Today was a very sad day for me! :-( I read the case of Gabula, a 17-year-old Makerere University student in 1987 who was arrested and sentenced to death for writing an incredibly intelligent and thought provoking essay titled “‘Under development in Africa: A Case of False Economics.” It made me reflect on how Ugandans, although we gained independence from colonialism over 50 years ago, are still in many ways than one battling with our internalized oppression. If a fledgling nation whose young, intelligent and critical minds are imprisoned by a system that doesn’t allow them space to think, critique or reflect, how can it truly emancipate itself from colonialism? The story of Gabula in many ways show that as Ugandans we have a long way to go to realize the subtle ways in which we have not only hated our very own leaders who embody the keys to our freedom of mind, soul and spirit but are still stuck in our colonized minds repeating the exact same acts that our imperial masters vetted out to us. This young man, a Ugandan prodigy had he been born in any Western state, he would not only be revered but he would be celebrated as a hero and a role model for all young people. He probably would have gone on to become either a poet, following in the footsteps of giants such Chinua Achebe, Ngugi Wathiong’o and the like or a respected professor at a renowned university where his writings, his poetry would liberate the minds of thousands of students and shape the leadership of our nation. Instead, he has been languishing in our jail cells, suffering from peptic ulcers, and instead of keeping his mind alive it has been subject to a politically constructed “Christian” dogma that disempowers from being a social political and human rights force in his country to a now a submissive ‘born again christian” who can only beg for forgiveness from his master.”
Gabula, had he continued to live free he would have been a force and a voice that probably could challenge and redefine the international development discussion in a way that is more liberating to Ugandans rather than patronizing to them. Thanks to his jailer, we have lost a hero, a teacher, and an emancipator. God forbid what has happened to thousands of Gabula’s out there across Africa.
I have heard this saying quite often, especially coming from our Western counterparts. “If you want to hide something from an African hide it in a book.” As sad and as condescending this statement sounds, if we as a nation and as continent keep marginalizing the minds and the voices trying to liberate us from our own internalized oppression through critical thinking and reflection on the powers that influenced the formation of our ‘modern” systems, Africa will continue lagging behind other continents and we shall have ourselves to blame.