Sunday August 31 2014

Their ears can hear, the eyes see; but this is a vampire state

By Alan Tacca

My three-part article on a dubious project supposedly aimed at manufacturing a Makerere-designed electric car has attracted an unusually big volume of response.

Unfortunately, I cannot answer in full all the Emails that came in, but I would like the authors to accept my appreciation.

Having said that, these Emails are in a way depressing. They suggest a society whose elite is almost completely resigned to the agenda of those who have power; an elite that has despaired of the possibility that a reasonable argument can find social channels and political mechanisms to avert unreasonable actions.

It is an elite that has lost (or not yet found) faith in the power of a sustained collective voice.

Why? Because while it is all right for readers to pat a newspaper columnist on the back for writing about a hollow scheme that can only lend itself to the designs of the country’s mafiosi, it would be far more useful if these readers added their effort to a collective voice in the public space. Newspapers; broadcast media; your Members of Parliament. Those MPs who still have a modicum of integrity.

A private Email to a newspaper columnist is only next to silence. And silence is a form of betrayal. A well thought-out letter or article in the media can reach thousands of people.

There is one from a don who is apparently afraid of “attacking” fellow dons!

Then I have another from George K (I withhold his surname). George is involved in the motor vehicle business. His Email is much longer than this article. He has added to my knowledge and strengthened my conviction that, if pursued, the Kiira EV scheme will end with plenty of egg on some faces and billions of shillings lost.

But towards the end of his comments, George laments that “up to now, no single MP, engineer, economist – patriot or not – has come out to vehemently, and with facts, tell this motherly Trade minister Amelia Kyambadde that taxpayers’ money is about to be wasted in childish adventurism. Tell them. They have ears, they do not hear. They have eyes…”

No, George. You, too, can tell them. You are even in a better position than me to tell them. You are in the motor vehicle industry. You know what I know, perhaps plus much more.

Remember, it is not that the ears and eyes of Uganda’s current leadership are literally dysfunctional. Rather, they have hardened their hearts into stone.

Actually, their ears are pricked up at exactly those moments when they are pretending to be deaf. They are most alert when they appear to be most distracted. The corners of their eyes are sharper than their gaze straight ahead.

They have mastered the art of attentively looking away when a public financial crime is being woven, then inattentively looking in the right direction after the crime has been executed.
Coherent and competent at wrongdoing; incoherent and incompetent at investigation and retribution.

There is evidence everywhere. That is how, for instance, rail and tarmac road constructors and their agents look towards State House in their quest for contracts; then defenders of the regime scrounge around the established procurement bureaucracy for scapegoats.

They have not forgotten for one moment that a road is just a road. And they know that a road contract is not a defence treaty between nations.

They even know that if State House functionaries and the President cannot be compelled to see things this way, it is cowardly and hypocritical to ask why the instituted procurement departments did not protect their turf. But then of course the apologists of the regime are paid for being hypocritical.

Faced with the reality that the authoritarian impulses have got so much stronger than the dictates of reason and democratic governance, it is easy to despair and fall silent. Every vampire state has beneficiaries praying for that silence.

It is up to the other citizens to realise that it is precisely at that moment that they need, not isolated whistles, but thousands of voices before they can hope to redeem their nation.

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator