There is another word: Cheap. Forget the sense in which “cheap” refers to the prices of items on your shopping list. Think of dignity or personal pride. Think of honour. In that context, “cheap” means: Not worthy of respect, vulgar, low, mean, contemptible and so on. When you were being brought up, your parents, guardians and teachers explained to you the kind of behaviour that would make you cheap. Everybody knows about things like the use of obscene language and engaging in public shouting matches.
But there is also hanging around street corners and popular outing joints, and pressing the first “uncle” or “brother” who comes along to buy you a meal or a drink. As a generalisation, begging (unless absolutely necessary) or conspicuous greed were bound to make you look cheap.
Maybe it was the folly of those bygone days. After all, in NRM’s modern times, I see young men with their trouser waistbands hanging several inches below the waist, exhibiting their underwear, as if they are forest monkeys that will defecate any time, anywhere, and they would want the end of the food pipe to be left (more or less) free of any obstruction.
In such advanced times, it may indeed be old-fashioned ignorance that makes people get outraged by a gang of MPs who want completely free access to food for their mouths. In short, money. The problem is that Uganda seems to have quite a number of old-fashioned people still around, and some of them not so old. When President Museveni met MPs who belong to his ruling party about two weeks ago, everything they discussed was quickly obscured by the subject of money for themselves.
“…Your Excellency, sir, we are very poor. We are broke and shackled by debts. Some of us cannot even provide basic posho meals for our families, let alone buy fuel for traversing our constituencies to consult over the Marriage and Divorce Bill …” Their cries must have been a bit like that. And an incredibly tolerant head of state personally listened to that rubbish from his party MPs. Were they boarding-school youngsters who could not properly control some Shs20,000 they got as pocket money every month?
No. These were good-for-nothing adults, the type that makes the African a despised primate in the world community. In a country where many far more useful citizens are condemned to live on less than Shs50,000 for 30 days, our treacherous honourables have about Shs20 million at their disposal (which already includes constituency consultancy allowances), and they cannot do with that in their 30-day expenditure arithmetic.
Are these the sort of fellows who will spend wisely (and specifically on consulting their constituencies over the marriage Bill) the Shs5 million per MP that the President has decided to extract from the taxpayer?
Are these the sort of fellows who will find serious use for the iPads they are dying to get, also courtesy of the taxpayer?
The last line of polite citizens defending our parliamentary system is beginning to disperse. Most of the voices I now hear are heaving with anger and contempt. Even President Museveni, who in the short term probably benefits from such arbitrary cash handouts by securing a compromised (rubber stamp) House, cannot get good laws or be proud of his record in the long term. Museveni once described the MPs who did not see things his way as “idiots”. But if those who toe his line are apparently intellectually too under-endowed to recognise the actions that make them look really cheap, then they are sitting in a tent immediately next to that of the idiots.
Allan Tacca is a novelist and socio-political commentator.