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Father Claude

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I embrace the world from my backyard at the University of Portland, January 1, 2018. I again invite you to "clod-hop" with me on my journeys to Latin America via this blog. More...

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A TALE OF TWO CITIES: MONTREAL AND KAMPALA (Category: International Politics)

I returned to Portland from Kampala in May (2009) after a year in Uganda. In May, I then taught a course for 6 weeks at McGill University in Montréal.

I admit to being a lover of cities They are fascinating places where communities gather. The best ones never sleep and reveal their secrets only through long, patient walks from center to remotest neighborhoods. Montreal is built on an island and most stores have huge underground malls connecting to the metro. Kampala is built on 7 hills connected by ribbons of asphalt and bumpy dirt roads. Santiago (Chile) begins from the bed of a wide river and climbs thousand of feet into the foothills of some of the highest mountains in the world. Paris is the stunning jewel of world history, with glorious avenues, hidden sewers and tunnels, and a sculptured steel tower visible around the world. These cities filled with many inter-dependent human communities. And this characterizes Kampala on the banks of Lake Victoria, and Montreal on the banks of the St. Lawrence River and the largest inland port in the Americas. This is not a systematic comparison with academic analysis. It is rather a tale from my journal entries of last year about Kampala that I discovered for the first time and Montréal that I only re-discovered.

Kampala is the largest city of Uganda (pop. 32 million) and has a diverse population of approximately 2,500,000. Although a majority of its citizens are from the Buganda tribe and speak Luganda as their first language, one hears many different African and European languages on the streets of Kampala. Even though Luganda dominates in Kampala, it is -- like the French culture in Quebec -- a minority ethnic group within a larger country. Uganda has at least 40 language and ethnic groups. English and Swahili are the two official, national languages. In Canada, it is English and French. Most Kampalans speak both official languages and a variety of other languages from other regions of Uganda or neighboring countries. For example, Kampalans who come from villages along he border with Congo or Rwanda, often speak French and one, or several regional Congolese languages.

Prosperous Kampalans (and foreigners) usually live on the mountain tops, and the poor in the valleys. I lived on Nsambia hill, but as I waited for a ride n early morning, I was greeted in tongues that I knew (and many that I didn't) by students going to class, by security guards going to work. by maids going to work in religious houses or international agencies. And sometimes by drunks returning from bars. Kampala's hills are doted with mosques, temples and churches, Nsambia hill is no exception with its embassies, churches and schools.

Montréal is the capital of the Province of Québec, and with a population of 3.5 million, one of the largest cities of Canada (pop. 32.5 million). A majority of Montréal's citizens(70%) speak French as their first language. English is the second language and is required to get a job at any public establishment. Although French and English dominate, there is a substantial presence of Italians, Poles, Chinese, Mexicans, Haitians and Portuguese who speak their languages, as well other nationalities from francophone Africa, and from Latin America, Middle East and South Asia.

Schools, churches, community centers and restaurants cater to most of these ethnic groups. On any given day, you can walk down a major city street and hear a dozen languages spoken (counting at least 3 different versions of French -- that of Québec, Africa and Haiti.

Life in both these cities is culturally rich and socially attractive. I have tried to explain to myself why these two cities are such attractive and delightful places. Many Kampalans and Montrealers are deeply attached to their nationalities and to the place where they live and work. Some Kamaplans told me that their city is too big and no place to raise a family, but they always promised to send their kids to the best schools in Kampala

Some Montrealers told me that some rich and influential persons moved out of the city after the Referendum of 1995, when Québec almost voted in favor of separation. After the referendum failed to pass, English Canadians (in Québec and in the other provinces) re-learned to live with their feisty Frenchies.

It seems to me that leaders and most citizens of these two cities have achieved a ritual balance of communities and individuals that is symbolized in Québec through Cirque du Soleil, and in Uganda through Ndere. For Montréal, the larger ethnic French tradition lives in harmony with the many other ethnic traditions. And the totality of these ethnic nationalities thrive within an Anglo-Saxon vision of the common good, respecting the human rights of all individual citizens. For Kampala, the powerful Kingdom of Buganda has recognized the many religious communities that arrived at the end of the 19th century. And the totality of these different regional kingdoms and European language traditions thrive under a former colonial framework that was adjusted to include the entire commonweal by establishing a common civic culture of respect for the human rights of all citizens. It is useful to examine the history of Ugandan nationalism within the role of British and French colonial traditions to see how Kampala has become such a welcoming and rich collection of ethnic communities. Likewise for Montréal, it is useful to see how the leaders of this French colony chose to transfer their allegiance from the French monarchy (after the Revolution) to the British crown. Since the 1960s, a renewal of French ethnic nationalism has been achieved without excluding the many other ethnic nationalities. Montréal's unique urban framework for its diverse ethnic nationalities is a result of it's delicate -- one might even say precarious -- balance of civic values that encompass human rights for all citizens with the deeply rooted collective culture of a French-speaking nationality.

We live in a world of cities in which life-as-usual is in large part unsustainable. Politically, competition for resources often leads to violence and injustice. Geographically, the growing concentration of human communities too often leaves a path of environmental degradation that is costly -- perhaps even impossible --to repair, . Life in Montréal and Kampala may be fragile -- even unsustainable -- but it has an extraordinary charm and seduction.
Permalink | Tuesday, August 18, 2009