Yes, Uganda is not Spain, but what do we see when we look in the mirror?

Thursday June 14 2012

By Daniel K. Kalinaki

Social media networks in Uganda have been buzzing with indignation this week in response to a snide remark made by Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy. The Spanish newspaper, El Mundo, reported that Rajoy sent a text message to his finance minister urging him to play hardball during negotiations over a bailout package from the Eurozone. “We’re the number four power in Europe,” Rajoy texted. “Spain is not Uganda.”

The hashtag ‘SpainisnotUganda’ soon went viral on Twitter, followed not long after by one proclaiming the many things that show ‘UgandaisnotSpain’. Amidst the 140-character tirades of indignation, anger and summarised arguments about our economy not being as ill as that of the Spaniards, let’s step back and face some harsh realities.

As far as making comparisons between the sizes of the two economies and their place in the world, Rajoy was speaking the truth, brutal as it might sound to our patriotic ears. The world would notice if Spain became bankrupt because of the size of its economy, which is several times bigger than ours, and its more central place in the international economy.

That’s sad but true.
I am concerned about the ill-advised rants by foreign leaders such as Rajoy. I am concerned about the snide references, from James Bond movies to American TV series, of Uganda as a war-plagued basket case. I am also concerned about the misrepresentation by opportunistic do-gooders like Jason Blair and his Invisible Children.

What concerns me more, however, is our own indifference to the truths behind some of these lies.
At Independence in 1962, Uganda had more impressive development figures, or at least relatively similar development figures with countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Ghana, South Korea, etc.

Some 50 years later we import Samsung and LG goods from South Korea and send our children to prostitute themselves in Malaysia but cannot even produce a mobile phone battery or plastic case? Where is the outrage over that?


We complain about the constant references to Idi Amin, despite him having left power over 30 years ago but remain silent when reminded that a third of our country, which was held hostage to war for over 20 years, is now held down in the unclenched fist of poverty. Where is the outrage over that?

We gloss over newspaper stories that speak to the modern-day horrors of parents tying their ill children to trees because there is no proper medical care available for them from a government that spends Shs350 billion a year in sending its officials and cronies to foreign hospitals. Where is the outrage over that?
We shake our hands in indignation when described as a basket case third world country led by a despot when we have a personality cult around a President in power for three decades, and have failed to develop and nurture institutions that work independent of individuals. Where is the outrage in that?

How can we accept robber barons to steal from the poor and the sick, celebrate them as “heroes and celebrities”, and then go frothing at the mouth over homosexuals when many of us would not be able to name one even if our lives depended on it?

How can we be so accepting of mediocrity in and around us, and yet be so ferocious in our criticism of those who peddle intellectual mediocrity and mendacity? We have been conditioned to settle for whatever crumbs of development we receive, never to ask what we deserve and what happens to the rest of the pie.
Well, if patriotism saddles one with the responsibility to defend one’s country, then I imagine it also gifts one the right to question its misrule.

I am proud to defend my country when our honour and genuine achievements are disparaged, but I am unable to find it within myself to ride the bandwagon of empty, predictable navel-gazing, played to a cyber gallery, while ignoring the potholed boulevard of our broken dreams.

Spain is not Uganda. Uganda is not Spain. The two statements are as true as they are obvious. The Spanish have a load of problems with their debt, unemployment and lack of economic growth. We can spend all the hours we want pointing to our own positive economic growth rate, our mountain gorillas and all the beautiful things we have.

Or we can look in the mirror and see our tattered clothes and our lost dreams. Uganda is not Spain, but neither are we South Korea or Singapore. That is what should upset us.