When Personal and Public Needs Meet

What happens when personal and public needs meet? I tell you, when they meet on a positive note, a great nation is born. Personal needs are needs which concern me as an individual, I cannot do without them. When it has got to do with all of us, then they are public or community needs.

Personal and public needs are intertwined. There is something I do at a personal level that impacts upon public life and there is something that happens at a public level that impacts upon my personal life. Like the two legs that meet no where else except being joined together at the hips, life has joined both personal and public needs together. They are like the two sides of the same coin- they have become one and inseparable.

Whatever happens at a public or community life is only a reflection of what happens at a personal life. Take for instance, the issue of public health and sanitation. If you go out into our community, you will find it littered with all manner of rubbish- plastic bags, water bottles etc. Who throws these things into our streets? Are they animals? Not at all. These are individuals who at a personal level do not see cleanliness and sanitation as a need and so because of their irresponsibility at a personal level, it adversely impacts on all of us. A dear friend once went for a tour in one of the Japanese cities. Unfortunately, he went with his Ugandan mentality and so after emptying his water bottle, he unconsciously threw his empty water bottle to the ground. An elderly Japanese man stooped down, picked the empty water bottle and looked at him as if to say; “I don’t blame you, I blame where you come from.” He then walked a few metres and then threw it into a trash can. My friend was so embarrassed that when he came back to Uganda, he became one of the leading crusaders of public health and sanitation.

How about the issue of corruption? Gandhi once said, “There is enough resources to meet everyone’s need but there is not enough to meet everyone’s greed.” If there is a lot of corruption at a public level, it is only because there is a lot of it at a personal level. You and I have come across people who go about flouting traffic rules and when waved down by the traffic policeman, they pull out a UGX 5000 note and stash it into the officer’s pocket. Imagine with me if we all decided to be men and women of integrity, we would end up with a community of people who are law abiding and minimal or no corruption.

Did you know that most national problems were first and foremost a personal problem that went unchecked like a little cancer cell that started on the toe and proliferated to the entire body, eventually snuffing life out of it. Take for instance, an individual who decides to become a robber, an iron bar hitman or even a rebel and inspires a few other people to join him in that illicit cause. Before long, they will become a threat to national security- security of persons and property. Ladies and gentlemen, may I submit to you that a handful of individuals can drive our nation into jeopardy and reduce to ashes the efforts of the millions. If these individuals valued not only their own security of person and property but also that of others, we would have a community that is safe and secure for everyone.

I could go on and on but in the interest of time, let me bring my case to a close. Personal needs, like it or not, eventually become community or public needs. And the best way to respond to community needs is by responding to personal needs. Chinua Achebe once warned, “Never pick a quarrel with a crocodile when your legs are still in water.” In the same way, we should not be so quick to condemn public life because you and I are part and parcel of it. Instead, this should be a point of reflection; “what am I doing- good or evil- at a personal level that is contributing to the good or evil at a community level?” My heart’s desire is that when personal and public needs meet, they will become best of friends, they will collaborate to create a peaceful, productive and prosperous nation for all.

Anthony Ochieng – FRIENDS Consult Limited