Scottish referendum: British tribalism at its worst (or best)

Had my father still been alive, I suspect that he would be voting in today’s referendum on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom.

While he held a Ugandan passport, Mr Daniel Nkata was an honorary Scotsman who never drank Scotch (whisky), had more of an English accent, but loved practically everything else Scottish. He was resident Kawempe, Kampala until his death in 2004, but visited the UK frequently enough to have, I wager, taken up residence there in anticipation of the referendum (among the eligible voters are qualifying Commonwealth citizens resident in Scotland. This means Commonwealth citizens who either have leave to remain in the UK or do not require such leave, and are resident in Scotland, according to Yes Scotland, the movement for Scotland’s independence).

Daddy’s love for (most) things Scottish goes back to friends he made while growing up in colonial Uganda. Five years into their marriage, he secured a scholarship for his wife to study in Scotland. And so, in 1966, Mum left for Moray House College of Education, University of Edinburgh for two years, leaving behind four little kids (they were quite productive – four kids in five years!).

Golf was principally what bound Mr Nkata to Scotland. Mum still recalls how her husband would regularly write to her urging her to learn golf, and not to return to Uganda without knowledge of the ‘game of life’. She remembers, with little embarrassment, how she asked an Edinburgh sports shop assistant for a ‘pooter’ (her pronunciation of putter, a stick used on the golf green – which should be like butter – sounded like ‘empuuta’ fish, to the shopkeeper’s puzzled look!). Thus Victoria Nkata became the first Ugandan woman to play golf upon return in ’68.

The climax of Mr Nkata’s golfing career was in 1980 when, together with childhood friend Engineer Zac Muwanga, he played the course at the Royal and Ancient at St Andrew’s. The two of them, respectively secretary and chairman of Uganda Golf Union, were visiting the game’s spiritual home with other international administrators, and playing on the world’s most venerated course was for them the equivalent of a good Catholic touring the Vatican’s Papal Apartments.

Beyond golf, Mr Nkata also became a passionate member of the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian Church). Because this denomination had no presence in Uganda, serious time of worship would be at the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) in Nairobi, and I do remember, as a child, severally meeting his pastor, the Rev Timothy Njoya, in the Kenyan capital. Dad was a collector of Presbyterian choral worship and Scottish traditional music, whose vinyl records (no CDs or MP3 those days) still survive somewhere.

I believe that today’s referendum would have caused Mr Nkata heartache. He was quite disdainful of the way Africans governed themselves – what with all the bloodshed, nepotism, corruption, erosion of institutions, failure to maintain and build, and the ethno-centrism. So he would have been hard-pressed to understand why the British were getting tribal like many Africans.

The Brits have been ardent critics of Africa’s tribalism in Africa. So why has there been a similar, though bloodless, strand in the amazingly fierce British referendum debate? Is it because even in those supposedly aanced nations, the foundations still speak of tribe (and race, and class, and region, and accent, and)? Is this British tribalism at its worst? Or is it at its best?

For the record, in his 73 years of life, Mr Nkata was admirably non-tribal in his outlook, bequeathing to his descendants this much-treasured open-mindedness. But how would he have voted in Scotland today? I carried out a straw poll in my family. The verdict: Yes Vote (For Independence): Mrs Victoria Nkata, Ian Nkata, Sarah Asea, Susan Mubiru, Diana Opolot. No Vote (Remaining in Union): Derrick Nkata, Rebecca Kasekende, David Sseppuuya. Real tight vote.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor