A country dies on its feet. In other words, a country never really dies, but its troubles may be so overwhelming that it looks like a squinty-eyed mongrel dragging itself on two-and-a-half legs.
Zimbabwe or Venezuela did not exactly choose their misery. Some people forget that the lingering ways of a failing state do not appear suddenly; they usually creep – almost by stealth – upon the citizens.
A year or two ago, I wrote something here. You see, the brain makes decisions before we are conscious of (or express) those decisions. So I suggested that someone invent a cordless brain-linked piece of digital hardware that would anticipate President Museveni’s cash-dependent pledges by a few milliseconds, instantly access a central data bank of existing (fulfilled and unfulfilled) national commitments, and use advanced algorithms to determine whether the intended pledge was feasible or not. Beeps from the gadget would permit or block the President’s utterance of the pledge.
The gadget would be bowl-shaped and tucked between the President’s scalp and his hat.
Naturally, the President’s people did not take this serious joke seriously. They hate anything that requires effort, research or critical thinking. They have been conditioned to operate in the mode ‘Yes’, or otherwise remain indifferent.
The essential word of course is Mathematics; actually, elementary mathematics. Addition. Subtraction. Division. Multiplication. The President and his functionaries seem to be almost incapable of (intuitively) applying these operations as tools of government policy and action.
If you are in the company of fairly reasonable people, and you all agree to eat something, and you control the purse on this and other things, the status of your pocket instinctively comes into view, and some mathematics kicks in.
You rationally gravitate towards that top Italian restaurant where high quality and exclusivity are the business model, or towards a fairly decent ‘buffet’ queue where one or two tenners are not thoroughly despised, or indeed towards a roadside kiosk where everybody seizes their ‘Kiwanda’ (‘rolex’) from the pan before swarms of green flies get their share of the ‘national’ dish.
Robert Mugabe or Nicolas Maduro probably thought they could run Zimbabwe and Venezuela in spite of the dictates of simple mathematics. Uganda’s ‘M’ seems to think the same – at his peril.
Western government officials (and even Western research entities that often for a fee specialise in looking for praiseworthy things about Africa) may indeed praise Gen Museveni’s regime for doing their gun diplomacy in the region for them; but remember that they themselves are daily battling to get the mathematics in their economies right.
When a concerned patriot (or even a well-meaning Western diplomat) tells President Museveni that he has far too many ministers, MPs, advisers, RDCs and other layers of parasitic officialdom, the President defiantly appoints a few more, harvesting even more inefficiency, more corruption and weirder economic numbers.
To Mr Museveni’s chagrin, the recent, current, and tomorrow’s chaos over various taxes and expenditure patterns (including corruption) is, and will be, the chaos of numbers.
Take a tiny example: Some of Mr Museveni’s unofficial media propagandists were getting fuel on the police account.
Common sense verdict: Bad haemorrhage.
Typical NRM reasoning: The fuel ‘allowances’ were ‘small’; or not as ‘big’ as in other cases of corruption.
NRM honchos just do not quite get it that ‘small’ here, plus ‘small’ over there, as well as ‘big’ up there… ad infinitum, can lead to near-total state dysfunction and economic collapse, making not only a roadside mobile money kiosk, but even a big-time oil refinery ultimately unviable.