8 November 2012

Uganda: What Will It Take to Get Ugandans Angry?


It is circus time in Uganda once again with the police falling beside itself, investigating the theft of billion of shillings from the Office of the Prime Minister, the civil servants pension's scheme and from the ministry of Health.

The media, as usual, is providing the minute-by-minute account of arrests, detentions, interrogations and releases, punctuated by glimpses into the lives of the super rich civil servants and politicians who possess magic wands to turn pitiable salary slips into colossal wealth that they invest in real estate, 4x4 off-roaders, mistresses (and they come with a little Toyota Vitz, Rav4 or Prado, depending on how much one can steal), etc.

To spice up the circus, of course, are the members of Parliament; barking, puffing, stomping, swearing, all in a posture that evokes both hope and despair, depending on whether the NRM caucus - the de facto first chamber of Uganda's Parliament - has sat or not.

The side-show, apparently, is the tail-end of a similar circus that played out four years ago: the trial of three 'Chogm ministers' Sam Kutesa, John Nasasira and Mwesigwa Rukutana by the Anti-corruption court over the loss of billions of shillings in the run-up to the November 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kampala.

And watching all this is the ordinary Ugandan in the village who cannot afford a decent meal a day, civil servants and pensioners who have not been paid for two months and must now scrounge for a living in the most undignified manner, policemen and women who must keep their fingers on the trigger even as they yawn and their wives and children go hungry, just to ensure that nobody asks questions about why the thieves are getting away with all the loot when they are in arm's reach!

Yes, most Ugandans know that no matter what noises come from this Ugandan theatre, when this circus has finally played out, it will end up like the ongoing 'Chogm ministers' side-show where witnesses will suddenly suffer memory loss or testify in favour of the accused, and to placate the false or pretentious indignation of donors, the government will fork out more public money to refund to the donors what was swindled by public servants.

This is Uganda after all; it is NRM country! In the last many weeks since the stories about the theft of billions of shillings broke out, I have kept wondering what it will take Ugandans to draw the line and say 'enough is enough.'

Just imagine this: in the midst of this scandal, the intensive care unit (ICU) at the national referral hospital, Mulago, was closed because of decadent equipment and lack of resources to procure new ones or maintain the old ones, leading to several deaths that should never have been.

Is that not disturbing enough to arouse our collective conscience, even when we know that only months ago, the president and the prime minister just procured state-of-the-art vehicles costing close to Shs 2bn to massage their ego and reinforce their sense of infallibility?!

Reflecting on the images of nodding disease victims in northern Uganda, the Ebola and Marburg victims in western Uganda, the terrible roads in the countryside and towns, rotting and sick hospitals, and juxtaposing this with the neatly lined red-roofed mansions and housing estates, five-star homes and the monster cars of the public servants implicated in theft of public funds, Ugandans still do not find reason to get angry and say, enough!

Instead, we are prepared to understand that this is Uganda and there is nothing we can do about it other than lamenting and groaning. We cheer politicians who have stolen most every five years and provided the protective ring around the thieves because this is Uganda anyway!

Clearly, Ugandans are either an extraordinary or a terribly cursed people that must suffer so much and put up with so much when this country has enough resources to ensure a decent life for everyone, not just the few who have stolen more than they will ever need in their lifetime.

I do not know what it will take to get us out of this because the obvious way would have been to rise up in one huge protest, like the wives of policemen did in Naguru this week when they went onto the streets to protest the delay in paying the pitiable salary of their husbands as well as the sordid environment they live in.

But that, it seems, may never happen. Many opposition leaders who the public looked up to in the past to hold down the monster have either given up or now send mixed signals to the oppressed and the oppressor with the hope of collecting a pension from the thieves and at the same time hoodwinking the citizens that they still represent their interests for change.

Increasingly, many Ugandans now think only an act of God will change the fortunes of this country. Unfortunately, that only provides anaesthesia for the suffering and more momentum for the tormentors.

The author is a political and social critic. He is a former editor of Sunday Monitor and The Independent.

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