State House buffets will not win us marathons for long

Friday October 18 2019

Benjamin Rukwengye

Benjamin Rukwengye 

By Benjamin Rukwengye

Who could have predicted that the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is a perennial failure of the question on good governance and security, would play arbiter between Uganda and Rwanda – the supposed beacons of security and stability in the region?

Or that in a strange turn of events, South Sudan would be at the centre of peace negotiations between warring factions in the Sudan? Things must be really bad.
That Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy, 43, and with just over a year in power, would win the Nobel Peace Prize? Isn’t leadership about ideology and a preserve of septuagenarians? Don’t you need to be in power for decades first, for you to make a difference?

And that’s before we even come to the kicker – watching the greatest marathoner ever, the boundless Eliud Kipchoge, run a marathon in sub-two hours.
I’ll go on a limb and say nobody, although we might have to double-check with Prophet Mbonye and his people first.

You might not be familiar with the name Denis Mukwege, but he is the Congolese doctor who won last year’s Nobel, for his work against the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. For those keener on baggy suits, here is a new name – Adut Akech. The 20-year-old South Sudanese star is the reigning model of the year. Among other awesome attributes, she is hailed for using her own struggles to champion a drive to help others living with mental health condition.

The global achievements of Abiy and Kipchoge, all things considered, might be down to relatively more stable – and not necessarily functional – systems. The same cannot be said for Dr Mukwege or the circumstances that forced Adut’s family to flee their country.

The fact that these individuals – here you could add our own Joshua Cheptegei, Amito Lagum or Brian Gitta – continue to thrive in dysfunctional systems, should make us imagine how much we could achieve in systems that are deliberately designed to bring out the best in us.


On sports, talent and skill, the argument has always been that Amin was an illiterate and incompetent buffoon so maybe that’s why he didn’t invest in long-term planning to take advantage of our obvious sports prowess, and dominate.
I’ll let you reader, decide if our fortunes have since improved now that we have supposedly more sophisticated people in charge.

Until Stephen Kiprotich won gold at the London Olympics, which, ironically, Kipchoge failed to qualify for, Uganda had only won one gold – John Akii-Bua’s in the 400 metre hurdles. Akii-Bua’s world record time 47.82 seconds was the first to break the 48 seconds barrier in the distance.

In fact, it was so good that it would still have qualified for a bronze at the 2016 Olympics and the 2019 World Championships, 47 years later.
It took us 40 years to win a second Olympics gold and I don’t think anybody reading this knows when the next will come, even with the prodigious talent we have. There is a reason why.

This week, I discovered something called the “positive/negative split”, which is a strategy used in marathon running. Basically, runners split the race into two, and then decide whether to complete the first half faster than the second or the reverse. It might not be obvious to a couch potato but in racing, every second counts.

But sports federations are starved for money and high-tech equipment. Training pitches have been allocated to dubious investors or looted by connected fat cats to construct arcades and malls. There is no talent development plan. All we have is a litany of government’s empty promises made over State House dinners.

As for the marathon that’s being Ugandan, there is no split. We are in a race against time and the future, but it is not clear if we are shedding off any seconds. So we don’t even know whether we’ll win or lose. Our running strategy is not clear and it shows and that’s how we are likely to lose. Government departments continue to pull in different directions. Think investment innovation and the future of jobs, agriculture and exports, tearing through government bureaucracies, equity in education and access to quality health, security of persons and property.

If you’re privileged, it might not be very obvious to you that many Ugandans are already having a very bad day. But you must have come across Sun Tzu, who says, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” How good is our split game?

Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds.