Langston Hughes, the African – American writer, describes in his 1940 autobiography, ‘the big C’, the exhilaration that seized him as he left New York for Africa.
He threw his American books into the sea. He describes it, ‘like throwing a million bricks out of my heart’. He was on his way to his (Africa), motherland of the Negro people.
Hughes hurling of books was not only his expression of a new sense of freedom but also an evocative gesture of social protest against singular identities. Is Uganda government answerable for the exposure of youth and opposition political party’s to a crisis of identity?
In law a man is guilty when he violates the rights of other. In ethics he is guilty if he only thinks of doing so. A claim that resonates quite succinctly with Kymlika’s ideas of group – differentiated rights.
The youth and opposition politicians in Uganda are at the centre of the turmoil around multiculturalism and personal identities. A defining feature of all denizens is absence of rights.
Citizenship is about the right to possess an identity, a sense of knowing who one is and with whom one has shared values, connections and aspirations.
The youth and a great many opposition politicians have no secure identities. But in a twenty – first century Uganda, we cannot run away from multiculturalism and multiple identities.
Uganda government must allow multiple identities; everybody is a denizen of some sort and having rights within some self-regulated identities and not in others. Each identity brings distinctive bundles of rights.
Thus a person has an identity as an adherent to a political party, religion, profession, which gives right within a community that others do not possess (rights to certain holidays, a right to pray or not to pray etc.).
The crucial test comes with the current narrative of events, oppression, arrest of opposition political leaders and restriction on peaceful demonstrations. There should be a deliberate action to ensure that the exercise of any community right does not impinge on the rights or identity of others.
Even more crucial for youth and political parties are rights that come from belonging to a particular group identity.
If a person belongs to FDC or DP, they should have the same rights accorded to every member of a political party, including the right to state that they qualify and are approved as members of a political party.
However, it’s a different matter to say that someone is not allowed to exercise their democratic values to challenge illegal and obtuse directives.
This is why multiple identities must be embraced by all and not based on obtuse and partisan regulations.
And why it must rest on democratic governance structures within transcendental institutions in which all interests can participate. Multiple identities is central in the twenty – first century freedom and democratic governance.
I now turn to political side of identity, recent trend of events in Uganda seem to indicate that the state is vehemently against acceptance of others’ identity and aspirations.
The ruling party also seem oppose the idea of identity on the ground that individuals in a political space/opposition have no common identity for the country.
They presume a common personhood, a melting pot of folks, as implicit in the role of the police and security agencies in clamping down on dissenting voices.
Both postures are unhelpful, to put it mildly. It would be better to assert that we can and do have multiple identities, and we need to construct institutions and policies to defend and strengthen them.
The youth and opposition political parties are most exposed to a crisis of identity. They must not desert multiculturalism or the legitimation of multiple identities.
However, they must do more, in that they must have their interests represented in all identity structures and institutions.
If choices do exist and yet it’s assumed not to be there, the use of reasoning may well be replaced by uncritical conformist behavior. No – matter how rejectable they may be.
Typically, such conformism may have perilous implication if not subjected to critical scrutiny. Uncritical conformist behavior risks categorizing denizens inside rigid boxes.
Denizens should consider resisting creation of singular identity and embrace multiple identities.
Walter Ochanda, the author is an international development specialist