In the preamble of Uganda’s constitution, the state pledges to promote and preserve the cultural values and practices that enhance the dignity and well-being of Ugandans. The recent pledge by the government to allocate 60,000,000 shillings per month to every cultural institution may be seen as activating this constitutional directive.
In law, it is said that those who make promises must honor them, as per the doctrine of “sunt pacta servanda” under international law.
The available cultural research statistics indicate that about 95% of the present cultural institutions in Uganda have financial burdens in one way or another. Therefore, the idea of 60 million as a monthly payment will go a long way in helping these infant institutions fulfill many of their cultural agendas. Recall that the institution has many officials on different tasks but with no enabling budget framework. The only person paid a retainer by the Government is the cultural leader; the rest use personal money or go begging to execute tasks allocated to them.
In the Bugisu region, local government leaders led by their LCV chairmen have also pledged to make an annual contribution of 10 million per local government from the districts of Bududa, Manafwa, Namisindwa, Mbale City, Mbale local government, Bulambuli, and Sironko, including their sub-counties and town councils. Once fulfilled, this will enable financial breathing room.
It may make sense to inform our readers about what culture is. Culture is what we eat, how we dress, and how we communicate with others. While on Makerere University work about 10 years ago in West Nile, rats were served as a source by the Lugbara people we had visited. I stayed almost hungry because rats are neither a source nor food in my culture. Among the Bamasaba, bamboo or malewa and matooke are significant, and that is our culture.
An encased and formal definition of what culture is can be extracted from the National Cultural Policy 2019 as the total sum of ways in which society preserves, identifies, organizes, sustains, and expresses itself. For example, see how Banyankole dress and shave their hair; that is their culture, and Bamasaba, how we do kadodi; that is our culture. The funding will help us preserve this culture.
Cultural institutions are creations of the law, specifically the constitution, the Traditional and Cultural Leaders Act 2011, and the Local Government Act. Recently, the Cultural Policy 2019 outlines the essence of such institutions.
The funding by the government to the cultural institutions is news that has been well received by every institution from Busoga to Bugisu and beyond. This funding is critical because cultural institutions exist to deliver certain mandates, and without such funding, their existence may be irrelevant since they have no known sources of income. Therefore, the lack of funds militates against our cultural programs.
Secondly, many of the said institutions are too infant in terms of existence, and many thrive on the goodwill of the local governments. For example, Bugisu cultural institution is housed by the local government of Mbale district, and so are others like Teso cultural leadership, the Bagwere, and Acholi, among others. The funding from the government may bail out many of these institutions and embark on various cultural agendas, including the construction of their own palaces.
As cultural institutions, we have been very attentively waiting for such signals from the government. The first time the president himself made reference to it and said, “Why have these people not been paid their money,” and the prime minister, Hon Robinah Nabanja, assured the president that she was going to actualize the directives. On Saturday, the deputy speaker of parliament made a similar reference on the same issue while at the wedding ceremony in Busoga. Since the legislature exists to appropriate budget requests from the executive, as cultural actors, we are overwhelmed by this level of solidarity from the government and pledge to put the funds to good use upon receipt.
The creation and existence of cultural institutions are sanctioned by our municipal laws, particularly Article 246 of Uganda’s constitution. The country has both traditional and cultural institutions, and the two institutions are on different planes but have almost the same mandates. We exist to mobilize our people to respond to development and develop themselves too.
It is a trite view that culturalists may take advice from their cultural leaders much easier than from politicians. When a cultural leader trumpets, the whole community will quickly draw nearer and bring goodies to him or her. But when politicians trumpet, the community expects to be given.
Many of our tasks as cultural communities involve modeling behaviors of our people, advising on family planning, and encouraging our people to participate in all government programs like PDM and wealth creation, among others. We also exist to promote language and literacy arts and other hand crafts and preserve monuments of our communities.
The Ministry of Gender, by drafting the National Cultural Policy 2019, has gone an extra mile in guiding cultural and traditional institutions in Uganda.
The funding from the government will help us thus expedite the preservation of our languages, literacy arts, and monuments. For example, our languages are being intruded upon at an alarming rate, with natives wanting to speak the language of other tribes. This is highly unacceptable. I see many Bamasaba pretending to speak like Banyankole; this is very sad. We are Bagisu and must behave and speak as such, while others are in Luganda or Kiswahili. This again should be frowned upon.
The writer is a researcher from Mbale and the spokesperson in Zuyamasaba. Tel: 0707655811.