Monday, March 13, 2017


In the last month we have had three of our eminent citizens go to meet their maker.

Last month two businessmen Heny Bugembe Luggya and Bonny Katatumba and this month elder statesman Jehoash Mayanja Nkangi passed on.

Of the three only Katatumba published a biography of his life, an inspiring narration of how he rose from selling banana juice to becoming a billionaire and diplomat.

That Luggya and Mayanja Nkangi did not put pen to paper about their lives makes it a double loss for us and generations to come.

In his book “Guns, Germs and Steel” author Jared Diamond attempts to explain why the north -- Europe and America is rich and south – Africa, is poor. He lists several factors – orientation of the continents, the agrarian revolution and the domestication of animals among others. But the one relevant for us is the development of writing.

"With the development of writing events could be transmitted across time and distance accurately and effectively. This was a revelation because it meant that the communities with reading and writing skills need not reinvent the wheel every time they came across transportation challenges....

Isaac Newton is supposed to have famously said “If I have seen further it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants” His coming up with the laws of motion that laid the foundation for mechanics with near universal application in everything from cars to aviation and electricity generation.

He built on the works of Nicolas Copernicus, A polish mathematician who first pointed out that the sun, not the earth, was at the center of the universe, Italian Galileo Galilei the “father of scientific method” and Johannes Kepler, German mathematician who did work on planetary motion.

These three were not only not contemporaries but also came from different nations. Europe is now easy to traverse by road, rail or sea but in Newton’s time England was as far away from Italy as maybe New Zealand is to Newton’s old haunts at Cambridge today.

But since his predecessors had a written record of their work Newton could continue from where they left off. This applies to any subject’s development that you can think of.

Our elders who are going to their graves without writing out of humility or even ignorance, may think their experiences does not amount to much but if enough of them wrote at the bare minimum we would benefit from a history that is multisourced and an eventual true account of history.

Unfortunately it is not a situation unique to Uganda and is probably at the heart of the question of why the western economies get richer while we the poor southern economies continue to flounder, lurching from crisis to crisis and failing to make significant progress.

According to a report by the United Nations Education, Science & Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) African countries at the bottom of the list of books published annually which is topped by China, US, UK and Russia. The highest ranked African county is Egypt at 38, then South Africa (45), Nigeria (63) and Morocco (68).

Another list reported in The Guardian newspaper in 2014 tallying books published per million in 2013 had the UK at the top followed by Slovenia, Australia and the US.

"The point is that even though literacy levels are near universal now in many of our countries we use them for little else than to pass exams and get around. We still fall back on our oral traditions, see how we have the highest rates of voice phone usage of any region in the world...

It is essential, even critical for our very survival as a people, that we document our doings and save them for posterity.

That it is a bad omen to write your memoirs or autobiography should be dispelled.

Many years ago an older man narrated to me the changing motivations that drove him threw his life.

At first he wanted to go to school to become a primary school teacher, because he worked out that it was primary school teachers who could own bicycles. Then he thought he needed to read some more, pass his o-level because then he could work in an office at the district headquarters and drive a car. 

Eventually he studied the natural sciences because he wanted to do forensic science and become a detective like Sherlock Holmes.

His story has also gone begging. But in that simple narration he would have given millions of boys and girls inspiration to push on, deriving courage from the small steps they make every day that they may also lead to bigger things in life.

And by extension as a nation if we are going to move to the next level of development we need for our people to document their lives – it is much easier now with the ICT tools available to all of us.

No comments:

Post a Comment