Mourning in Uganda with a change of clothes

April 15, 2013

(The New Vision Online – Monday, April 15, 2013)

JINJA, UGANDA ✦ It’s Monday morning and I sit in a Jinja café wearing a bright tie, blue shirt, navy blazer and brown pants, but I’m wishing I could start the day over and wear black from my neck to my feet, everything as black as the black in Uganda’s flag.

This, as I read the latest news report of Black Monday, the growing citizens campaign pointing out what we already know, that Ugandans need to mourn, to grieve, to be saddened for their deepening losses, losses from thefts of public funds that are key to the wellbeing of this nation.

I’m in Jinja with my family waiting for a final ‘yes.’ ‘Yes, you have done a fine job, and congratulations, and peace be on you all and Hannah.’ She is the seven-year-old Ugandan we’ve fostered in our Mukono home for almost four years now and we await the court’s final stamp of approval for adoption.

But the courts are underfunded and the judges are overstretched – just one result of ravaged public coffers – and the lone judge of Jinja’s high court, one woman serving a population of hundreds of thousands, is away.

Our case, to be finished some months ago, is delayed again. What salvages the day is a visit to a nearby orphanage, the Jinja orphanage that Hannah once called home. Hannah and her brother and sister bring food and clothes and money, a donation the children have cobbled together for weeks. Through this simple gesture, we remember the place from where Hannah first came, a place of generosity and care.

This day is also salvaged, in a different way, by that Black Monday report in that café, a report that speaks of another generosity, one of the generous human spirit, the type that stands up in the gentlest and strongest and ways and says, ‘No, this is wrong, no we won’t take this anymore.’

This gentle firmness of everyday citizens is akin to the civil rights movement in America’s racist south, because it gently shames those who need it. By suggesting to wear black on Mondays, or to isolate thieves socially, or to boycott crooked businesses, Black Monday advocates are tapping into the sort of people-led movement that has historically changed cultures the only way they really can, from the bottom up.

Over our years in Africa, my family has been robbed too often to count. We’ve lost about sh15m, everything from my son’s underwear from our laundry line to valuable electronics from our vehicle broken into in public places. This, we’ve learned, is a cultural norm, frowned on publicly but accepted behind closed doors. Even the Christian educational institution hosting the NGO we represent recently chose not to discipline its own employee caught stealing donor funds from this international NGO.

But Ugandans should be encouraged to know that when available money goes exactly where it is intended, life can be different. Your roads can be smooth and safe. Your hospitals can be gracious places of healing. Your schools can be sacred buildings of learning.

So, for my part, even while soon in my home country, I’ll opt for some Black Mondays. Not to mourn my own losses, but to mourn with you over yours, to be saddened together over what Ugandans now live with: The death of your basic services and the loss of hope in your own beauty as a people.

For above all, isn’t hope what your children need? And, without courage, who will give it to them?

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April 15, 2013 • Posted in ,
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