Today, Ugandan will witness the 6th inauguration of Gen. Yoweri Museveni as president for the sixth term. This comes after his win in January this over with well over 58% of the vote in which his closest rival, Robert Kyagulanyi, a.k.a Bobi Wine, came a distant second at 35%.
By the end of this term, Museveni shall have ruled Uganda for an uninterrupted four decades- almost half a century. Four decades of relative political stability are expected to usher the country into the future. What is it then that the country should focus on to secure its future?
In 2013, the African Union crafted a 50-year ambitious programme called ‘Agenda 2063.
The agenda spells out Africa’s main challenge as the realization of the African Vision of “building an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens representing a dynamic force in the international arena.”
Over the last ten years, much of Africa is still hoping that the Western world, not themselves, will help it realize this goal. Hence, they call on them to ‘remove dictators,’ cut military aid, access the continent’s vast resources in exchange for political puppetry and most embarrassingly, feed them.
What we forget as Africans is that none of this will happen for the benefit of ourselves unless the process is crafted, built and run by ourselves. The last presidential election in Uganda was a clear example of what potential political puppetry can do to threaten the stability of a nation and a region still writhing from the wounds of slavery, imperialism, neo-imperialism and counterrevolutionary reactionism.
Thus, on April 26, 2021, when President Yoweri Museveni met a group of young cadres who form the Bawejjere 2012 (or B12), a study group loyal to the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, at the National Leadership Institute (NALI) Kyankwanzi, in Kyankwanzi District, I took a keen interest.
During the meeting, he made a statement that has inspired this viewpoint: He said: “To secure Africa’s future, the continent needs a critical mass of Africans who are constantly worried about Africa and finding strategic solutions.”
Upon the prompting of Uganda Media Centre to write down something marking today’s ceremony, I reverted to this statement and now choose to pose two questions:
One: What will it take to marshal a critical mass of citizens who are constantly worried about Uganda, East Africa and Africa?
Two: What do we need to craft strategic solutions to this and by ourselves?
For the record, being worried in this particular context is not a bad thing. It is rather about developing a constant cognitive consciousness about what throttles the future of our nation and what we need to do about it amidst a highly competitive and ruthlessly evolving international system that is leaving us behind in almost every aspect. I am confident this is what informed many Ugandans who voted President Museveni back to power in January. Let’s start with current events happening in outer space perhaps without our knowledge.
Space Age 2.0
Around the time of writing this piece, outer space, especially the one on and around the surface of planet Mars, was abuzz with four unusual visitors from planet earth.
The first visitor is already on the surface of Mars at the Jezero Crater, a location where around 3.5 billion years ago, is believed to have held a lake filled with water and flowing rivers, evidence that life might have existed on that planet. The visitor is called ‘Perseverance Rover’ from the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). With it is ‘Ingenuity,’ a two-kilogram helicopter that hiked a lift under its belly on July 30, 2020, when it was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The duo landed on Mars 6 ½ months later on February 18 having travelled 470 million kilometres. I was lucky to have watched both events- launching and landing- live from the internet.
The others visitors are from India, United Arab Emirates and China. China’s Tianwen-1 rover arrived in Mars’ orbit on February 10. It is expected release the Zhurong (god of fire) robot into the mars atmosphere so it can land on its surface on May 21st. UAE’s Hope rover reached Mars’ orbit on February 9 but the probe will only orbit the planet to study the martian weather and send data back home for future exploration of the planet. The Indian Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), aka Mangalyaan, reached Mars’ orbit in 2014 and has also been sending useful data for future landing missions on the red planet. It is the science behind the Perseverance rover mission in particular that I find most the most fascinating.
What Perseverance is doing
According to information from NASA, the rover was designed to hunt for signs of past microbial life, if it ever existed. The rover will achieve this by exploring Jezero Crater and collect samples of rock and soil, encase them in tubes, and leave them on the planet’s surface to be returned to Earth at a future date, probably around 2031. Perseverance will also study the Red Planet’s geology and test how astronauts on future Mars missions could produce oxygen from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Perseverance and Ingenuity have so far achieved great milestones. These include recording sounds, turning a martian atmospheric sample into pure oxygen, rare martian terrain pictures and flying a robotic helicopter for the first time off the martian surface. Ingenuity has done this four times and in the last one on April 30, it aced 133 meters above Mars surface.
