Whenever national celebrations are held in Uganda these days, an important feature is the decoration of national heroes who receive medals – hundreds of them. We are used to this. So the decoration of a hundred heroes on June 9, which is the actual national Heroes’ Day, was not any different. Or was it?
Maybe one difference was the presence of some four guys – sorry, one was a lady – clad in battle fatigues. Usually, a serviceman or woman turning up for such a solemn event would dress in ceremonial uniform, not battle dress. But well, the military people know their things.
It was not their dress however that aroused curiosity. Nor was it their low rank – the senior-most being a sergeant – that raised eyebrows. It was the speed they had made it to be decorated by the president and shaking his hand, while the other recipients usually have to wait for years after they have performed their heroic deed to be recognised as national heroes.
Even after making it through the rigorous vetting of the medals committee, because of the huge backlog, you have to wait a couple of years before you are included on the list to actually get decorated by His Excellency.
The four junior soldiers however performed their heroic act less than a year ago. They were guarding a military site in the city that sits on a disputed plot of land when the commission of inquiry into land matters, led by its chairperson who is a Constitutional Court judge, tried to gain access to it – the way the court goes to any site under its consideration. The soldiers successfully blocked them, because the necessary protocols to enter the plot had not been observed.
For that they became national heroes. The humble soldiers thus succeeded in recreating public interest in the heroes’ medals that had become somewhat commonplace.
Public reactions, especially on social media, were not very charitable. Some cynical types said that, with time, every Ugandan will have received a hero’s medal. But the master of cynicism, Democratic Party leader Norbert Mao looked beyond the human beings.
He said that he expects the president’s cows will also be awarded medals for producing a lot of milk.
Mao, who is a wordsmith, then blamed the ruling NRM government for having devalued honours when they created a multitude of “honourables” all over the land. Tens of thousands of sub-county councillors are now addressed as “Honourable,” a title usually reserved for sitting Members of Parliament.
So Mao has been advising MPs, whenever he gets the opportunity, to keep adding the letters “MP” after their name, so as not to be mistaken for some lowly councillor. Ugandans and titles! We do love them, don’t we?
Joachim Buwembo is a political and social commentator based in Kampala. E-mail: [email protected]