The last week of January and the first week of February mark very important days in the NRM and Uganda’s history.
On 26th January we commemorate the day in 1986 when the NRA marched on Kampala and overthrew the Tito Okello regime. On 6th February we mark the day in 1981 when the first shot was fired in the bush war that led to the NRA’s eventual victory five years later.
The former is a public holiday while the latter is not, it would be hard to argue against commemorating either whatever your feelings are towards the regime of the day.
At both occasions President Yoweri Museveni as the main celebrant narrated key achievements in the last 27 years in the case of the NRM or in the case of Tarehe Sita outlined the progress the army has made, going back to the training camps in Mozambique, long before the attack on Kabamba 32 years ago.
The pageantry that was displayed at the Arua Tarehe Sita celebrations are a far cry from the motley crew that laid siege on Kabamaba or the rag tag army that captured Kampala.
It does not take much of an imagination to work out that the FRONASA/NRA/UPDF story is one worth telling.
A young boy consumed with revolutionary fervor determines that Uganda deserves better. He sets upon winning his friends to his vision of the future. On holiday from the university of Dar es Salaam he and his friends sneak over the border into Mozambican rebel camps to get a taste of how a rebel war is conceived and executed. He returns to Uganda but has to flee soon after the government for which he works is overthrown. He along with others foment rebellion against the Idi Amin regime suffering deadly set backs even before the struggle has gained any traction. He returns to Kampala. Eight years after falls out with the government and retreats to the bush as the head of a new rebellion.
The rest as they say is history.
And that is where the problem lies. We seem content to leave these events in the realm of oral history. The problem with oral history is that it falls into the same trap as the popular party game Chinese Whispers. In the game a line of guests is formed and a simple message is whispered into the ear of the person at the head of the line with the simple instruction to whisper the message to the next in line. As always happens by the time the message gets at the other end of the room it is so distorted as not to be recognized from the original whisper.
The UPDF is unique in its creation and its said mission.
Unlike many armies on the continent that are remnants of a colonial legacy and are detached from the citizens they are sworn to protect, the UPDF has grown out of our circumstances, does not see itself as a mercenary attack dog and is very much embedded in our daily circumstance.
And we are not talking about commissioning some connected quark who wants to make a buck but real military historians who can write a detailed account for the military archives and then an account of only the bare essentials for public consumption.
The reason why the western economies have been at the forefront of innovation in every sphere of life is because they have had the written word for centuries. This means that every generation of innovators does not have to reinvent the wheel but take off from where the last generation left off.
As Isaac Newton confessed, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”.
This applies for Ugandan history as well.
For example in school Ugandan history ends at independence, what we know about postcolonial history are the varied accounts according to one group’s or the others political bias.
Uganda’s history is such that even the most objective of accounts cannot take away from the colour of the last 50 years and will make for interesting reading by even the most jaundiced eye.
History is intellectual property that can be used by future generations for their benefit.
The point is, futile as it maybe, we need to fight the curse that the only thing we learn from history is that we do not learn from history. A first step towards that is to record it, so that future generations even if they make the mistakes of their forefathers will not feign ignorance.