Saturday February 15 2014

Change will help us build institutions

By David F. K. Mpanga

Sitting in court one morning, I heard an interesting application being made by a counsel. The counsel had come to court without his client, the accused person, and was asking the court for an adjournment. The application was not going very well and the stern lady judge was looking rather incredulous, as if to suggest that she suspected that the accused was seeking to delay proceedings.

But the incredulous look of the judge’s face melted away when counsel produced a medical report stating that the accused was suffering from cardialgia and thus could not attend court to answer the grave charges levelled against him.

The adjournment was promptly granted. I had never heard of this disease so I googled it on my phone. Apparently cardialgia is the medical term for heart burn or simple acid indigestion. I have never known heartburn so severe that it can put a grown man out of action but maybe the kind of indigestion brought on by ‘eating’ money is so bad that it can prevent you from appearing in court to face the consequences of your action.

If Uganda was a human being, it would constantly plead cardialgia to avoid facing up to the consequences of ‘eating’, wasting and misusing public money.

For example, Uwezo Uganda carried out an extensive survey and found that only three out of 10 of all primary school children questioned can read and understand a Primary Two level story and correctly solve Primary Two level numeracy questions up to division level. A report on this was released last year but we do not have any explanation, let alone an apology, for such poor quality of education so many years after the introduction of Universal Primary Education.

I guess the responsible officials are suffering from cardialgia and cannot get out of their gilded beds to answer the widely publicised charges in the court of public opinion.

Turning to another point, Uganda’s ongoing political transition, got me thinking of another complex sounding medical term for a common condition, “veisalgia”.

If someone told you they were suffering from vesalgia you may be tempted to ask how long they have left to live and how you can avoid catching it. But this is only the nasty sounding medical name for a common hangover.

A hangover is the unpleasant side effect of liberal consumption of alcohol, which is characterised by, amongst others: headache; nausea; fatigue; and diarrhea. The symptoms can be very severe and may last between 12 to 18 hours on the day after a drinking binge. There are many “cures” for veisalgia but hardened drinkers will tell you that there is none better than more alcohol.

If you can get past the aversion to alcohol that the pain of a hangover can induce, a drink will have you feeling better in no time. But to keep the pain at bay you have to keep drinking and before long you are drunk again and the cycle starts afresh. Doctors say that the use of alcohol to avoid the pain of a hangover is one of the biggest causes of alcoholism.

We have been and still are in the process of change and that process will not stop until time stops. Unfortunately for us, human beings cannot live forever and neither can we function at our level best for more than a few decades.

So if we were wise, we would arrange our political and economic affairs in such a manner as to take into account the fact that change is the only constant and that human lives are finite. But in Uganda we have chosen to live like the drinker who is afraid of veisalgia. Instead of drinking moderately (term limits) and planning our lives better (building leadership capacity), we have chosen to constantly hit the bottle to avoid the pain of change.
We are deluding ourselves into believing that loud acclamation and wishful thinking can stop the hands of time. They cannot. Time keeps marching on at a steady pace: second after second; minute after minute; and day after day, and it is dragging us in its wake. If we refuse to plan for and live in a manner that anticipates and celebrates change, Uganda, like the hardened drinker, will develop an unhealthy dependency.

Like the alcoholic, we shall become addicted to the transient high and eventually become slaves to it and as in human beings, such a dependency can be devastating to a nation. Libya, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic are all victims of the political syndrome that can be equated to alcoholism in human beings. Do we really want things to get to that level here?

Yet when we talk about change, some people accuse us of wanting change for change’s sake and say that this is wrong. I fundamentally disagree. Change even just for change’s sake is good because it helps us build institutions and to adapt to the world as it truly is. As Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher, said that there is nothing permanent in this world except change.
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