit of patriotism by simply preaching it. People must see it, feel it and then believe it. The biggest blunder politicians make is to assume that the rest of the people at the extreme periphery of the national cake can only be told to love, appreciate and serve their country without giving them genuine reasons why they should. Secondly independence is more than just being free. It is about taking on responsibilities and working tirelessly with love to develop yourself and your country.