11 November 2012

Uganda: Dismas Nkunda - What's All This Money for If Not Spending?


One of the most important and lucrative ministries in Uganda once used to be the ministry of Works and Transport.

It was well provided for because the state of the roads had gone to the dogs. And it had the longest serving minister in Eng John Nasasira, heading it for donkey's years. We all at the time made it a habit to blame the ministry for the mess brought to us by driving on bad roads. That was in the past.

I had never, in my wildest dreams, ever thought that a ministry charged with the reconstruction of areas ravaged by war could become that lucrative until the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) opened the present can of worms.

Ordinarily, one would have thought that since this is a ministry charged with helping those who have not had the same way of living like the rest of the Ugandans, then surely it was a ministry run by people with soft hearts. I had never even bothered to understand how many ministries this OPM housed. Because protection of refugees is my area of work, I had always only looked at the ministry of Disaster Preparedness and Refugees as the core one for this kind of work. How wrong I was!

The OPM is apparently the 'holding company' for the ministry in charge of Karamoja, the one in charge of the famous Luwero, the one for Bunyoro, the one for Teso and the one for northern Uganda. And of course it has under its wings the many deputy Prime ministers, such as the one in charge of East African affairs, the Leader of Government Business in Parliament, and the list goes on.

But now everything seems to be unravelling, what with the billions meant to bail out the underprivileged areas of Uganda going down some deep hole, it is no longer easy to get to the bottom of the ongoing mega financial scandal. Foreign donors had been pumping funds into the OPM in the hope that it would eventually reach those it was intended for. That was until the money simply became so much that it began attracting undue attention from the guardians themselves.

There is now a religious connotation to the manner in which this money came in and how it was used. If what we are reading in some sections of the media is anything to go by, the assumption is that the money could have fallen from heaven like the proverbial manna. And when it hit the accounts, it just had to be spent. So, the idea is that should your account ever be credited by an invisible depositor, your work is just to spend the damn money!

There aren't enough prayers that can put right the wrongs we have brought upon the people of Karamoja whom we are trying to bring up to development speed with the rest of the country. I am sure the people of Luwero must be unhappy with the manner in which they have been rewarded for the sacrifices they made while protecting those who are now holding on to ? in their private bank accounts ? what is rightfully supposed to be theirs.

The perception is that some of the people from the areas covered under the OPM are not 'real consumers' and have no right to ask for what should belong to them. When you have suffered so much as did the people in some of these regions, anything thrown at you is just welcome relief since you may never have expected anything in the first place.

I remain in the hope that one of these days more money might fall from the skies and all our other worries will be forever forgotten. Sometimes it makes sense for someone to eat on your behalf in the hope that when they belch, you'll have a sense of satisfaction!

This reminds me of a story that was told by someone in the know to the effect that at some point, during Idi Amin's tenure, after the Israelis had completed the building of Entebbe airport, the Uganda Commercial bank headquarters ? now called Cham towers ? and the Bugolobi flats, they asked whether they could take over Karamoja and develop it for us.

I am sure this is a proposition that may still be on the table. And who knows, maybe the takeover of such a people, educating them about the need to become civilized and taming them, may just lift the ever present black spot on the Pearl of Africa.

The author is a human rights expert and specialist on refugee issues.

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