27 December 2012

Uganda: Will 2013 Be a Year of Change?


If 2011 was the year of demonstrations, 2012 was the year of corruption.

If 2011 was the year that Ugandans liberated themselves from fear of the state to openly stage street protests over the deteriorating economy or anything that aggrieved them, 2012 was the year Ugandans found a united voice to speak out against corruption, no matter their political affiliation. If 2011 was the year Ugandans found hope in a once disparaged group of politicians called Members of Parliament (MPs), then 2012 is the year Ugandans learnt that hope and despair are two sides of the same coin; that the MPs that heralded so much hope only the previous year are the same group of people that created despair and disappointment by, once again, succumbing to the bribery and intimidation of the executive.

If 2011 was the year of President Museveni and his NRM party, when they "swept" the general elections, extending their rule to an uninterrupted 30 years when their term ends in 2016, then 2012 was the year of the opposition - when the opposition held sway in nearly all by-elections winning the hearts of villagers that had always backed Museveni - the state's monetary and coercive machinery notwithstanding!

If 2011 was the year President Museveni and his government lost face through the handling of walk-to-work riots that saw graphic images of police brutality against unarmed protesters beamed across television stations across the country and the world, 2012 is the year Museveni and his government lost its head through the strange and suspicious way it handled the sudden death of Butaleja Woman MP Cerina Nebanda Arioru just as the year closed.

So, as the year 2012 comes to a close in the next few days, the country will, from a political perspective, be ruing the hopeful moments that started with Parliament taking on government over the secret oil deals, the low moments when mega corruption was exposed, and the sad moment when the honourable MP from Butaleja died in circumstances that we will probably never know.

For me, I will be reflecting on the gigantic corruption that has been unearthed; in the Prime Ministers' Office where some Shs 50 billion meant for the rehabilitation of war-ravaged northern Uganda was lost in just under a year, in the ministry of Public Service where another Shs 60 billion meant for pensioners was stolen, and, of course, in several public offices where money was continuously swindled right from the infamous Chogm swindle of 2007.

Without this obscene theft, I wonder, what Uganda would look like today? Yes, there would certainly be less mansions and residential flats in Kampala's suburbs, less skyscrapers coming up in the city centre, less big farms in the villages, less monstrous 4WD off-roaders on the country's potholed roads, and yes, less little "sexy" cars for the mistresses of the thieves.

Instead, there would probably be a few better roads, a few more hospitals with drugs and smiling nurses and doctors, a few more children who can read and write properly, a few more happy teachers without their "trademark" threadbare trousers and shirts, a few more happy civil servants, and a few more happy, proud and optimistic citizens.

Instead we are a country that has been reduced to despair and prayer as those entrusted to lead the country line their pockets in turns and as the former "fountain of honour", now increasingly seen as a "fountain of dishonour", quietly looks on or makes a few impotent gestures to calm down a restless public.

So, will 2013 be a better year for Ugandans?

That is what everybody is hoping for even if the superstitious think the number "13" is already a bad omen. I am not overly optimistic myself, considering Ugandans' lack of focus, short attention span, and their gullibility. President Museveni and his NRM government need to do only a few things right in the area of service delivery especially in the villages to keep the villagers asleep, hungry but contented.

So, even though this government is at its lowest point and more Ugandans than ever need change, it is unlikely that the politicians will seize the moment and prepare the masses for the change that must come in 2016. Already nearly all leading opposition parties seem to have no sense of purpose; they are not hungry to take power but are contented to be in opposition.

But then again, change sometimes comes not from prolonged posturing and preparation but from a single incident that galvanizes the nation and sets it in motion. That seems to be the way change will come to Uganda but shall we recognize that moment or it will pass us by, like many probably have us in the yester years?

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

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