Last week, I attended a Movement Building meeting of a few organisations in the US as many social and interest groups reflect on how to strengthen collective action in an uncertain, if not bleak future for civic space in the US.
Most participants in the meeting were evidently worried about the rising tide of hate and discrimination from the presidential campaign and in the aftermath of the elections. They were worried about corruption, the rise of vigilante groups that appear to be thriving under the new administration. They were shocked about the administration’s budget proposals to congress that threatens to disable many institutions funded by the state department. They were worried about likely reversals of the gains made by the gender justice and equality movement as well as recent progress on curbing the looming environment and climate catastrophe. You could see a citizenry concerned about the future.
For me, it was a familiar story as a lot of what they worried about, back in Uganda, we experience worse: our vigilante groups are often state sponsored and emerge from the police station to attack courts, corruption is at the core of the existence of government. While participants had hopes in Congress pushing back on some the budget proposals, in our case, it would be unimaginable for parliament to successfully push back anything our president suggests.
The meeting then focused a lot of the forward-looking actions on what needs to be taken to push back, resist and perhaps start a mobilization to win the next presidential elections in four years’ time. While appreciating the direction, the meeting was taking, I shared with them some lessons from Uganda and proposed that they should focus as much on protecting the institutions that can present a check on excesses of the president - congress, judiciary as well as state governments. As I argued in an article published in the Daily Monitor - http://www.monitor.co.ug/OpEd/Commentary/Trump-president-Uganda/689364-3860534-9mmls4z/index.html Americans should appreciate that several of their institutions function independently and should put as much focus on safeguarding their autonomy, for if they lost autonomy of key ‘checks-and-balance’ agencies, their work will be even more difficult. In short, I told my American friends, not to take for granted what they already have.
As I left the meeting, I kept with the thoughts about what we often take for granted, a theme I have been thinking about a lot lately especially as I interact with my colleagues and fellows from Bangladesh, Bolivia, Turkmenistan, Ecuador and Iraq who in many respects are in worse off situations. My inspiration from them, is to work hard to see that my country doesn’t get much worse from what it is presently.
Bringing all this down to a personal level, every so often we take so much that we have for granted as our insatiable quest for more makes us turn a blind eye on so much that we already have that we should enjoy and protect.
Think about it - we have drinking water, most important for our body, but we still crave for sodas, beer, waragi, kwete and marua. We are in a job, but spend a lot of our working time looking for another, instead of focusing on improving performance and making a difference, we have money to take care of most we need (not necessarily all we desire), but we want to cut deals to get a lot more things we may not need. And yes, we have a wonderful spouse, and we are relentlessly searching as we fulfil the adage, ‘married but still searching’!
So, my message to dear colleagues at ActionAid Uganda this week is don’t take what you have for granted, be thankful for, and protect it - be it at personal level as enumerated above or even institutional level, like we often do when we fail to spend or effectively use donor money after working so hard to get it.
The Writer is the Country Director of ActionAid Uganda