Time warp: Under Museveni life seems to stop in Uganda as he pursues modernisation mirage

Time warp: Under Museveni life seems to stop in Uganda as he pursues modernisation mirage


Uganda has been pursuing and experiencing a modernisation craze in which President Yoweri Tibuharubwa Museveni is the pontiff behind this romanticised ambiguity that preaches a clean break with the past, but which doesn’t conceive the future. This leaves the Pearl of Africa in a situation akin to Purgatory – where is no Heaven or Hell.

The question is: Has humanity ever been modern anywhere on the face on the Earth?

In his book We have never been Modern, published by Harvard University Press in 1993, French philosopher, anthropologist and sociologist, Brun Latour wrote that we have never been modern. His book is an anthropology of science, tells us that much of what we call modernity is no more than a matter of faith. We just believe that we are modern, and the belief pushes us to crave more for being modern. This is like our belief that we shall go to Heaven.

Every day we struggle to go to Heaven while others give up the struggle. And all faith of any kind is for the heart, not the brain.

According to Latour, the difference between nature-mediated society (we wrongly call primitive, yet it is ecologically advanced) and science-mediated society (we wrongly call advanced when it is ecologically poor) lies in our careful distinction between nature and society, human and thing; distinctions that our benighted ancestors, in their world of alchemy, astrology and phrenology, never made.

Latour’s book, which anyone who takes both modernisation and modernity seriously, should read to become more ecologically literate, offers us a new and different explanation of science that finally recognises the connections and unity between nature and human cultures, and by extension between our culture and the and other cultures, present and past

As one writer put it, the value of Latour’s book lies in reworking of our mental landscape, blurring the boundaries among the humanities (arts), social science and natural science to enhance our knowledge, wisdom, understanding and insights on all sides. Therefore, Latour should be taken as one of the early advocates of interconnectedness, interdependence and integration of knowledge and practices.

The terminologies modern, modernity and modernisation were in fashion in the 1960s and early 1970s, but seemed to disappear in the late 1970s and most of the 1980s and early 1990s, at least in Uganda. They resurfaced in the late 1990s when President Yoweri Tibuhaburwa Museveni made modernization a political issue in his presidential campaigns.

According to Dictionary.com modern is the characteristic of being in the present and recent time; contemporary. It is associated with those things that exist in the present age, especially in the context of a former age or an age long past. It has the implication of being up-to-date with contemporary changes.

A modern person, however, is a one who respects the past, lives fully in the present and moves freely without anticipation of the future. To be a modern person in today’s society can mean having access to technology and being able to use it to its full potential.

Modernisation is the process of updating something to make it work in the contemporary setting or times. Today modernisation is best seen in new and different computers, high speed internet, artificial intelligence, mobile phones, et cetera. However, modernisation may also be defined as a process of social change that is based on a scientific approach and logic. This means that if one makes it a political and economic strategy, one must be committed to science and logic in whatever one does to bring about social change.

“No change” preferred by the government for a long time, is not a friend of modernisation. The door must always be open for change guided by science (as researchable and provable facts) and logic (as correct thinking and reasoning). Modernisation implies change, the opposite of no change. It implies change in all dimensions of human welfare – technology, politics, economics, sociality, education, health, architecture, et cetera.

Theoretically modernisation is taken as having started with European Enlightenment. According to Eisenstadt, modernisation is historically a process of change that is oriented towards social, economic and political systems, usually for the better. Therefore, the social, economic and political changes should be integrated and in concert with each other.

One cannot say one is modernising in one dimension (say economic) when there is no modernising experience in the political and social dimensions. If modernisation involves liberalisation, democracy and freedom, then these should be detectable in all the dimensions (social, economic and political), but also in others such as the ecological, environmental and cultural.

It should, however, be echoed and re-echoed that long ago modernisation theory failed in Africa because it was promoted on the flawed assumption that that it was a Eurocentric or Western idea. The post-colonial leaders, under their pan-African political philosophy detested it. They particularly detested modernisation’s assumption that Western civilisation was technically and morally superior to the civilisation of traditional societies, and implied that traditional values were of little value, and should, therefore, be erased in favour of Eurocentric values.

However, the assumption above seems to be guiding President Museveni’s newfound love with modernisation. Frequently, the traditional peoples are urged to abandon their values for the so-called modern values engendered by modernization.

Let me state in this article that modernisation is anti-humanity and some people may overstretch it to harm humanity and societies, especially the weak societies. Indeed, some people have used it to try and destroy the black human race. Let me add that integration thinking helps to rediscover the truism that we are interconnected in the lie-death-cycle, which modernisation has been trying to disconnect by burying humans in concretised graves, plastic coffins and going as far as separating bacteria that clear way dead organic matter from the dead bodies by applying chemicals that kill the bacteria.

Let me conclude by writing that integration (science), which modernisation has been trying to erase altogether since modern science arose in Europe in the 17th century in favour of disintegration of knowledge into small knowledges, thereby creating academic tribes, territories and empires, gives better meaning, broader knowledge and finer sense of being and possibility than has been the case with the science of disintegration of knowledge.

We need a science and politics of integration and nature loving to replace the science and politics of disintegration and artificiality. Only then shall we become truly modern. True modernisation is integrative, not disintegrative. If modernisation is based on dis-integration we should then view it with suspicion and both resist and reject it because it will create artificialities that do not benefit nature, the people and their traditional communities.

Artificialities are aliens on our biocultural landscape. They serve foreign interests eager to displace the traditional communities from their lands in the name of modernisation.

For God and my country – Uganda!

  • A Tell report / By Prof Oweyegha-Afunaduula, a former professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences of the Makerere University, Uganda
About author

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *