In 1997, Roberto Benigni starred one of his most successful movies, “Life is Beautiful” (La vita è bella). In this powerful movie, Benigni said that just like in life, “laughing and crying come from the same place in the soul”.
This tragicomic masterpiece is built on the sharp contrast between the beautiful and enchanting love of Guido (played by Benigni), his wife Dora and their son Giosuè, and the ugly tragedy of a country under political tyranny, torture and murder.
Guido befriends Dora in amusing and comical ways. In his despair to attract her attention, he has recourse to a hilarious trick he had learnt from his friend Ferrucio. He called it “Schopenhauer”, after Arthur Schopenhauer’s “Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung” (The World as Will and Representation).
Schopenhauer was the creator of the so called “cerebral phenomenon” (Gehirnphänomen) a post-Kantian concept in philosophy that views the world as existing only in the will and ideas of men.
The world, according to Schopenhauer, was limited and capacitated only by the will and ideas of the men that inhabit it at a particular point in time.
Schopenhauer’s ideas are not without fault. Despite their radical pitfalls, Schopenhauer’s almost exclusive emphasis on the role of individuals as instruments of change, inspired a generational transformation in the arts, ethics, sociology, law and politics.
Africa is a continent whose existence would force its peoples to review Schopenhauer’s thesis. Sometimes, I doubt whether our woes and challenges could be explained by cataclysmic events (colonisation, slavery, climate change, financial irresponsibility, abuse of power, etc.) or instead, they are the result of what Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, calls the nothingness of our collective existence that is nothing because we have chosen to be nothing.
If Schopenhauer was right, and we chose to be nothing, we are indeed nothing. This is, and has been for a while, the lingering question in the minds of many. And it is a question that may shed some light on the current Ugandan political crisis.
Anybody can feel the collective consciousness of the Ugandan people coalesce around this man: Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, popularly known as Bobi Wine. A handsome thirty-six year old musician turned politician.
Bobi is a non-conformist iconoclast in his own philosophy. Bobi speaks through his music, built as a piper to the masses, a message that touches not only the pockets in the traditional sense of African political campaigns, but it touches the heart, the soul and the conscience of many, particularly the youth.
Bobi’s is a different, almost scaring narrative. He thinks that the people of Uganda deserve better. There are unfortunately, two problems.
First, President Yoweri Museveni disagrees. President Museveni is a man who has lived in times of war and peace. Many of those who lived through the never-ending Ugandan strife and civil war rightfully associate Mr Museveni with peace, at least in their minds. Mr Museveni’s philosophy is simple. He will maintain the status quo, where he is both, the ‘status’ and the ‘quo’.
STUBBORNNESS OF TIME
The second problem is weightier than the first. The young people of Uganda seem to agree with Bobi Wine.
The President’s undoing is his incapacity to see the latter problem as a problem at all. Youth has been characterised as foolish in failing to respect the stubbornness of time.
Age, the President’s charm, is however arrogant for failing to perceive the mould of decay, and the demands of changing tides.
Mr Museveni should be better advised. Mr Museveni’s legacy of peace, development and stability is at stake. He should not fail to perceive the tectonic shifts occurring in the continent—from the Arab spring, down to former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s ousting, and former President Yahya Jammeh in The Gambia.
If indeed, the collective consciousness of the people of Uganda is wrapping itself around the person of Bobi Wine, then Bobi Wine is only, as Schopenhauer would say, a representation (an object for the subject conditioned by the forms of our cognition).
The consciousness of the people, perceives him not as himself, independent from them, but as a manifestation of a reality they desire. In him and through him is a freedom they desire.
I dare say that eliminating torturing and eliminating Bobi as a “menace” is unfortunately an impotent solution. The desperate collective consciousness will only find another representation, another Bobi…and another, and another, necessitating further eliminations; grievous, tedious and un-sanitised solutions.
The fractures around East Africa are closing around Bobi Wine. The fledgling concept of Pan-Africanism is finding new clarion calls around the arrest and detention of Bobi Wine.
The old guard, unperceptive of this, will be continuously and irredeemably warped by the on-going tectonic shift into nothingness. The President risks oblivion.
Mr Museveni should not waste more time. Bobi is not just a man under arrest for contempt of power. He is instead, a representation of a generation that knows nothing better or worse than Mr Museveni. A generation crying for change.
Bobi is a sign of the times; the sign of a generation that cries for change for they do not want to be ‘nothing’ as writer VS Naipaul puts it.
Unless their leaders read the signs of the times correctly, Uganda will end up reliving Benigni’s movie dilemma, a conscious people who chose to be something, in a beautiful land, with an unbearably repressive system that struggles to maintain the status quo, the status of the past.
A sad system that, paraphrasing Benigni, will make Ugandans cry tomorrow for it did not allow the youth to laugh today.
Dr Luis Franceschi is the Dean, Strathmore Law School. [email protected]