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Behind the DNA ‘confusion’: A socio-cultural and politico-economic perspective

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By Tweheyo Charles

JUST RECENTLY, Uganda experienced a growing public demand to understand the role of identity in shaping society. This is not new. From early 1860s, with the discovery of Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA); a material that exists in human body cells holding genetic codes, identity became inevitable in relating people and social units like family. Since then, people identify as members of certain units in comparison with others. In simple terms, genetically belonging to a particular family means being part of it, like others within and sharing its identical features. As an end to frequent quests to prove identity, memberships to certain families are either validated or terminated depending on the test results; whether accurate or compromised. Consequently, conflicts have broken families where identity is found misplaced. Even where there are no misplaced identities, at least trust is left in question. Hence posing serious existential threats to society.

The rapid technological transformation of society has buttressed dynamic perceptions of different social components, identity inclusive. Since the 1990s, globalization has triggered the proliferation of scientific explorations to deal with identity crises, hence high demand for scientific intervention through DNA tests. On one hand, this may be an indication that people’s faith in science and technology has grown but on the other hand, without doubt, there is a consistent increase in people’s quest to know their origins and with whom they relate. Hence necessary to ascertain why.

1. A volatile socio-political economy

Gradually, as the socio-economic and political environment becomes more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous globally, people explore motivational mechanisms to expand means of survival while minimising avenues of expenditure. Here comes the politics of genealogy that has, of late, engulfed the practice of democratic governance where progenies of established politicians are seen as the most suitable to inherit their parliamentary and district political offices. When this is expanded to the micro social spaces, mothers have also innovatively founded a preference for their children to identify with ‘fathers’ who have capacity to ensure their better living in a highly complicated society from all aspects, be it political, social or economic. No wonder, cases of misplaced identities rise amidst men’s scrutiny for their biological progenies.

2. The ‘class’ question

At the core of the increasing demand for identity lies the classification of individuals according to their roles in relation to resource allocation, utilization and maximization. Needless to say, identity is about things that sustain persons. Majority of the meaningful activities within society revolves around the distribution and control of resources because this is the feature on which social structures are built. So, in such a highly structured society, individuals are placed in different social categories. The existence of these categories is characterized by contrasting interests in terms of power and status…which later determine our classes in society. This is to say, we are born into a society with structures which precede our interests. It is therefore natural that once in such a society, people want to drive their identity largely from the social categories with which they share majority of class interests. Thus, each person, depending on their personal history, is a member of a unique collection of social classes. Therefore, it’s only mandatory for one to belong to a group with a set of interests shaping his/her unique identities. Once this is not done appropriately, class conflicts are bound to break down our social fabric.

3. The role of culture

Identity, as a social instrument, is essential in the formation of one’s role in a larger cultural space. In a culturally rich society like Africa, some of the common tools of identity are symbols. These are employed in the allocation of positions and in naming and recognizing one another as occupants of positions. This comes with expectations with regard to one’s roles and behaviors. Therefore, in circumstances that a person’s identity is misplaced, one may be subjected to a situation where they have to perform misplaced cultural roles hence leaving the actual players with no roles while some roles remain unoccupied. For instance, we all belong to our fathers’ clans and only man’s biological children can perform his clan roles. In this context, it is mandatory for children to belong to their rightful fathers to belong to their clans. In failure, their socio-cultural status as well as that of their succeeding generations is compromised and this definitely causes cultural erosion.

4. Social media & the common sense of uncertainty

The rapid change in science and technology exhibited by the coincidental DNA demands and social media growth has proliferated doubts and arguments about identity. This common sense of uncertainty especially among men feeds a motivation for identification and pursuit of validation through genetic correlations. It is this change that inevitably brings mistrust infused with tension from the aggrieved parties seeking to resolve uncertainty through validation and exclusion of children in/out of particular families even when it is not only unnecessary but also very costly sometimes.

That said, the whole identity question can only be appropriately resolved by women. While there are some advocates for legal regulations, as long as there is continuous abuse of the principles of trust in families and society at large, identity questions will persist. Of course, even men play a role but our mothers, through the laws of nature, have the highest discretion in determining which man should or should not biologically own a child, when, where and why. So, they are at the center of making or breaking society. Largely, this whole DNA hullabaloo is a consequence of what they choose to and/or not to do. So, is there any sustainable way to save humanity from future identity crises? Yes. Our dear mothers must allocate us to fathers we truthfully belong to!

Tweheyo Charles is a social and political commentator

tweheyocharles@gmail.com

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