FIRST, go to your calendar and mark the day October 2, 2017. Then, set it to ‘Repeat’ annually.
Then read this: I received a phone call from a frustrated-sounding Renu Varun the other day, who introduced herself as “Goodwill Tourism Ambassador of Uganda to India”. Long story cut short, she insisted that we meet face to face and I acquiesced. I really do not like meetings.
She was bright and lovely from the start, but I still demanded firmly that she explain the words on her business card that read, ‘Obuntu Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’. She told me ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam‘ was the Indian equivalent of ‘Ubuntu’ – that oneness of humanity that we espouse over here, and they over there.
Her story was simple yet complicated.
When she arrived in Uganda in 2015 she was blown away by the people and the country and the spirit of peace. Within a couple of months, she had immersed herself into a project to get Uganda and India closer intertwined by way of increasing tourism from India to Uganda or, at least, by Indians in Uganda.
She was so amazed by the story of a young man called Victor Ochen, and the fact that he was a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, that she put two and two together and decided it would be most fitting for him to be celebrated at a ceremony held at the place where a world icon of peace had been laid to rest.
According to his wishes, Mahatma Gandhi, assassinated in 1948, had some of his ashes scattered at The Source of the Nile in Jinja. (Next year, we have the opportunity to mark 60 years of that event right HERE, but that’s a whole other discussion).
Renu, seeing the link between Gandhi, Ochen and Jinja, contacted the Gandhi family and they agreed to give Victor Ochen a tunic made off the very hand loom that Mahatma Gandhi himself used to make his own tunics off of.
That tunic was airlifted to Uganda and, in a ceremony attended by the Indian Association of Uganda and officiated over by the Indian High Commissioner to Uganda then, given to Victor on October 2, 2015. Victor Ochen owns a tunic woven off the hand loom of Mahatma Gandhi, handed to him where Mahatma Gandhi’s remains were scattered. He is special.
Did you mark this date? It is October 2. That is the day, in 1869, on which Mahatma Gandhi was born. Because of that it is marked globally as the International Day of Non-Violence.
After Victor received his tunic, Renu shared her big idea – Uganda needed to mark the ‘International Day of Non-Violence 2017’ in a grand way leading up to Independence Day celebrations, with hundreds of thousands of people in attendance at the Source of the Nile in Jinja. During the 2017 ceremonies, millions upon millions of people in India would tune in and pay attention to the event and Uganda, thus taking a further interest in tourism opportunities here.
See, in 2017 (she has been explaining to all and sundry since back in 2015) India would be marking 100 years of their Swadeshi Movement – the equivalent of what we are calling ‘Buy Uganda, Build Uganda’. Their Swadeshi Movement was a successful boycott of British products and establishment of Indian nationalism, industry and what Gandhi described as “the soul of Swaraj (self-rule)”.
How appropriate it would be, she argued, if on October 2, 2017 Uganda became the world’s home of the ‘International Day of Non-Violence’ celebrations and marked it at the Source of the Nile in Jinja by launching the ‘Buy Uganda, Build Uganda’ (did I hear Zimba Uganda?) Movement while marking 100 years of the Swadeshi Movement?
Swinging back to the Peace part of this, did you know that Uganda’s allocated SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) is Goal 16: “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions”? Think about how all this ties in.
Not only that, Renu told me, Uganda’s special place in the minds of India is so deep-set that the cover photograph used on the Indian Government website of the India Africa Forum Summit in 2015 – the biggest held so far – bore a photograph of the Indian Foreign Affairs Minister shaking hands with only one African Foreign Affairs Minister – Uganda’s Sam Kutesa.
Meeting a very high ranking Indian government official in India one day, she said to him, “We talk about Gandhism every day here in India, but in Uganda they live Gandhism!”
Did you mark the date, by the way? It’s October 2, 2017 – at the Source of the Nile in Jinja.
By the time our coffee was done, I still didn’t know the theme of this year’s Independence Day celebrations or whether Ugandans would be wearing foreign-made suits and ties to celebrate ‘Independence’. Also, there was no confirmation of a government-sponsored or organised event at the Source of the Nile in Jinja on October 2, 2017.
I have heard, though, that His Royal Highness the Aga Khan will be a Guestof Honour at this year’s Independence Day celebrations. Why is this significant?
At some point in his life, Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned in the Aga Kahn Palace in Pune, in India. After launching the ‘Quit India’ Movement in 1942. Read some of the story for yourself, off the plaque at the Palace itself:
Seriously, Uganda, all the elements are coming together so well that we don’t have to wait for another announcement, as peace-loving, tourism-propelled Ugandans who are lauded the world over for being a haven of peace in the Great Lakes Region and the world’s shining example of refugee handling and regional conflict resolution.
This is not for the Government of Uganda to hire tents and public address systems and then prepare speeches by a Guest of Honour. All of us can go out there and talk Peace and Security and Buy Uganda Build Uganda/Zimba Uganda.
Renu had an interesting idea: If the Parliament of Uganda declared that for that week all MPs were required to dress up strictly in traditional garb or clothing made in Uganda, surely a message would be sent. Perhaps some of them might wake up on the eighth day and feel like NOT going back to clothes made in China, Turkey and Bangladesh?
What about in our own private companies? Can WE not do the same for that one week?
October 2, 2017 – International Day of Non-Violence at the Source of the River Nile, all decked out in Ugandan made clothing, eating Ugandan food and picking up from 100 years of Swadeshi to make Buy Uganda Build Uganda (Zimba Uganda) a success that will make INDEPENDENCE on October 9 much, much more meaningful!