Sunday June 15 2014

A country goes to sleep when its leaders literally sleep on the job

By Bernard Tabaire

Sleeping is not a bad thing. Sleeping on the job is. No one has yet done the count that I am aware of, but the number of our big men and women who snored away as the President delivered his annual State-of-the Nation speech on June 5 was possibly the largest in five years.

This sleeping ritual at public performances of rituals of State has taken root. It should not. We pay taxes that pay these men’s and women’s salaries. They sleep on the job openly, and we still nod in approval save for a few limp comments here and there. No outrage whatsoever.

A charitable take would be that these fellows are so hard-working they can barely stay awake for more than an hour at one go in a packed yet confined space of uncertain comfort. Possibly they had stayed up late the night before working hard for the “rapid socio-economic transformation” of the fatherland.

That said, however, it is not too much to ask of a dignitary to prepare adequately for an event that takes place on one afternoon once a year. It is the height of indiscipline and arrogance to fail to be ready.

For example, sleep early enough the night before. And on the day, do not fill your already round stomach with all that heavy carbohydrate stuff and all that meat (kimere) at lunch. It takes a lot of energy to process all that meaty and starchy stuff, leaving the brain with less blood and oxygen hence the nod-off to preserve energy. Do instead eat fruit, drink coffee, drink water ahead of time. This is free advice from your columnist-cum-wannabe food expert. You will stay awake. The bonus is that you spare your dear family the embarrassment.

In any event, when in government you can’t run away from the rituals of State. You have to respect them. Else don’t show up. Stay at home and follow proceedings on TV or radio and slumber in peace and in private.

The optics of overfed politicians sleeping during a national event look so desperately terrible they reveal so much that is so wrong with official Uganda. If “important” men and women can sleep when we the people are “looking” in “broad daylight” on national TV, your imagination can figure out what they do in their quiet, comfortable offices and meeting rooms.

It could be said, however, that our dignitaries have long given up. They couldn’t be bothered as long as they get their fat pay through salary, allowances and kickbacks on public procurement.
They couldn’t be bothered with the presidential address. Possibly because the speech is boring, more of the same day in day out delivered by the same man year in year out on the same platform.

Whatever the reason, to habitually switch off when your boss is addressing the nation must be punished. The people should vote out in 2016 those who are elected. Otherwise the President should sack everyone else he appointed. There is so much impunity already. Stamping it out in relation to observance of national events is a good thing.

If only the biggies slept while at the same time they ran an efficient government! But that is impossible because sleeping on the job and performing well are mutually exclusive.
I had a chat with a colleague who said Ugandans commenting on social media on the state of the nation event got obsessed with the sleeping business instead of engaging with issues raised in the address. She said these social media types were being frivolous.

I could not have disagreed more. Sleeping during such an address shows a casual attitude toward the business of government. Besides, the same sleepy government officials are the ones whose job it is to implement the weighty proposals/issues raised in the speech. You cannot expect such a gang to do anything worthwhile. And the results are damning. Poor social indicators across the board. Runaway corruption across the board. Pure malaise.

Mr Tabaire is the co-founder and director of programmes at African Centre for Media Excellence in Kampala