yes – WE can!


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While watching Gravity one family movie night during the Christmas holiday I stopped half way and left the room for good. This was at the point where the female American space scientist was overcoming the umpteenth life-threatening challenge in outer space.

Just to be clear: She (played by Sandra Bullock) was a scientist carrying out her first repair mission on a satellite in outer space. Floating around clad only in a space suit, an accident occurs that detaches her from the machines and she hurtles through nothingness. The only other living person nearby helps a little bit before another accident sends him deeper into space and his probable demise.

The female scientist encounters mechanical tragedies, a fire inside a space shuttle after she had taken off her protective space suit, loss of consciousness, disorientation, and more – all while alone out in outer space.

Yet, true to the usual American movie propaganda, she manages to keep locating buttons and switches to start machines up again, working out rapid solutions to sudden problems such as the fire outbreak, reciting morale-boosting sayings to herself…and by the time I walked out she was still alive.

As I said: it’s American movie propaganda, which is so embedded in our lives that there is this song you all know that goes: “Cowboy never die. If he die, never rot. If he rot, never smell…”

The entire entertainment industry is one big national morale-booster for Americans – that’s why in movies all globe-threatening tragedies go to the United States and the world is saved right there by Americans.

Which is not bad, but I was irritated because I felt that continuing to watch such movies was wasting time – instead of going out to develop and begin embedding our own Ugandan propaganda.

That’s why I walked out: The movie plot and its elements were too remotely set from my life; I deal mostly with people who are totally helpless when their cars break down just here on Kampala road; who can’t take jiggers out of their own feet; who can’t do weather forecasts to avoid getting wet or swept away by landslides.

People whose automatic approach to things is that they “can’t.”

Most of the people I know have a default setting that makes them begin their responses to requests, tasks and challenges with: “Ha. I don’t know…” and “The problem is…”, “Okay, but…”, “Naye…” and “Tusaba gavumenti etuyambe!”

There is something probably in our educational systems that builds this self-doubt and lack of confidence and we need to weed it out in order to get to outer space, let alone imagine ways of dealing with problems when we get there.

It might not be in schools alone – there may be uncles or aunts somewhere who go about building doubts in children; or friends who ridicule all attempts and ventures and collapse in howling laughter when one falls; or donors who bring help from above and build a reliance culture in us.

We should find these stimuli and crush them like samosas.

Because on the other side of the globe, Americans generally think they own the world simply because that’s what they have been told from time immemorial. It’s so ridiculous that they have taken three very short, very common, very widely used english words and basically copyrighted them.

“Yes, you can!”

Everyone seems to believe that this phrase was created by Barack Obama and now represents an attitude that is “American”, yet surely even I, a Ugandan, can legitimately declare that “I Can!”.

Well, this year I am not accepting negative stimuli from actors or influencers around me, and invite only positives so that we go about with the confidence of proper Ugandans.

That’s one of the things my children’s teachers are going to be hearing about: they will be morale-boosters as they go about teaching. None of them is allowed to say “You can’t” or even raise doubts by asking, “But will you manage?”

My workmates the same, and when I am tempted to raise doubts about their abilities they have full rights to push back and make me a morale-booster. No questioning from me about whether they can achieve their contracted tasks – rather, positive encouragement.

Eventually, perhaps our leaders at various levels will devise some national morale-boosting practice like they do in church when the reverend asks us to shake hands and wish each other peace all round.

We will move from “Tusaba gavumenti etuyambe” to “Yes, We Can!” and be heroes in our own movies.

12 thoughts on “yes – WE can!

  1. Love this piece Simon! Indeed we need a slogan that instils national pride & ambition in EVERY Ugandan. This “tusaba gavumenti” nonsense must stop! I’m thinking of one!;-)

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  2. Very spot on my friend Simon. I am in agreement 100%. However, at the risk of sounding a little pessimist, I have to add that this “Yes We Can” attitude is not one that our political or religious leaders will support or even tolerate. You see in Uganda, Political and religious leaders spread the dependency syndrome worse than anyone else; they thrive on it. They preach a gospel that alludes to the fact that without them we are doomed. As a result we have a people who are subscribing to certain political and religious notions simply because we “fear the alternative”. In places like America, politicans know that they can be done away rather easily. This means they have no room to create dependency on themselves. However, in Uganda when you have Ministers, MPs and other politicians who are in the same positions of authority for decades, it gives the impression that no one else can do the job and so we must depend on these same individuals for salvation. If a child grows up seeing a certain bunch of Ministers being shufled amongst the Ministries year in year out, how are they expected to dream of equally becoming Minister and thus claim that they too “Can”? Without necessarily swinging the club to smash just politicians and religious leaders, I feel like every individual and institution must never create dependency on themselves because that right there is the beginning of “No – you Can’t; only I can!”.

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    1. You’re right about some leaders using the dependency syndrome to stay on top – but that’s what we need to break. We should not allow ourselves to be gripped by their backward-pulling selfishness; we should not allow ourselves to be defined by our leaders and their interests unless their interests are of a nationalistic nature. That is why we should kill “Tusaba gavumenti etuyambe”. Our motto or slogan or motivational call should embrace or engulf them…and in any case, WE should be the leaders rather than just ordinary wanainchi living UNDER a group of leaders.

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    1. 100% agree, the problem is in the education system as much as it is in the family. Kids lack empowerment from the beginning. This nosense of kids just sitting in class and copying notes and then cramming text books without ever having a discussion in class is outrageous. Unless you are one of the outspoken ones in debate club, you never get a chance to voice your opinion, or even think to have one if no one is there to hear it. In the home too, kids are raised to think they can’t do or say certain things without coming off as rude to their elders. This needs to change. we need a slogan and some kind of movement to go with it in schools.

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      1. I am with you as well! I’m doing everything within my powers and reach to empower as many children as possible with the right attitude, and would be happy to hear more people doing the same. And I am seriously having a discussion with my kids’ school about this.

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  3. Well Done and Well Done indeed, I made the choice last year on the 29th of December to do what i can to change my country in the best way i know how, this here has helped fuel the fire burning inside. I am sure we all have it inside us all we need is the person to inspire that difference and that fire to come out burning so we can be the best we can be.
    The leaders (politicians and religious) well they too need to be “schooled” by we the people who want to make that difference that is why this year i am joining the youth group at my church to change it from the bottom up…

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    1. Good going!
      Joining the Youth Group at Church is a good beginning. Get in there and make your impact felt – and then galvanise others to do the same or even more. We need to each be that inspiration for somebody else and then build up the momentum till the change is visible countrywide or globally.

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