Waiting on the World to Change
by Sean Crane
It's been almost two months since my last entry, and for that time I have struggled with how to properly portray my experiences here in Uganda. There's a tone to the waves of justice blog that's almost cinematic. A kind of surreal depiction of the horrors that befall the innocents in developing countries beautifully contrasted by the hopeful desire of Pepperdine students to bring justice to these unfortunate souls. It's the kind of clash of optimism and despair that puts creative writers in the unemployment line, because only real life experiences make such grotesque abuses fathomable. This narrative that is so utterly familiar in many of the entries of this blog will be glaring absent in my entry.
I won't lead you down the familiarly poignant story arc, and I have no poetic chilling resolution to stir your blood into action. I won't give you a face of martyr or a hauntingly despicable tale of a villain. You won't be moved, you won't have to constantly dry your eyes, and you won't feel that burning sensation deep in your core that comes from the sudden exposure to a depraved injustice. Nothing I write to you will summon a flood of emotion or rapture your soul about a cause worthy of devotion. This entry rather is about living life in an apathetic slow motion.
I've spent most of my time here in Uganda waiting; waiting on transportation, waiting on servers, waiting on landlords, waiting on inter-office replies, and waiting on lawyers. Most of all I've spent my days waiting for lawyers to show up to mandatory mediation sessions which were created by legislation as an unavoidable step on the way to the court room. The failure to attend is so prevalent that I am often shocked when two parties show up on time in my office to mediate. Perhaps though more stinging than a no-show to mediation is the nonchalant excuses for not showing up, which are absent of any remorse, of any real care, as if the word mandatory completed escaped them, and there was nothing truly inspiring about their case in the first place. This is the Uganda I have come to know where words like responsibility, accountability and punctuality fail to hold little if any weight with the general population.
A lethargic mood can be seen everywhere in Uganda from the adult sitting aimlessly on a desolate corner to the security guard hunched over at his post with a loaded gun leaning carelessly against his hip to the wretched neglect of the city streets painfully apparent by the abundance of giant potholes sucking up the pavement. This is a country where poverty is the norm rather than a sickness on the verge of a cure. If you spend enough time here your exposure to these disgusting inequities builds up an immunity and you find yourself failing to cringe at the discrepancies in wealth simply because that's just the way thing are here. After all your just one little Muzungu, you can't petition the government, you don't have sway with the army or the police force, and you don't have the funding to make anywhere near the impact you would like. So if a westerner begins to acquiescence to the mood of uninspired conformity sweeping the nation, just imagine how detrimental this mood is to someone that was born and raised in Uganda.
Apathy has taken deep roots in this country and the growth of indifference can be seen all around. At times you find that people here seldom have opinions or preferences when you ask them for such. It's not uncommon to see employees sleeping on the job and for no one around to be even slightly offended. Nor is it uncommon here for Ugandans to have little opinion on the upcoming election. You get a feeling that they as people have grown weary of their own leaders, who failed to stamp out corruption, and do little for the people beyond posturing for votes. Votes that many Ugandans believe will never be counted.
Perhaps the most chilling instances of Ugandan inaction though are in their reaction to the atrocities their own people face. People can rot in prison on remand for crimes they did not commit for years maybe even a decade and no one questions their imprisonment simply because there is a strong culture belief that only criminals get arrested, and you wouldn't be in prison if you hadn't done something wrong. This belief is about as common as another belief that prison terms can be avoided if you have enough money to pay off the police. But what can you do? That's just the way things are here.
As an outsider you have to wonder what happened to the fight in some of the Ugandans. Has it simply burned out due to the constant struggle against the daily realities of a life in poverty? Is it the lingering symptom of the subservient behavior encouraged in the days of British colonialism? Or is it a hangover from the stifling terror inflicted upon the entire nation when Idi Amin was in power? Or has the dependency on foreign aid become so great that the people have ceased to aspire to find their own way in life?
Unfortunately I have no answer or quick solution to my speculation on why some Ugandans make no effort to change the way things are. Perhaps the problem is my own view, my own experiences, and maybe the improvements the country has experienced in the past decade are so great, that most Ugandans could not imagine improvement at a faster rate. Still working in the court and desiring increased professionalism, my challenge becomes how do you inspire a nation where expectations have become severely low, to take responsibility for themselves, to hold themselves accountable and to find a way to ensure that they are always punctual.
This is the real challenge we face in our mission for the rule of law abroad. The challenge is not freeing the wrongly imprisoned. The challenge is freeing the minds of their fellow countrymen, and inspiring those countrymen to take up the advocacy of those wrongly imprisoned. The challenge is how do we shake the locals out of their apathetic cocoon, where they are overcome with outrage and demand what's right? How do we breathe the human struggle back into them, so that they exhale forcefully enough to demand change on their own accord and to fight for that change without ever caring if a Muzungu lifts a finger. This is the challenge...