27 June 2010

Uganda: Can God Help Uganda to Fight Corruption?


A recent survey by the US-based Pew Research Centre puts Uganda among the most religious countries on earth. The same survey also found that more people here got involved in the practice of witchcraft than in many other countries. Nine out of 10 people for religion (Christianity or Islam) and two out of 10 for witchcraft.

Those findings are completely consistent with my expectations, as several articles in this column prior to the survey have indicated. Indeed, the actual figures for both may be even closer. Why? Because a lot of people think it is disreputable or primitive to be involved with witchcraft and only visit their witchdoctor when nobody is looking. Some of these may not have owned up when providing the research data.

We are in the realm of superstition. The mindset that conjures up images of angels, resurrected super mortals and watchful saints who died way back and takes them for real is exactly the same as that in which ancestors and evil spirits are believed to be active forces affecting people's lives.

If they are active and have a closer relationship with the gods than living mortals, then the believer can appeal to them to intercede for him in his quest for the blessings of the divine. When they are thought to be angry or neglected, or when their help is required in the face of a special task, it sounds reasonable to offer gifts or sacrifices - sometimes even human sacrifices - to them.

In this realm, almost anything can be believed, and nothing is subject to scientific proof.

I don't know whether President Museveni believes in the world of gods and other supernatural beings, but he must have noted the statistics, and as a perpetually vote-hungry ruler, he would not hesitate to tap into this pool of believers.

In as much as he preaches about the value of a scientific education and science-related skills, the President has decided that his latest action over the plague of corruption would be completely unscientific. He declared a day of prayers for the country's key institutions.

If there is any evidence at all, it is that the more a country prays, the greater its harvest of corruption will be. Or, maybe, the more corrupt a country is, the greater its hypocrisy; hence more journeys to churches and mosques.

However, as arranged, the bad, the ugly and the horrible all came together; the executive, the army, the police, the tax collectors and so on, and it seems Gen. Museveni was a kind of high priest at the gathering, doing his own bit of praying and preaching. From what we all know about human behaviour, the bubbles of laughter from the bellies of the participants must have been suffocating under the external solemnity of an otherwise comic exhibition.

You can see the palms covering their faces in prayer. Some of their fingers are slightly spread open, and through the gaps they stare as gangster after gangster rises to make confessions on behalf of their institution and to register their contrition. The very cheeky are literally on the verge of bursting with laughter. Those who didn't know were happily informed a few years ago by the First Lady that President Museveni was sent to us by God. Much earlier, with a touch of humour, the President had famously said that he was next to God.

In other words, so immense was his power. But if in this special position the President cannot independently deal with his corrupt officials; if in private he trembles at the thought of punishing them; if, indeed - God forbid - if only the little finger on his left hand was ever (even once) in cahoots with them, then God can only be taken seriously as the Chief of the Universe, and a chief capable of helping Uganda, if he assigned to the country another president.

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator and artist

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