Ask a contestant why they are standing

Friday July 03 2020

The boys’ dormitory was a long, hilly distance away from the cafeteria. As a result, students in Senior One often got bullied into sharing their food with the older boys who couldn’t be bothered to make that trek.

Three years later, the school held a campaign to elect the next round of prefects and that is when it came to light that politicians do not just arrive at their penchant for telling lies out of the blue. It is an art perfected over years of practice and getting away with the vice.

This young man, contesting to fill the cafeteria position, told the Senior One class – who were the frontline victims of bullying – that he would convince the administration to lay a pipeline to transport the food directly from the kitchen to the Senior One dormitory.

If you were in Senior One and were tired of getting bullied into sharing your meals, this sounded like a good deal. Far-fetched and dumb, yes, but the contestant had also said the proposal had indeed been in the works as a means to deal with bullying.

So he basically scratched where it itched most and almost got away with the votes. I do not remember the guy’s name now, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he is contesting to join the next Parliament, and promising to construct roads, schools and hospitals – even if he has no mandate or money to back it up.

If you watched Vice, the film which chronicles the life of former US Vice President, Dick Cheney, you probably remember the moment when he asks his mentor, Congressman Donald Rumsfeld, “What are we? What do we believe in?” In the film, the young aide, Cheney, does not get an answer. Instead, Rumsfeld bursts out laughing and walks away – because what do we believe in?


That film, and the story of the young man seeking to be elected as cafeteria prefect are the clearest evidence that voters, contestants and power brokers are very rarely reading from the same script. That, among other reasons might also explain why every round of elections brings in a new change of guards (at the lower levels), but no fundamental change.

Where voters might see existential realities such as the burden of paying school fees, paying for healthcare and putting food on the table; candidates might see these same problems as a vehicle to get lucrative contracts for themselves or to get rich quick. Power brokers looking to entrench multinational capital interests might see voters and leaders as little lapdogs to be lulled into trading a bowl of milk for a bone.

Many rounds into the charade that is democracy in this house, it is a fallacy to assume that voters do not know or expect that they will be lied to. The problem for them and those that they elect, is that the malaise does not go away just because you have received a yellow t-shirt, blue key holder or red sticker. Tomorrow, you will still be unable to afford a good school for your children, and woe betide you if you should need to pay out-of-pocket for medicare.

Seeing as we have turned politics into a career, we can expect to have in upwards of one million Ugandans vying for office across all levels in the forthcoming General Election.

It is exciting to see young people show up and attempt to take charge and responsibility. We already have 45 also-runs shooting their shots at the presidency, even when nobody is taking bets on who the Electoral Commission will declare as winner.

If you look around, you will probably find that you know someone who is standing for some office. Ask them why they are standing? What they believe in? How they hope to achieve whatever is that they are promising. They do not even have to be qualified – because nobody ever is when starting out at anything , but like the young Cheney, know what to expect before you go out on a limb for them.

Otherwise, what is the point of getting excited about your friends who are choosing between a side which is averse to change and another that wants change for the sake of it – and not asking them why and how? Ask them to convince you first, and like those Form Ones, you might actually see a liar when you hear one and decide they won’t get your votes.

Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds.