Tuesday February 11 2014

The false grandeur that comes with the term ‘big man’ must stop

By Crispy Kaheru

When they said that in Uganda a person is bigger than the chair they sit in, they did not lie! They were right! I would add: it is probably not just in Uganda but in many other countries too.

A few weeks ago, while on holiday – upcountry, the talk around my village was how the ‘big man’ in the neighbourhood had come to ‘eat’ (celebrate) the first of the year (January 1) with the rest of the people. My inquiries about this ‘big man’ could only avail little and scanty details. The village folks know this man by name and by the make of the big car he drives every time he comes around – once or twice a year. They know he works with the government – in Kampala. They have no idea what his office does, but they know he is a ‘big man’ (with a lot of money) and back home; he is a ‘son of the soil’.

This will perhaps be the same narrative when a government official is visiting any local community outside the borders of Kololo or Nakasero. Very likely, they won’t refer to them by the title of their office – the expression will most probably be: ‘the big man is coming….’

Lately, public political banters are not complete without one throwing in the punch line, ‘tusaba gavumenti etuyambe…’ However, the ‘clever’ ones who have now ‘seen the light’ and want quick fix solutions like the residents of Kasokoso (engrossed in land wrangles), the Boda boda riders, the youth (battling with unemployment/poverty); will say a more direct prayer: ‘tusaba Museveni atuyambe’!

From experience, the second prayer (which now seems to be a resort of many!) has shown motifs of being ‘listened to’. Many continue to question: could it be that the individual is more effective than the institution of government? Or is it that the institution of government is synonymous with the individual? Or is it just that people think government is so much in a lethargic mode to hear and act on their pleas? The other thinkable option could probably be that people don’t have any idea of the concept of ‘institution’ – anymore.

Anyway, because we spend too much time focusing on the individuals, we make them unnecessarily bigger than the chairs they sit in. However, often times these individuals also want it that way – they aspire to grow bigger than their shoes! When this happens, they spend too much time acting outside the realms of their shoes or chairs – why? because the shoes or chairs become so small for them to act within. Differently put, one would say, they spend too little time hewing to expand the chairs and too much time aggrandising themselves.

Now, we need great chairs, great thrones – chairs that present real meaning to people; and in those chairs should sit men and women of great capacities, men and women of character – not just ‘big men’! Actually, as it is now, the ‘big men’ should be at pains siting in shrinking chairs – sapped chairs which are soon mutating (or have already metamorphosed) into ‘saddles’ of banana leaves (ebisanja).

It is with much pain that the narrative today is constructed around the person in the office and not about the office per se in which the person is. You will probably hear less of the office of the Inspector General of Police but you will surely know ‘the man’ in that office; hadn’t it been for the corruption allegations (or scandals?) around the Office of the Prime Minister, many people would never have known of the numerous ‘livelihood projects’ that are under the aegis of the OPM, but of course we all know ‘the man’ who sits in that office.

Very few people may actually know what the Resident District Commissioner’s (RDC) office is mandated to do, but (believe you me!), many will know the name of their RDC and what he does as a person – not as an office.

This false grandeur that comes with the argot of ‘big man’ must stop! I want to add my voice to those who have time immemorial called for ‘great men/women’ rather than ‘big men/women’. Let it be about the chair, the office, the institution and not just about you – the individual, the person.

Mr Kaheru is the Coordinator – Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda. kaheruc@yahoo.com