The Danish philosopher and father of religious existentialism, Soeren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), once wrote that “everybody wants development – nobody wants change”. Somehow this observation fits life in Apac quite well.
People want developments such as tarmacked roads, rural electrification, adequate water sources, higher agricultural yields; but not at the expense of ‘rocking the boat’ – even if this boat is manned by a self-serving crew. Upsetting the status quo is not allowed; even if the status quo is bringing suffering to the ordinary person in the form of hardship and poverty.
But perhaps this observation has a temporal aspect. Perhaps change is indeed accepted, if it takes place over a long time. The status quo of today is different from that of five years ago. During the time in between 2003 and 2008, some things must indeed have changed – even if it seems as if they did not. In 1985, when President Museveni came to power, Apac town only had two permanent buildings. Today it has perhaps 200. So change has happened; the status quo has changed.
Kierkegaard’s ‘change’ entailed transformation. For Apac to develop, a degree of transformation is necessary; and transformation does entail a departure from the status quo. But the nature of this transformation is paramount: it has to be non-confrontational. In Apac, confrontation is seen as the worst thing, and people go to great lengths to avoid such ghastly situation. Instead, they make use of mediators, brokers, counsellors. When a couple weds traditionally, the community assigns a third-party (male) counsellor to them; the husband or wife can then involve him if he or she has a problem with the spouse and he shall try to assist its resolution.
In the context of the modern state which in Uganda is decentralised, who shall be the third-party councillor if the citizens feel aggrieved? If their lack of water, electricity, education and health care makes their life hard and kills their children? In Uganda, the idea is that the district council, which is politically elected, performs the necessary checks on the district administration; but the council is a part of the local government and cannot therefore also be the third-party. Therefore, massive resources (mainly of foreign origin) go into the civil society. The question remains: can the civil society be the counselor that assists the couple in looking for a solution, without being seen to rock the boat, challenge the status quo, or confront the powers that be?
Contributing to development without effecting change is perhaps possible only if one takes a long-term perspective; but the agencies which fund the civil society want to see change and impact in the short term. As with most other aspects of life, this challenge is one which, here, has to be negotiated.