7 January 2016

Uganda: Why Not Be More Like Uganda?

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Ann Coulter is a strident person who makes her living saying outrageous things on American television. Her latest outrage is to assert that only Donald Trump can prevent America from becoming Uganda. That seems to us to be another excellent reason for Americans not to elect Mr. Trump as their next president.

An America more like Uganda would, we think, be a better place. Americans would be safer, happier, enjoy greater freedom from fear, hate and corruption and their government would be more responsive. The world, as a whole, might be more secure.

For starters, Americans would not have to worry about being massacred in their schools, offices, theatres and places of worship by lone assassins empowered to slaughter innocents by fundamentalist worshippers of the gun. Intimidated by the National Rifle Association, the American government continues to reject pleas from the majority of its citizens for sensible controls on the ownership of private military arsenals.

Such is the corruption of American politics.

American politicians are bought and sold by special interests and any attempt to constrain the legal bribery of limitless campaign donations is condemned as an assault on free speech.

Americans would not have to worry about being massacred in their schools, offices, theatres and places of worship

In Uganda, we do our best with limited resources to address the health care needs of our people. Corrupted by the medical-industrial complex, the American body politic does little or nothing to prevent pharmaceutical companies gouging the public with out-of-control prices, effectively stealing resources that could be more productively invested in other sectors of the economy.

If America were more like Uganda, its politics would be more honest and responsive to the ordinary citizen's needs and wishes. There would be a lot more women in political office. One in three Ugandan parliamentarians is a woman. In the US House of Representatives and Senate, the ratio is only one in five.

America's prisons would also be a lot emptier. Per 100 000, the American incarceration rate is just shy of 700, according to the latest figures collated by Wikipedia. That's the highest in the world. The Ugandan rate is closer to 100.

America's prisons have been filled to bursting by its war on drugs, waged with particular ferocity on people of African descent.

While there is drug abuse in Uganda and we increasingly have to worry about becoming a global transshipment point, American demand for dangerous narcotics is in a completely different league. Last year, over 10 000 Americans died from heroin overdoses, according to the US Centres for Disease Control, a six-fold increase from 2001. Another 18 000 died from overdosing on prescription opioid painkillers, more than triple the number 15 years ago.

We suspect that this is symptomatic of a deep sense of alienation in parts of American society. Happy, hope-filled people in vibrant, caring communities are unlikely to start down the road to heroin addiction whose consequences are plain for all to see.

Yes, Uganda is a poor country by American standards. Our per capital gross national income, as calculated by the World Bank, was just $670 in 2014 compared with America's $55 200. But the difference in material wealth does not make Americans 82 times happier, healthier or more secure than Ugandans.

Ugandans were officially rated the happiest people in East Africa by the UN's 2013 World Happiness Report, Dr. Ian Christie, a naturalized Ugandan who immigrated from North Ireland (and was elected mayor of the Makindye District of Kampala), writes in his excellent guide to the country: "It was noted that..it was not the high quality of their life that made (Ugandans) happier than their neighbours, but their positive, optimistic outlook on life…This national characteristic, where Ugandans have traditionally shared what they have, makes them special."

It also sets them apart from many Americans. The Atlantic Monthly, a respected American journal, reported not so long ago, "The pursuit of happiness is one of America's promises to its citizens, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. But today, Americans are a profoundly unhappy people."

That may be why so many are seeking solace in a demagogue like Donald Trump. Americans could use a dose of Ugandan good cheer.

Between 64 per and 70 per cent of Americans think their country is on the "wrong track" according to surveys taken this month. Compare that with the results of the new Infotrak poll whose results are being published in the Daily Monitor. In every region of Uganda except one, healthy majorities ranging from 61 per cent to 68 per cent think Uganda is headed in the right direction. The exception is Kampala, and even there a plurality of citizens – 49 per cent versus 35 per cent – are in the "right direction" camp.

Finally, let's talk about global security. Ugandans are proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with America in fighting terrorism but forgive us if we feel that American policy has not always made the job easier. It is now widely acknowledged that the invasion of Iraq and US-backed regime change in Libya played straight into the hands of groups like Al Qaeda and the even more radical ISIS.

Rather than being stereotypically slandered by commentators like Ms. Coulter who know nothing of our country and people, and seem to care less, we would welcome a little appreciation for the 5 000 Ugandan soldiers now putting their lives on the line to keep the region, and Americans, safe from Al-Shabaab in Somalia. We'd welcome, too, some thanks for the terrorist atrocities our security people have successfully preempted, most recently in September last year.

We understand, of course, that Ms. Coulter speaks only for a small sliver of American opinion, but we also know that the idea of Uganda being some sort of Hobbesian failed state continues to enjoy currency in the US and other nations of the North who really should know better.

That's a big part of why we're launching Uganda Sasa.

This blog was originally published by Uganda Sasa on December 21, 2015 and is reprinted by request.

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