(Originally published on August 19, 2013, my thoughts have not changed.)
My very dear friend Hope Chigudu muhara wa Bagyendera, a Ugandan-Zimbabwean, has a son called Simukai, a name that exhorts us to stop crying about human rights abuse; to rise up and do what we must but mostly fight for our rights, for no one is going to do it for us.
Simukai – a single word that ought to be adopted by every African as our personal rallying call for freedom. Put down the newspaper now, Tingasiga, and stand on the highest point near you – whether rooftop or hilltop, whether mountaintop or anthill – and shout as loud as you can: “Simukai! Simukai!!!!”
There are words which, when spoken, tell a story of a thousand words. They have become staples of the African struggle for freedom and economic justice. They hardly need explanation to those to whom they are rallying cries for something bigger than themselves.
Uhuru (independence), Harambee (pull together), Ujamaa (socialism), Kujitegemea (self-sufficiency) and Amandla (power) – powerful words that galvanized Africans towards the great citadel of post-colonial human dignity. We shouted them with the conviction of people who were hungry for freedom and progress.
The great baritone that was Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s voice still rings in my ears as I hear him shout Uhuru and Harambee! For better or worse, Tanzania’s Kambarage Nyerere’s recitation of Ujamaa na Kujitegemea was an easy sell for him. His search for egalitarianism was eased by his matching lifestyle. Has there been an African president who was as frugal as Nyerere?
Not to be left behind, Ugandans of a more recent political persuasion have patented their rallying cry, albeit a two-word phrase that insists on “no change!” We shall hear that song pretty soon, with demands for no change in political leadership as the country heads into the next selections.
Yet Uganda is one country that desperately needs change from the entrenched abuse of human rights and people’s freedom; change from economic exploitation of the majority by a tiny minority of politicians and well-connected bureaucrats that steal serious money; and change from governance through personal whims, lies and deception.
Perhaps the peasants that I have heard sing the “no change” song mean every word of it. Who knows what satisfies others? Yet something tells me that they recite and sing those words with conviction.
No doubt a little money from an opposition party may trigger choruses of praise for the leader of the donor party.
To be sure many of the economically comfortable folks genuinely want no change because they prefer the route with the least effort, one that places a premium on their self-indulgent materialism. Yet this is self-deception.
They are not the first to fall into things until the bad politics unravels the delicate strands that barely hold together their tenuous arrangement. Yesterday’s rich boys are today’s forgotten ones. Today’s strugglers are tomorrow’s no-change fighters. Today’s royalty is tomorrow’s inmates. The winner is one who is liberated.
So ours is a struggle that must start with one’s self-liberation, recognising that “I am somebody”; that “I am a very important person and a citizen of Uganda;” and that “Uganda is me and I am Uganda. “
This is my secular creed. It is the step of triumph, one where we are no longer awed by fellow humans with titles, especially ones whose job seems to be either to steal from the national purse or to sing the most sycophantic songs in honour of their excellencies at whose pleasure they keep their jobs and incomes.
Simukai, a Shona word, is a lengthened version of the Rukiga word Siimuka, which literally means, “wake up!” Simukai is the perfect rallying cry for people whose freedoms are curtailed by any regime that fears its own shadow.
It is the word that those who seek better conditions, not as a favour from their rulers, but as a right of citizenship, need to shout in unison everyday at an appointed hour.
Simukai! Wake up and fight for your rights! This must become the rallying cry of those who seek freedom and economic justice. Until Ugandans who are tired of the status quo shout “Simukai” and work tirelessly to reclaim their country, the current feeding off the carcass of the nation will continue until there is very little left for the normal citizen.
In full confidence that an awakened people are an unstoppable force for change, I shout “Simukai!” in the hope that someone will hear and save himself. I shout Simukai to stop the daily whining in whispers by a terrified people, and rally us to peaceful action of mobilising each other to support genuine change. Simukai!