A Fierce Space Race for Mars:
China, Russia, India, the European Space Agency, UAE, are all in the race to do the same or even better than the United States. Question is, what are these countries racing for? Where is Africa in this equation? What do we learn from this? Apart from the known mission of probing for residues of microbial life, test new technologies, and lay the groundwork for human exploration of the planet, the race for space domination on Mars and outer space is majorly about technology innovations, building groundwork for space tourism by wealthy adventurists who dream of being witness to the wonders of other celestial bodies, facilitate space mining for rare minerals on earth (yes, you heard it- MINERALS) and advance science- a race that is so far estimated to be worth $414.75 billion, according to the 2019 Space Report.
Again, Africa is nowhere in all this. Africa is missing out on this space-age, the same way it missed out on the First, Second, Third and even now the Fourth, industrial revolutions. It is these episodes in human history that are responsible for the imbalance in the international system where Africa and Uganda in particular, has played second fiddle, always hoping that the dominant powers will rescue us.
This is why we ought to be worried and reflective of our situation and destiny. These events were responsible for the slave trade, colonialism, neo-colonialism, imperialism, the two world wars, the internet and now, space domination.
In John Reader’s 700-page book: ‘Africa: A Biography of a Continent,’ the story of Africa’s prowess from about 100,000 years ago, clearly showing how Africa was in many cases either leading or at par with the rest of the world in political science, management, technology, civilization and commerce, is well- laid out. It is this same Africa that some 2021 years ago, the parents of Jesus Christ hid him from King Herod’s death squads. While the events I have mentioned above have taken place only from around five centuries ago when Africa was left behind, the imperative to redress this imbalance lies on our shoulders. It is our duty to do something about it or forget that Uganda and Africa will determine its destiny by 2063.
What must we do now?
In the context of today’s ceremony, it is important the focus be informed by the long background I have given. This background, largely informed by cognitive science, sheds light on Uganda’s place in the international systems and what it will need to do in order to secure its future by the year 2063.
The country club dictating the international system are USA, China, Russia, Japan, the Asian tigers, the European Union and countries of the Middle East such as Israel and the United Arab Emirates. A scan through these countries gives you a clear picture of a citizenry firmly focused on cognitive science, a near-crazy mental work and attention to the minute detail of what they are pursuing. The level of concentration, consciousness, precision and obsession to achieve against all odds, is what we need to learn. THAT obsession that leads a nation to explore outer space with no hope of finding anything and risking death, is the drive that Africa needs. Not the short term obsession culture we espouse.
A Techno-Independent Africa:
The answers to the two questions I asked at the start of this article, are anchored in these’ countries achievements of what I would call ‘techno-independence.’ Techno-independence of Technology independence has helped them breed the education and military defence systems that drive their economies and ways of life. Emphasis (essila) was placed on vocationalisation of their education systems.
The conceptual framework of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) which was born in the early 20th century and became the lowest common multiple of their education agenda, is a good case in point. Consequently, what we have now is that the majority of the top 50 blue-chip companies in the world, whose value dwarfs Uganda’s GDP like 20 times, are a result of this policy. Technology has come to drive the new world order. It drives its defence systems, economics, cultural imperialism, politics and now, the space age.
This is how Uganda should look at its future. Uganda will not determine and drive its destiny by good speeches and nice pieces of writing in the media but by appealing to the understanding that the modern age is technology-driven. It is a technology that will fight corruption, relegate bureaucratic incompetence, propel democracy and create space for innovation and creativity to thrive the way it happened in the countries I have mentioned.
The information available at the Economic Policy Research Centre (Makerere University) and the Innovation Village (in Ntinda), Uganda has the potential to self-lift using technology and encouraging creativity on a massive scale.
In Uganda what we must do now is to try to bolster our own innovation ecosystems through supportive legislation such as a Ugandan Startup Act that would increase the incentives for young people to start an innovative venture, for investors to put their money in and for other stakeholders to offer support where it is required. Accordingly, policy interventions should target the development of the digital economy, leverage technology and enhance creativity to lift Uganda with STEM Education as the backbone.
Contact: 0752 466 778. Twitter: @Arinaitwe Rugyendo