I vividly remember listening to the radio after your arrest in 2005, I was 12 years old and could not decipher the selfish and self-interest acts of the government, but I knew something was not right. Based on the public reaction; your name became a household embodiment of a hero, a fighter for preaching the truth and protector of the freedom of speech. Your radio talk show Andrew Mwenda Live had changed the way people thought about the current affairs of the state and after hosting a phone-in about the death of Sudan’s leader John Garang, you were arrested.
7 years later, as a law student at Law Development Centre, I again came across your fight to reaffirm the freedom of speech in Charles Onyango Obbo & Andrew Mwenda Vs Attorney General (Constitutional Appeal No. 2 of 2002) in the Supreme Court of Uganda; and as a bonafide listener of the Andrew Mwenda Minute on Capital FM, I always woke up early to tune in and listen to your hopeful and insightful arguments. I was very proud of you Mwenda, telling my friends that these are the people our society needed to move forward. However, overtime my pride has depreciated solely because the hope that I used to see in your articles and speeches has been replaced by a lot of cynicism and blind paranoia.
I do not purport to know you, we are not relatives or friends, I cannot imagine the sort of struggles you went through during your arrest or the course of your life and you have probably never heard of me or knew that I existed; but I do! I am the kid who always listened to your shows, read your articles with admiration, cited your arguments in my essays and proudly affirmed your speeches. I am the kid who cried when you were arrested, the kid who smiled after reading your constitutional appeal, the kid who enthusiastically read anything authored by Andrew Mwenda and the face that represents all the other kids of my generation, kids who believed in the things you said without question. I am the kid who was asked by his teacher what his source was and he proudly answered, “Andrew Mwenda.”
I exist, but I am now worried! I am starting to be skeptical of my future, doubtful and slowly getting cynical. I am worried that one day I will no longer believe in hope, that it will be blurry. I am worried that a decade from now, I will not believe in the ethical principles that I believe in now, that my society Uganda will still be the same and most of all, I am worried that the faces of hope, people like you Mwenda are starting to sound more and more cynical – my story maybe singular but I think my sentiments are shared by many Ugandans of my generation.
I am worried that in your arguments, you no longer stand for hope but cynicism, you have been all over the world but now you only tell your story through a cynical lens; calling for Obama to leave Africa alone, chastising Amama Mbabazi for deciding to run against President Museveni, labelling ideas “western” and “pan-African” instead of looking at the merits of what works and what does not work for Ugandans, the list goes on. You leave me wondering what happened to the hopeful Mwenda I admired as a kid, the one whose hope I was proud of as a law student. Where did he go? You once said that if the Museveni of the 80’s met the current Museveni, they would kill each other but I think this is starting to apply to you as well in just a decade, which is very worrying because I know very many of us look up to you.
Like you, I have heard a chance to study both in Uganda and outside Uganda and as disturbing as it can be, I find myself comparing many things Ugandan to things in developed nations. Service delivery, education, institutions and the general ways of life. However, let me focus on education; one thing I have found true is that we students in Uganda learn the same material learned by students in developed nations; Archimedes’ principle is taught the same way it is taught in Uganda, the Keynesian theory does not change a word. So I asked myself, why is our society not as advanced as the developed societies?
The answer may not be explicit, but I think that it is partly because our society has been eaten up by a cancer of cynicism, we have lost hope and feeding this cancer is positioning ourselves on the wrong side of history. I plead with you Andrew, feed this cancer no more. You can still bend the arc of the moral universe towards a better path – the path of hope, because you and I know that the major difference between classrooms in Tokyo, Beijing, Kuala Lumpar, and Geneva compared to classrooms in Mukono, Mbarara, Gulu and Bushenyi is a void of hope in the latter classrooms.
Please do not feel this void with cynicism, we can do better. You have always argued that government cannot solve all our society’s problems and we believe you, but you’ve got to empower the next generation so that they can make their own contribution towards solving these problems and challenges, we may all not be public servants or renown journalists like you Andrew, we may not command a stronger voice like you do, but I think if you empowered us with hope, we can make a difference, we can borrow a leaf from anywhere and develop ourselves, we can make our singular contributions to the larger society - Uganda.
Instill in us hope and not cynicism because cynicism is painful for us to digest, we do not feel like it is going to get us anywhere in terms of making a contribution. We are willing to work hard and go the extra mile but we just need that fuel – hope!
We still applaud you, we appreciate you and we know that one day, we shall rise to see the Mwenda we once knew – the symbol for hope!