The Observer (Kampala)

10 January 2013

Uganda: Museveni Is Right On Idiots, Fools

opinion

The more you disagree with President Museveni, the more you will find yourself agreeing with him!

Take his recent tirade against MPs specifically (and many Ugandans implicitly), who have been pointing fingers - publicly and privately - at the government over the mysterious death of Butaleja district Woman MP Cerinah Nebanda (RIP) last month, and the tragicomedy that followed under the direction of the Police chief Kale Kayihura.

"Idiots, fools and despicable (sic)..." was how the president described such people!

These remarks outraged the country, and rightly so because it is wrong for a leader to be using such language, least of all on fellow leaders. So, you would expect that MPs should be doing everything not to prove the President right but what do we have instead? Several MPs doing everything to prove to the country that President Museveni was after all right about them.

A group of these 'honourables' frantically wrote to the speaker of Parliament withdrawing their signatures from a petition to recall the house for a special sitting to discuss executive abuse of the principle of the separation of powers - among other things.

The obvious reason is the Executive pressure that has no doubt been brought to bear upon them. But the MPs' "foolish" reason - to use the president's word - for wanting to withdraw their signatures is that they were duped and that their signatures were forged (note that they have not registered any complaints of forgery at the police)!

Clearly, many Ugandans must be wondering whether it is foolishness or gullibility for an MP to sign a petition only to turn back and claim they were duped! How many other "foolish" decisions are these MPs always making in the course of their duties? Do these MPs represent a foolish constituency, considering that some of them have been re-elected a few times over and, therefore, they are the one-eyed among the blind?

Many Ugandans actually despise their MPs (another feeling they share with the president) mostly because many of the MPs have failed to stand up for the things that matter to the country, instead succumbing to bribery of a few million shillings to pass bills that are detrimental to the long-term interest of the country and the people they represent.

This has prompted many to wonder what it will take to stop "fools and idiots" from going to Parliament as the constitutional sieve of minimum academic requirement of A-level or its equivalent has proved ineffective in giving us the MPs the country deserves. Would raising the bar to a minimum university/college diploma, bachelors, masters or even doctorate degree give us representatives with brains and character to put country first?

I am not sure it would, considering that some of the most hopeless MPs and ministers hold doctorate degrees. Interestingly, many of the best MPs ever, especially in the first years of independence, only held high school certificates, often attained through continuous upgrading. Would working experience - that is somebody having held a position of managerial or administrative responsibility - do the trick?

Again, not sure, considering that some of the thieving politicians and the ones who trade their vote for welfare are former senior civil servants. Could amount of wealth be a good yardstick, given that many of the current MPs are usually hungry and poor, and are therefore susceptible to bribery?

That again may not work, considering that some of the current thieving politicians have already stolen so much that ordinarily they would not need to steal again, but they continue to do so. Besides, we might just bring in thieves from other working backgrounds to continue their stealing, now at a political level.

Clearly, the country is in a quandary. In the end, a good or bad, foolish or clever, MP boils down to character! The Igbo say "a chick that will grow into a cock can be seen the very day it hatches". So, it is actually possible to predict how one will behave even before one ascends to a position of authority. In the village, a child's future behaviour would be predicted by the way they conduct themselves when food is presented at a communal event, and how they behave towards others in the grazing fields as the group looks after cattle, or at the communal well where they fetch water.

Voters must start to seriously examine the backgrounds of their MPs because leaders are born and not made, and like in all aspects of life, good leaders and bad leaders are born at the same time, just like ugly and beautiful are also born at the same time, even from the same womb.

Our challenge as a country is to learn to link the childhood characters we see to adult behaviour. A boy who used to hide mangoes from their friends picking them out of the tree will do exactly the same when he becomes minister of Finance, no matter what level of education they attain! Yes, education can taper character but the core values can only be blunted, not eradicated completely!

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

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