I was born in Uganda but I left at 5. I give credit to my family for keeping me immersed in my culture regardless of the fact that I live in the U.S. So every time to travel back home brings excitement - an opportunity to return and be re-immersed, reintroduced, renewed, reinvigorated in all things traditional. Going to Africa is the life. Being everywhere else is a vacation from the motherland - one must return and binge on the culture.
Unfortunately I have realized on my recent trips that things are changing. Some things are positive: Africans are gaining a stronger political voice, creating entrepreneurship opportunities for themselves and being less and less dependent on foreign aid (or at least they are trying to). But today I would like to address some things for my brothers and sisters in Africa to think about - things that are negatively affecting society and creating a culture erosion.
I Am an African First, Treat Me That Way
When I overheard a man and woman discussing, in Luganda, upon entering Entebbe airport, that I’d be charged additional fees just so they could make themselves some extra money for the night, I wasn’t sure what was more offensive: being profiled as non-Ugandan, or, as a consequence, being targeted by a scheme. In all African culture, if someone is a visitor, you treat them with even more respect. But I am not a visitor, so all I would ask for is to treat me as you treat each other - I might be American, but I am African first.
To Be African is to Have a Pure Heart
Speaking of treating me as you treat each other, we should stop being corrupt towards each other. Whereas the hustler mentality that I learned made me confident, firm and somewhat pushy (aka Street Smart), it stifles meaningful development. We have entrepreneurs springing up everywhere on our continent - what can we do to help them thrive? It starts with parting from even the most minor of corrupt tendencies - such as scheming to cheat your visitors.
Pop Culture: Not all of ‘Hollywood’ is ‘Cool’
We as Africa are the cradle of civilization. Almost every culture borrowed from or assimilated some African culture. Is it not heartbreaking to see people in my hometown so intent on being ‘up-to-date’ with the latest trends in pop culture that they are willing to live above their means, leading to false pretence and cheating? We have a means. That means has always been togetherness. If we work strongly together, we influence foreign culture. If we abandon our culture for something that looks ‘better’ on tv, we lose our influence - and we will eventually be a people no more. Adopting other cultures is great, but only if we pick the good and assimilate it into our own to make it richer. Our culture is selling like a hot cake in the diaspora. May it continue to sell like a hot cake everywhere in Africa.
Innovate Together - Less Competition, More Collaboration
I found it strange that there were so many of the same businesses and shops around town. It felt congested and redundant. When you approach business like this, you share the spoils, but you don’t grow them. Keep sending the children to school, but this time with a focus on entrepreneurship in all fields of interest - from business to engineering to medicine. There used to be farmers’ cooperatives - those days saw Uganda among the highest exporters of cotton - the largest in sub-Saharan Africa. That spirit has not been adopted quite enough in entrepreneurship. It is the next step on the roadmap to sustainability. If you come together, you create a future. If you compete, you only share the spoils.
In many cases I could have felt like I was experiencing a culture shock. But I saw a growing nation that just needs to maintain or rebuild a sense of camaraderie in order to create sustainability. There is no place like home!