Tuesday May 6 2014

Here is how low the politics of free money has sunk Uganda

By Nicholas Sengoba

The whole country is in frenzy. NRM decided that after being dominant on the national political stage for 28 years, the current head of the party and Uganda, Mr Yoweri Museveni, needs to start an early campaign.

The exercise involves giving hard cash to MPs and NRM-leaning district officials to pass on to waiting citizens. To these recipients, they emphasise the need to appreciate that Mr Museveni stands and is voted as a sole candidate for the party, come the election of 2016.

In this vein, Mr Museveni achieves many things. First, he puts MPs and district officials in a tough position. If you pick the money which is not exactly so much to go round the constituency, you are inadvertently forced to add a bit of your own money to ‘top up’ for the President. Otherwise those who do not get a share will accuse you of ‘stealing’ what the President sent to them.

If you do not pick the money, you have nothing to give to the people and so you do not have a right to ask them to give you anything, including their vote.

Secondly, and more fundamentally, is the issue of disempowerment. One of the oldest tricks in politics is the creation of dependants for the sake of patronage and exploitation. When you give and make people get used to free things, it acts as a disincentive to think and work on their own. They start waiting and demanding for help. You then position yourself to ‘help’ them but at a price, which includes but is not limited to their support.

NRM has always fashioned itself as the party with the money. It simply starves the formal channels of money and then physically dishes out the money in envelopes and sacks to those it feels have demonstrated a love for Museveni.

The excited people receiving that money, which they are most probably going to spend on local brew and food, will need 10 times as much when they fall sick of malaria and need medical attention.
The health centres to which they will turn to are run-down mainly due to neglect and majorly lack of funding. They will then keep themselves busy complaining about ‘negligent’ health workers. They will cry out to the government which gives out ‘free money’ to help them.

What many of these people do not understand is that the money they receive as handouts and for which they are very grateful is actually their right and are supposed to find it in institutions like schools and hospitals and enjoy it in good road, running water and proper security.

That lack of understanding of how a government has to deliver its part of the social contract is why we continuously have this excitement when the President and his acolytes go around dishing out ‘free money’.

These habits have overtime become part of our politics and killed the spirit of hard work, frugality and public service. It has become normal for people who wake up to loaf around to demand for ‘their money’. So has it become a habit for volunteers to go to the media and demand that they are paid for the ‘voluntary services’ they provide as ‘patriots’.

That is how low the politics of free money has sunk this country. Sadly, this is the joy of our politicians for it keeps them relevant and useful. If they find it such a task to provide and improve society in general, they will confuse the same society by throwing crumbs here and there, keeping the people busy picking and crying out for more crumbs.
Uganda under Yoweri Museveni needs prayers!

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. nicholassengoba@yahoo.com