Free Expression by Mzili: For the love of a nation

I have keenly followed the debate on patriotism and indeed I agree with His Excellence (not Bobi Wine) that people ought to love their country. But whether they can be taught to do so is a grey area.

Written by Henry Mujunga

I am an artist and a lover of cultural pursuits that include worldly pleasures. And I know that in each one of us there is a radar which seeks out the pleasure blobs.

Ugandan visual artist Henry Mzili Mujunga

In basic behavioral psychology, we encounter certain stimuli that reenforce desired behavior. If a government is dishing out enough of those stimuli, then it need not worry about soliciting a loving response from its citizens; unless, of course, one is living under a command state where absolute loyalty and patriotism is demanded by law.

It is inevitable when talking about passion for one’s nation for most to envy the great pride and love the Americans have for their nation. They talk about the American way of life. Indeed, many an American president has vowed to defend this way of life.

The question is what comprises this precious way of life? Is it the love for a bucket load of chicken thighs? Is it the hip-hop? Is it democracy? Is it “the American dream”-rags to riches possibility? Or is it having the ability to bully everybody else with a huge military presence?

I don’t have a clear answer to this question, but my guess would be that when I think of America, I can’t help but evoke Hollywood and the music.

And man, the music!

These are constant reminders of what the American way of life is. They have, in so many ways, endeared us to America, a land many have never visited. I have seen numerous youths in Kampala wearing stripes and stars bandanas or blandishing the American flag on their motorcycles.

Kidandali, matooke, gomesi, and the Cranes

Political ideology can be taught in schools, and indeed people can learn to think and profess to particular political creeds.

But love, man, that is another matter. And it is funny how this feeling is sparked off by the pettiest of things.

It could be the hearing of a familiar Kidandali tune which brings nostalgia to a lonely Ugandan on kyeyo in London. It could be the smell of steamed matooke or a little batik of Gomesi-clad ladies hanging in a small city office. It is these little cultural manifestations which trigger off endearment to this place we call Uganda.

As an artist I recall the numerous times I have served as my country’s ambassador, carrying my flag with pride. The athletes carry it too and so do the boxers and musicians.

The most patriotic day is when the Uganda Cranes plays at Namboole. The city becomes awash with Uganda flags. In fact, the kids in the school I teach at consider the Uganda Crane’s jersey a national dress of sorts!

We in the cultural industry are pulling our weight and do not need the president to remind us of our avowed love for this nation. After all we bear the blunt whenever things go wrong.

On their own

Politicians in the developed world understand the importance of culture in defining a people. So they support the museums, galleries, theatres and the other public cultural institutions.

In Uganda, it is the opposite.

The musicians, artists, playwrights and comedians are on their own. They work tirelessly propagating what is unique and definitive about their country.

If I were president and wanted to spread around a little goodwill about my programs, I would make use of these helpless romantics.

Let’s face it, the patriotism campaign is propaganda, and given the way the president has gone about it, it will now become associated more with NRM than Uganda.

Perhaps we are better off learning citizenship as a subject in schools…?

Henry Mzili Mujunga dreams most of the time about art (visions of grandeur?). He insists that African art forms the gist of modern art and as such ought to be at the fore front of things. Henry is an eclectic artist who enjoys painting, printmaking, and conceptual art. His art has been exhibited extensively throughout Africa, Asia, and Europe. He is the co-founder of the Kampala Arts Trust and the Start Journal of Arts and Culture.

2 thoughts on “Free Expression by Mzili: For the love of a nation

  1. ‘u beat me up for speaking my Language/mother tongue’ and then u expect me to be Patriotic!!….total nightmare…………..its Us to discover ourselves, no one will discover Us.

  2. I love America!
    It helps that they have very smart people.
    The smartest English speaking Africans move there.
    It is very possible that a real defined Smart Education can help stir up patriotism.

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