Charles Onyango Obbo
What ‘The Hostel’ TV drama and other 2012 stories reveal on Uganda
Posted Wednesday, January 2 2013 at 02:00
This is also country of clever (albeit cynical and sometimes cruel) people, free spirits, pretty women, and beautiful lands. Its politics is crass and greedy, and often these wonderful things are repressed, shielded from the public limelight, or denied their just reward.
So we say farewell to 2012. There was the trademark rampant corruption; beatings of the opposition; murders; a State House running amok over oil; Ebola and bizarre ‘nodding’ disease outbreaks; kill-the-gays madness; the banning of plays like “State of the Nation”. There were all that and twice more.
But I look to the good side of 2012. The Bujagali Hydroelectric Dam in Jinja was finally launched, the first project of that magnitude since the Owens Falls Dam was opened in 1954.
However, a foreign investor built Bujagali dam, and I am looking to see the side of Ugandans shone through.
Well, there were quite a few. There was Emmanuel Katongole, still producing affordable life-saving drugs for HIV and malaria at Quality Chemicals.
There was the moving story of those wonderful little Ugandan boys who played at baseball’s Little League World Series in the US. In AfricaReview.com, Nation Media’s Group’s Africa portal, there was a profile of the young queens of Uganda tech innovation.
One of my favourites was the youthful Victor Kawagga of Fundi Bots, who dreams of making Uganda a big player in robotics, and has taken important baby steps in making it come true.
There were a couple more, but we shall close the list with the big one; Stephen Kiprotich bagging the gold medal at the London Olympics. In so doing, he ended a 40-year losing-streak, and lifted his country.
If it had been left to the iniquitous Ugandan state to start to pick these winners and stars, not a single one of them would have emerged top. Some mediocre chosen because of who his father or mother is, which political party he supports, which part of the country he comes from, or whose mistress he or she is related to, would have been picked.
A lot of the debate in the Ugandan newspapers, FM radios, on blogs and social media, often say everyone seems to know what the problems are, but few offer solutions. They only whine. It is a perfectly valid criticism.
That said, there is, of course, something profoundly democratic about whining, making noise, pointing fingers at crooks, and generally getting angry. Action only starts from there.
Yet if 2012 tells us anything, it is that Uganda’s best and brightest can no longer emerge through a system controlled, or even refereed, by the State (or more precisely the present government). They can only rise in an environment where everyone gets a fair shot; in short in a meritocracy.
If you asked me if there is one thing that can be done to solve all of Uganda’s problems, I would say there is. Create a meritocracy. This is a system that allows everyone to try out their talent without hindrance; it lets them pay the price if they fail and learn from it; and allows them to enjoy the fruits of their success without confiscating it.
The results can be nicely unpredictable. One day a few years ago shortly after Conrad Nkutu returned to Kampala after working for Standard Group, and later Nation Media Group, we had a long chat about what he was planning to do. He said very many things. The one thing he didn’t mention was that he would try his hand at film production.
On Monday I was talking to a group of Kenyan women who dropped by my office. Because I am a Ugandan, the conversation eventually drifted to their hottest Ugandan product in Kenya; “The Hostel” TV series, that airs both on NTV (Uganda) and NTV (Kenya). I had just read “Marketing Africa” a magazine of these marketing types published in Nairobi, and a top advertising Kenyan executive referred to “The Hostel”. “The Hostel” is produced by Conrad Nkutu.
I don’t watch “The Hostel”. So if Conrad had asked me to invest in it, or sought my views, I would have discouraged him from doing it. Likewise, I gather, there were a few institutions that thought he would fail when he ran the idea by them.
So part of a meritocracy is not only about the State creating a level playing field. It is also about a society being free from the paternalism of its Establishment private sector institutions, and the stifling orthodoxy of its “opinion leaders”.