NRM war, corruption and incompetence have helped Dr Ian Clarke “Busulwa”

Sunday January 12 2014

By Alan Tacca

In Buganda’s great welcoming tradition, Misairi Kawuma, who was then the Bishop of Namirembe, gave the name Busulwa to Dr Ian Clarke. That name is from Buganda’s Kkobe clan. Usually, an African bishop will give a European name to an African, marking his initiation in the Christian family. On this occasion, an African bishop was giving an African name to a European adult. In effect, Dr Ian Clarke had been fully accepted in the community, and he was going to be regarded as a blood relative and a member of their tribe and therefore a citizen of Uganda.
That was not long after Dr Clarke’s 1987 arrival in the Luweero Triangle. (See Sunday Monitor, January 5.)

Dr Clarke did not disappoint. Having first come under the auspices of the Church Missionary Society to work as a village doctor, he has set up his own medical establishment in the capital city. Just as important as the business side, he and his family feel at home. He has even found the time and motivation to participate actively in our politics, which is very unusual for a “former” European, becoming a mayor of one of Kampala’s divisions, Makindye.

Reading last week’s Sunday Monitor, it occurred to me what an intriguing comment on the years of NRM rule that Dr Clarke’s story was.
The devastation of the Luweero Triangle during Gen Museveni’s 1981-86 bush war and the onset of Aids, created a situation in which the concerted effort of charities, relief agencies and other humanitarian groups and individuals became a necessity. A youngish Irish Dr Clarke seeking to grow his experience in outlandish places was in the right bracket for this effort.

Just as a great deal of government work needed donor funds to be done at all, Dr Clarke needed gifts from his friends in Europe and elsewhere to start and run Kiwoko Hospital.
After those early post-bush-war years, the NRM vision in public healthcare has been at best patchy. Going into three decades later, the narrative in that sector is dominated by stories of poorly constructed and under-equipped health centres, with very few drugs, and depressing pictures of women in maternity wards sitting on the floor.
Meanwhile, Dr Clarke’s vision expanded. The failure of the government in the health sector left gaping holes, which enterprising people like him exploited, giving service and making very good money, too.
About 16 years of this (phase two?) Dr Clarke has seen his “International” branded medical facilities grow and multiply as a total concept, now including a health science university. And the value has grown from a modest Shs250 million in 1996 to Shs37.5 billion (about $15m) today, excluding the university. And a fully-fledged medical school is in the pipeline.

However, as Dr Clarke went into private medical service and raced forward, he also went upward. It could not have been his desire to see the ordinary people in Luweero Triangle and other parts of Uganda left without a reasonable level of health care. The assumption would be that the government had had enough time to take full responsibility for the health of the citizens who could not afford the private services of operators like Dr Clarke.

But the NRM has again disappointed. So, as the middle and moneyed classes largely abandoned government medical centres and moved to Dr Clarke’s and other private outfits, many of our poor people, frustrated by dysfunctional public facilities, turned to herbalists and dingy drug stores with their dubious prescriptions, or to pastors and witchdoctors in search for magical cures.

The journey of Dr Clarke under NRM rule has taken him from a village doctor to great prosperity in the city. After 28 years of NRM rule, the state of Luweero’s village patients has been transformed from hope in a white expatriate doctor they admitted into one of their clans to despair at the false promises of a corrupt native authority that often uses their taxes to treat its own at hospitals based in Europe. Talk of 51 years of independence and 28 of liberation!

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator