New Vision (Kampala)

16 February 2013

Uganda: To Be or Not to Be a Politician in Uganda

There is this friend of mine, smart, brilliant and as real a person as a Ugandan can get. She has her faults, don't we all? But on average she is okay. And like many of us these days, she likes communicating with the world via social media, especially facebook.

She has always been putting up wacky posts, always worth a laugh; but of recent they have been really off the wall. Something would happen in the public domain and she would post a reaction that was totally out of whack. For an intelligent, smart girl like her it seemed out of character posting un-researched, un-collaborated stuff that was tantamount to falsehoods. Whatever had happened?

She had decided to become a politician, was the answer. That her family had always been involved in politics, and it was her turn. But did that mean putting up lies and unproven accusations? That was politics, she insisted. Amazing, I told myself when she had left, a whole family that tells lies.

I have never been very fond of politicians, especially our home-grown Ugandan types. We don't have a history of democracy in this country, and the first real elections were probably held just before Independence in 1962. But Obote made sure that experiment did not last for very long, and we went back to the African 'Big Man' politics.

After decades of turmoil, where very often being a politician was bad for one's health, another chance at democracy came around, and all of a sudden there were openings for politicians.

At its most ideal, politics is a call to serve, just as priesthood would be a call to serve one's religion. In a 1963 speech, President John F. Kennedy of the United States called on all educated citizens of the world to take part in politics. He said it was imperative that each one do their bit, whether as president or social worker.

In Uganda, unfortunately, politics is not a call to service, but rather a path to 'self-aggrandisement'. That means to act out of a desire to increase one's power and influence, an ego trip, really. But mainly to make as much money as you can, not through public service, as it should be, but through any means possible.

And our politicians seem to have found the quickest and easiest way to do this - through telling lies. Tell a very gullible Ugandan public whatever you want, and if they believe it, you are home and dry, with national resources at your disposal.

Someone should compile all campaign speeches made since the 1996 elections, that book should make for very interesting, and telling, reading. I wonder if politicians ever remember the things they have said in the past?

Do people remember claims in the 2001 elections that 'we have information' thousands of foreigners had been brought in to vote? After the elections that all died down, of course, and we don't know what happened to those foreigners.

Then in another election a presidential candidate visited the Congo, and said dozens of UPDF soldiers were being held prison there, he had pictures of them, and would rescue them if he became President.

He never did become president, of course, and all the talk of the imprisoned soldiers died with his hopes. We can safely assume he was not telling the truth.

But why did he, a senior and respected figure, do that? Why do our politicians feel it is okay to gain public office by telling what is tantamount to plain lies?

Is it something in the genetic make-up that predisposes some individuals to grow up to become politicians? A mutation, maybe? 'White lie' gene, so to speak? While a great majority of us turn out to be ordinary folks, is there something that happens in childhood that determines a few will turn out to be politicians?

Politicians are different from us normal folks, for one they are not bothered by the small things that we were taught to hold special; small things like truth, honesty and accountability.

This is a hard to understand species; for example, what happens when a politician goes back home after a very busy day? Does his wife ask him how well he told lies that day? Does she console him that next time more people will buy his lies? And if he comes back very late and says he was at a campaign meeting, does she believe what he says, knowing he lies for a living?

Does a politician's wife teach their children not to grow up to ever be like daddy? When asked at school what they want to be when they grow up, do politicians' children swell with pride and declare they want to grow up to be the biggest liars, ever?

And, wonders of all wonders, politicians just love going to church. It does not matter that everyone knows they are going to tell lies, but the priest will always invite them to 'greet the people'.

I don't know about you, but if you are going to tell lies, God's house is the last place you want to be. Which brings me to the question, does anyone think there are any politicians in heaven?

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