By Ofwono Opondo
June, 9, every year in Uganda is officially reserved as our Heroes Day in remembrance initially of those who contributed to the liberation struggle that ushered in the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government on January 26, 1986. Specifically, June 9, 1981 was the day one of Yoweri Museveni’s [President] clandestine supporters; Eddidian Babumba Mukiibi Luttamaguzi was captured by the then national army, the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) and brutally murdered for harbouring, yet refusing to disclose Museveni’s whereabouts in Kikandwa village, Semuto Sub-county, Nakaseke district.
For that sacrifice, alongside many others both dead, and those still living who contributed to the liberation efforts it was, considered appropriate and noble, to honour them, so that current and future generations could emulate the spirit of contributing to the greater common good while not expecting immediate personal gain, gratification or glorification.
Earlier in Uganda’s political history, the Uganda Peoples’ Congress (UPC) II regime had also named and indeed celebrated May, 27 as “Heroes Day” in commemoration of the return on May 27, 1980 of its leader Apollo Milton Obote from nine year exile in Tanzania after being toppled by then Army Commander Idi Amin Dada. Idi Amin’s regime by every account ushered in the most brutal dictatorship, fascism and economic ruin, as he abolished parliament and ruled solely by military decrees which left Uganda dripping in blood.
The Second UPC regime (1980-85) rather than moving away from the horrors sowed by Idi Amin simply entrenched them by letting party and state operatives becoming a law unto themselves in every respect if possibly not worse! For those reasons, restoring political normalcy and solving political disputes became the main pre-occupation of the first decade NRM administration (1986-96).
No wonder therefore, that in Uganda every time one speaks of ‘heroes’ the tendency has been inclined to those who made political and military sacrifices often in the war battlefields which, important as it may be, shouldn’t have always been the case. However, following the enactment of “National Honours and Awards Act 2001,” many categories of Ugandans have come into the bracket of those being recognised with award of national medals for their various contributions both at the local and national levels of service. It is important to clarify that not every medal awardees is a hero as most people seem to assume.
It is, therefore correct that having pacified the politics we begin looking broader to other disciplines for people who qualify for these national awards and medals, and possibly even recognizing and bestowing upon them the title of heroes. And a hero doesn’t necessarily have to succeed in their endevour. All is required is to identify the tasks at hand, be available with the courage and sacrifice sometimes at personal danger or loss, because after all the opportunities to run away or get comprised are always present.
Today we are mainly celebrating the lives of those who contributed to the liberation, and a few in the recovery of Uganda. As the epoch of socio-economic transformation gets underway we need to look for new heroes, champions and father-figures that are or will make this possible for everyone in Uganda. A well qualified medical doctor, lawyer or teacher who chooses to work in Karamoja, Bundibugyo or Yumbe, and doesn’t grab the first available opportunity to work for a job with UNICEF in Nairobi, would, in that case perhaps be my hero today even if he does not succeed in solving the problems there. A teacher, youth leader or community worker who volunteers sustainably in teaching public hygiene to school children could similarly be my hero.
In Uganda’s current drive to spur socio-economic transformation, innovators in appropriate, affordable and sustainable science and technologies, and business entrepreneurs who will provide the much needed impetus to solving many of our critical and persistent problems could potentially qualify for consideration as new heroes.
During the last century when Americans were saying “Greed is Good,” we in Africa sneered, and yet that was also the period when Bill Gates and Steve Jobs came to represent a different narrative by flipping ”greed is good” into a virtue.
The entrepreneurial knights created not only new things but new ways of doing things, and of thinking. The entrepreneur was a builder, a creator, a disruptor and a do-gooder. It would be good to have as our new heroes people like them, school dropouts and outsiders who have compelling stories to tell, and incredible focus and brilliance, inventors, not just businessmen. My hero would be someone who isn’t part of the usual political and economic establishment.
With the thirst in entrepreneurship and financial literacy especially in rural areas, if someone designed and mentored models that rural women can use to mobilize and invest resources in commercial enterprises, that person, to me, could be considered for a national award.
They would have paved the way for our glorification of entrepreneurs and also a new class of financial celebrities in the villages where there is so much untapped and used potential in what one scholar described as finding “The fortunes at the bottom of the pyramid.”
Under this year’s theme of “Concretising the gains of our Heroes is the duty for every Ugandan,” professionals-teachers and health workers who are making a modest but honest contribution to enlighten and save our society under very difficult circumstances should be the heroes.
Equally, members of the security services like the police, army and intelligence personnel who work all day round at minimal reward to keep us safe in this uncertain, crude and violent world yet don’t publicly grumble should be considered our new heroes even when some of them may make mistakes.
And looking at the way elected politicians are being stained, and educated and paid civil servants work more as mercenary vultures, and at our limping revolution, some would even be tempted to think we are better off if giving up on heroes entirely. Many are mourning the decline of simple heroic virtue, and its replacement by modern calculation and self-interest.
The old adage of “remember to always offer a hand to one who is drowning,” which was adhered to in the past during the darkest days seem to no longer apply.
But even with some of the disappointments taken into consideration, marking hero’s day especially if books about their contributions were written, plays and films made, and monuments erected at public places would be another way to keep memories alive, as well as learn lessons from their remarkable courage against the backdrop of contemporary suffering.
And wherever we may be, each of us could develop their own sense of and a checklist of heroes to look up to, and these could be parents, spouses, guardians and siblings at home who always make the good difference in each of our lives. During our quiet reflections we could keep up an all round-the-clock vigil, highlighting what they each stand for in this very cruel world.
I would consider a public servant, even a minister of government who steps down a new hero if they don’t agree that public policy they are meant to implement cannot work or is tainted by corruption, instead of them always passing the buck.
New heroism could also be those working tirelessly behind the scenes to alleviate the suffering of underprivileged and abandoned youth who society seems all too willing to forget because as the saying goes, “whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”
Fortunately, there are still plenty of people willing to stand up and be counted despite the inaction and sycinicism of those around them. Too, there are people in today’s Uganda who have made or are making a real difference in their communities. We need to research and learn how local movements become national ones through the activism and perseverance of upstanding individuals.
Not all acts of heroism need to have a global effect to be defined as brave or courageous. There are many people who, in a variety of ways, have taken up causes in their daily lives. Their efforts show how simply getting involved can open doors to bigger projects involving human rights or rescue opportunities.
There is need to identify individuals in our own daily lives who embody heroism and think about the various roles they play in society encouraging others to act heroically or as touch-bearers in small, day-to-day things and approaching their careers with energy and enthusiasm. They could people working for and championing feminist, children and interests of other marginalized and disadvantaged groups without necessarily seeking for wealth, publicity or fame.