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Rekindling the spirit of Bulungi Bwa Nsi

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Rekindling the spirit of Bulungi Bwa Nsi

Ambassador Park Jong-Dae talking to volunteers after they worked on one of Kampala’s roads

One of the greatest hallmarks of Buganda’s civilisation was that of Bulungi Bwa Nsi. Sadly, years of westernisation have led to the disappearance of the golden values of this great tradition that helped advance Buganda in the times.

Considering its attributes in ensuring equitable, rapid economic and social development, new efforts spearheaded by the South Korean Embassy in Uganda, have been launched to revive Bulungi bwa nsi.

Back in the day, the people of Buganda cherished the spirit and values of living together as a community. They owned and maintained social goods and services such as roads, wells, schools and hospitals under an arrangement known as Bulungi bwa nsi which literally means ‘For the good of everyone.’

Perhaps from Buganda, the spirit of Bulungi bwa nsi spread to several other parts of the region including Rwanda where it came to be known as Umuganda – which means community service. Under Bulungi bwa nsi, villagers took care of their commonly owned assets.

The socialist ideology had at its core the spirit of mutual respect, selflessness and community ownership as the driving forces of good living. Kabaka’s agents right from Mengo down to the villages mobilised villagers to pave roads or clean wells every Saturday.

It was a practice everyone had to participate in, and where one would be ridiculed or even penalised by his fellow leaders if he/she absconded.

The tradition thrived until the early 80s. As I recall, at my primary school, in Kiwawu PS, Mityana district, parents volunteered to make bricks that were used in erecting a three-classroom block. The young government of President Yoweri Museveni then only stepped in to provide cement, while the church and the Parents Teachers Association (PTA), helped with roofing.

Along with Bulungi bwa nsi, was the obligation imposed on every man to pay tax that was meant to help provide social amenities that would not be easily obtained through Bulungi bwa nsi.

Nearly two decades since Uganda embraced western capitalism and individualism have washed away those golden community values with disastrous outcomes. Besides abolishing graduated tax, the government has largely succeeded in uprooting the spirit of community ownership by teaching  people to wait for medicines and pay workers who clear bushes around hospitals and schools. The government has told parents not to pay a coin for their children’s education under Universal Education.

Available evidence confirms that replacing the  with handouts by the NRM government has not only failed but it is unsustainable too.

Most reports have concluded that not only has UPE failed, but it that is unsustainable as it breeds irresponsibility among parents. UPE has been blamed for the sharp decline in education standards for children with the potential to negatively affect the future and productivity of an entire generation of Uganda’s population.

After years of resisting a review of the free-for-all system designed by the World bank and western charities, the government has finally decided to bite the bullet. Recently, the government announced that this year it will scale back on the number of students for whom it pays fees by pulling out of privately owned schools.

Similar arrangements are being mooted in the health sector to allow for cost-sharing as a means of bridging the income gap in health sector, but more importantly increase efficiency and value for money.

Reviving personal responsibility could be the first step towards a renewed consciousness that encouraging personal responsibility coupled with the spirit of community service or Bulungi bwa Nsi are needed to get the country back on track.

Fortunately, the idea has new advocates in the name of the South Korean Community in Uganda. Last month, the Korean community together with Ugandans who have been to Korea, launched a campaign to sensitize and revive community service in Uganda.

Borrowing from their hugely successful Samaul Undong movement, the South Korean embassy in Uganda led by its Ambassador Park Jong Dae, last month launched a campaign to engage different communities in Kampala with the view to instilling in them the spirit of community service so as to improve social amenities by themselves rather than waiting for government.

Between 1960 and 80, South Korea achieved magical social economic transformation characterised with marked improvement in social services in rural areas through community service known as Sameul Undong.

Over 100 people, including a few workers from Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) participated in the voluntary exercise of filling potholes of a road that passes behind Oasis Mall in Kampala.

Ambassador Park noted that the once-monthly community service exercises would greatly contribute to improving the sanitation, state of roads in the communities that will be interested, but would also help to spur local businesses.

He said: “Having a good road not only improves transportation of the residents, it boosts businesses as people find it easy and convenient to shop or visit local stores and.”

Ambassador Park and others like Kityamuweesi Musubire, an assistant to Vice President Edward Ssekandi, believe that the tradition of Bulungi bwa nsi is still popular and that it will not be difficult for people-to re-embrace it.

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