Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Cultural cooperation: Is it beneficial to Uganda?

By Nsaba Buturo

In October last year, in one of the leading newspapers, Ambassador Thorbjorn Gaustadsaether wrote an article entitled: ‘UMOJA using culture as a development tool’. I was interested in the article for two main reasons: The first is that the writer is his country’s ambassador to Uganda. The second was his view that culture can be used as a ‘development’ tool.

Concerning the first reason, something rarely seen in most other nations is happening in Uganda. The world over, diplomats who are accredited to represent their countries are guided by international diplomatic practices. One of those practices is that a diplomat should never engage openly in governance matters of their host nations.

This means that they are not expected to issue press statements or write their views in the local press on policy (economic, social and political) matters of the host nation. Such matters are the preserve of national governments.

When foreign diplomats happen to have concerns, they privately and not publicly discuss them with host governments through the Foreign Affairs ministry.

What is happening in Uganda is not normal practice! Some foreign diplomats are in the habit of violating international diplomatic practices by regularly making statements on policy issues that should be the preserve of the government of Uganda.

Ugandans who have seen this happen with increasing frequency will be excused to think that some of these foreign diplomats are now Ugandan officials! If our government does not chide them for conducting themselves undiplomatically, Ugandans will become more confused!

The second reason for my interest in the article was the ambassador’s opinion that culture can be a development tool. Unfortunately, he was not specific about how culture can be such a tool. The world over, nations have different cultures or value standards.

For example, in Ugandan societies, polygamy is an accepted practice. In European societies, it is frowned upon. In some nations, sodomy and bestiality, for example, are ‘human rights’ issues whereas in Uganda, they are not!

Mr Ambassador, when nations have such divergent value standards, how does cultural cooperation work? Any such cooperation should never be used by one society as a smokescreen for introduction of practices which others regard as inimical to their interests.

The ambassador also opined in the article that the overriding objective of cultural cooperation is to strengthen both the cultural sector and civil society in the South so that the latter become change agents in favour of good governance.

This objective is loaded with a condescending attitude! In this sense, what the ambassador appears to call cultural cooperation is not a two-way exchange! By asserting that the cultural sector in the South, which includes Uganda, is weak and needs strengthening, the ambassador is falling into the familiar syndrome of ‘we know what they want better than they do themselves’! If this is what the ambassador calls cultural cooperation, then it is a sanitised version of cultural imperialism!

In order to impose their cultural order on weaker countries, stronger nations are now using different tactics. For example, Ugandan rural societies are being introduced to practices that they would gladly as well as bravely resist were it not for the fact that such introduction is often accompanied with promises of much needed services such as schools and water.

In other cases, non-governmental organisations, writers, television personalities, academicians, musicians, media and the Internet literature are being used to spread foreign cultural values.

No, what Uganda really needs is not cultural cooperation that paves way for entry of values that undermine ours. She needs respect! She also needs demonstrable willingness by wealthy nations to give her space to industrialise her economy for self-sufficiency.

The type of development cooperation which Uganda needs is one that also respects both her sovereignty and national values. To our government, a nation is strong when its culture and values are not adulterated or imposed from elsewhere.


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