Commentary

Why we don’t trust govt with public school land

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Posted  Saturday, March 15   2014 at  02:00
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Two stories grabbed my attention most this week. The first one is the revelation by Frank Tumwebaze, the minister for the Presidency who is also in charge of Kampala City, that the government is drafting a Patriotism Bill which will soon be presented to Parliament, while the second is media reports that the ministry of Education – working closely with the President’s Office – is mapping out land owned by all government schools in the country with a view of getting titles/certificates in order to protect the land from fraudsters and commercial investors.

First to the Patriotism Bill! When the idea of forming patriotic clubs in schools and teaching patriotism in classrooms was first mooted three or so years ago by the President’s office and regime cadres, many Ugandans laughed it off as one of those political aberrations that would soon fade away. It did not. Instead, Shs6 billion was attached and MPs went ahead to apportion the money in the budget to run a patriotism secretariat to teach our children to love their country.

If you asked what that money has done so far to enhance the love of the country among citizens, you are unlikely to get anything that looks like an answer.
The latest proposal by Minister Tumwebaze to table a Patriotism Bill is, therefore, no laughing matter; it will be presented and considering how some of the most dumb proposals have sailed through in Parliament, this will be no exception.

So have our leaders sunk so low in their thinking to imagine that the majority of Ugandans will continue to be fooled by such ridiculous political gimmicks? Love for country is an inner feeling that is derived from shared experiences, shared future, etc. It cannot be legislated. It is derived from the affinity one feels towards the country of their birth (or adoption) and the way their life (for better or worse) is influenced by the way the country is governed. If they feel that the country fulfills their aspirations, gives opportunities, is fair to them, etc, they will love it. But if the country is oppressive and suffocating, they will certainly not love it, no matter what.

It appears though that minister Tumwebaze and his group are mixing up two things; love for the country and love for the regime. This is because the many years the NRM has been in power have made them think that the country is the same thing as the ruling government and this Bill, plus all the monies that go with the patriotism business, is simply meant to harass Ugandans into loving the regime or bribe them to do so. I doubt it will work.

Which brings me to the second issue; titling of school land in order to protect it from encroachers. According to Ms Nantale of the ministry of Education, the ministry is working with President’s office and the Uganda Land Commission to secure schools land from the encroachers. In normal circumstances, this would be cause for celebration, considering what has been going on in the last few years as one school after the other loses school gardens, football fields, classrooms, etc.

So why should we not be happy? Because a simple run through the newspaper archives will reveal that the two offices that have been at the centre of grabbing of public land in this country are the President’s office/State House and the Land Commission.

The grabbing of land belonging to Shimoni Demonstration School in 2005 originated from State House. Today, the 12 acres on which Shimoni school complex sat are occupied by an incomplete high rise building whose ownership remains a topic of discussion. Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (former Uganda Television) land was again lost through a directive of State House. Kitante Hill School has lost part of its land through the same offices just as Mulago Hospital too lost land. Only recently, Kololo High School lost its land to an investor. These are just a few examples of “theft” of public land through the actions of those who ideally are supposed to protect it.

So when the government that has been at the centre of giving away public land embarks on a nationwide exercise to map the same land, many have reasons to be afraid that this is an attempt to spread the grabbing.
In many ways, this appears to be a typical case of the leopard protecting the lamb from hyenas. To what purpose? Your guess is as good as mine.

cbichachi@ug.nationmedia.com