The teachers’ strike was political, as it should be
Posted Sunday, September 29 2013 at 01:00
Last weekend, I tuned into one of those Saturday studio “bimeeza”, and found Impact Radio’s Gyagenda Ssemakula and others talking about the teachers’ strike. When it was time for listeners’ phone calls and SMSs, someone texted (in Luganda): “How much is Muky. Musisi paid?”
With dictatorial one-track mindedness, programme host Gyagenda promptly and rudely dismissed the issue of Jennifer Musisi’s pay as irrelevant.
Musisi is, of course, the executive director of Kampala Capital City Authority. Love or hate her, the creation of her office was so mired in NRM anti-opposition malice, and the office came with such a hefty pay packet (in a very poor country) that the lady has become a standard symbol of inequality and the NRM’s general meanness of spirit.
It was as if Gen Museveni’s government was saying to Kampala’s citizens: You do not want us (NRM) to rule over your city. Okay, we will not only damn your elected Lord Mayor, but also lavish your money on the clipper of his powers.
Against this frame of things, juxtaposing Musisi’s pay with the teachers’ miserable package is absolutely relevant. I believe the texter was tickling the discussants to reflect on that contrast.
True, a radio programme cannot comprehensively cover every aspect of an issue, but it can touch many, especially if the host wasted less time repeating a given point over and over again.
Through different channels, after ideological and policy considerations, a government levies and collects taxes. Then the government spends the money. Among other things, it pays salaries to its employees. This is part of the so-called national cake. How do the rulers divide this portion of the cake? How would other/alternative elites divide this portion?
This is obviously the very stuff of politics. Which brings me to the cry heard everywhere, praying people not to “politicise” the strike and the issues involved; a cry as hollow as they come.
Part of the problem is that the NRM has too overtly degraded politics to a struggle, not of ideas, but of lies, greed, bribery and blackmail. Although it is never a perfectly clean enterprise, politics in our case has come to be almost exclusively associated with base self-interest and unbridled public immorality. As a result, many people think the first move in the pursuit of any decent cause should be to assert that it has no political dimension.
By the same token, one way of undermining a cause is to accuse its pushers of having “political” godfathers, as government officials and NRM fanatics did with the teachers’ strike.
But the arguments from the NRM side have been contradictory. For instance, after insisting that the government doesn’t have the money, many cadres reasoned that since the 20 per cent increment the government had promised the teachers translated into a mere Shs50,000 or so per month for primary school teachers, it was not worth the strike. Biblically, those who don’t have will forfeit even the little…!
Two, that the increase would trigger inflation.
Three, that the payments would be unsustainable.
But then again, that the teachers should trust the government to make good from next financial year.
Beg the question: When the government pledged these phased increments in the first place, where was the fear of inflation and the pay becoming unsustainable? Will they go away next year? Or was the government a dishonest manipulator just buying time?
It was not praiseworthy for President Museveni to challenge the teachers to look for money in the Budget that could be moved from other commitments to their cause. Such a search is not in their ambit. The tools for that job are in the machinery of the (State) Executive and Parliament.
An Executive with the humility and political will to address the problem would deploy these tools.
By contrast, a cynical ruling clique challenging the shortchanged party to look for the money is sending a signal to the relevant institutions of the State that it has no interest in making good, and they need not pay (more than cosmetic) attention to the subject. If such a matter is not political, what is?
Mr Tacca is a novelist and socio-political commentator.