Last week, as if to find honour among themselves, one set of Members of Parliament (MPs) went on the offensive, accusing another of receiving Shs40 million under dubious circumstances. This came only a week or so after another Shs20 million heist.
You notice that for MPs, ripping off a population whose livelihood is threadbare isn’t a one-off and voters have come to expect, and tolerate it. Yet even in instances where we assume the absence of a code of thievery, the very least should be some sense of occasion. But it seems for a Ugandan politician, whenever is a good time to loot.
The unintended consequence, and collateral damage is the Covid-19 national taskforce. The ensemble of mostly respected corporate executives tried to run a public fundraiser that would see 1.5 million salaried workers donate Shs10,000. It is money that most would willingly part with, but instead the drive has been met with hostile public sentiment, and in some cases, defamatory campaigns against members of the taskforce.
You sense that corporate executive who usually go ignored because they run largely efficient enterprises are paying for being the face of a government whose identity is synonymous with inefficiency, greed and grand larceny. They are in consort with people who have nothing to lose and no name or reputation to protect.
How then do well-meaning people get work done in an environment drenched in mistrust, manipulation and grabbery? The answer, ironically, is to be found in ignoring President Museveni’s diatribes on literature and the arts, and referencing an old play written by Nigeria’s literary titan, Wole Soyinka.
If you sat in an O’level English literature class about a decade ago, you probably remember the play, The Trials of Brother Jero. To catchup those that didn’t: Brother Jero is a conman per excellence, passing off as a prophet. The church he is running actually used to belong to an older prophet, his mentor, from whom Jero scammed it.
To prosper, he studies what the people seek, and then manipulates them with false prophecies, often using oratory power to drive them into frenzied incantations. If it’s a visa, “you will get one,” he affirms. Is it a bicycle – for those who are walking, or a car for others? Is it a job, wife, husband, promotion or house that you seek? God says you will get it.
Those who studied the play might remember largely interpreting it for how it portrayed religion – the virtue of blind unquestioning faith of believers. So even applying the summary to context, it is easy to drop a few names of the guys running churches around Kampala, and they would fit perfectly.
But something else also becomes clearer when you read that play now as an adult, freed from the desperate need to pass Bukenya’s exams. You also find a lot to pick from Caesar’s court. First, you notice that there is little difference between Brother Jero and your favorite politician.
Most are primarily in it for themselves and like Brother Jero, they prey on the vulnerability of long sufferers, trudging the journey of life, desperate for jobs and promotions and good health and schools fees and food, or whatever will move the needle.
Like Brother Jero, the power they wield today doesn’t exactly belong to them; and yet out of manipulation and intimidation, they now run roughshod over the citizens that they have scammed.
But mostly, you notice Amope, the strong female character who from day one, sees through Brother Jero’s tosh and takes him up on it.
She is resourceful and works hard, and will therefore not let anybody – not even her husband who is the most devout follower of Brother Jero – stand in the way of her ambitions. She is not satisfied with the status quo and relentlessly reminds Chume that they need to do better.
Young people don’t need motivation to find the Amope in them. They live their every waking day taking on a system that is designed kill (literally and metaphorically), steal and destroy their dreams and futures.
A system that is taking more than it is putting in. But for their work to count, they need allies in high places. The ones who know we can do better and have access to spaces where the big decisions are taken. Good men and women who have put in the work and built their names and reputations.
But will they show up?
Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds.