Uganda 2020: The year of the shark

Sunday January 5 2020

Alan Tacca

Alan Tacca  

By Alan Tacca

The Chinese have a tradition of giving pet names to every calendar year, their next one starting in early February. So you have heard of the Year of the Monkey, the year of the Rat, and so on.

If we had a similar tradition in Uganda, 2020 should have been named the Year of the Shark.
Swindling of public funds, extortion, and ferociousness in the political sphere will rise to shark scale. Religious operators and witchdoctors will fleece office contenders like sharks.

In the euphoria of 1986, it was difficult for Ugandans to imagine that, thirty-four years later, they would be living with the greed, inequality and generalised collapse of state institutions and public morality witnessed at the close of 2019.

You did not think that a poor – let alone an average-income – child-bearing woman would curse Mulago Hospital like a plague, because the cost of treatment at this people’s facility was only for the very rich.

Above all, it was unthinkable that, once again, removing a ruler from power would be harder than fighting off a monster that did not have in its system of codes the word ‘reasonable;’ that the energy for the task would be the sum from ten thousand wild horses driven by the gods.

In the Year of the Shark, rabbit will grow claws and tear rabbit; dog will eat dog; old leopard will rip through hyena; shark will feed on shark. There will be blood and mutilated corpses on the political battlefield. The laws against cannibalism will be suspended.


Around Christmas, the Constitutional Court threw six MPs out of Parliament. The Electoral Commission had not followed the correct legal procedure in establishing their constituencies. Opposition voice Asuman Basalirwa was about the only casualty who got public sympathy. The fall of the others was widely celebrated.

Many Ugandans are openly wishing that another seventy or eighty MPs threatened with litigation go down. Most of the threatened legislators are ruling NRM members. NRM cynicism has slowly taught the citizens how to hate.

There is a rule here, more or less: Every extra degree of resentment facing the NRM is countered by two extra degrees of harsh punishment and/or one degree of voter bribery. Two sticks and one carrot from the NRM politico-security machine. Whips, tear gas; sacks of money from a mysterious vault. Ask for details of the vault at your peril.

Those who do not have access to the mysterious money to finance their campaigns and keep something aside for the rainy day will have to personally earn, borrow or steal it. Stealing is generally preferred, because you do not have to pay back. Shark ethics; shark instincts.

Rabbits, little people, will gang up, demand and scramble for their share. Peanuts, carrots, spinach. Abolish all guilt. Grab and run with whatever you can; you deserve much more. Two leaves of spinach are better than nothing. A half-carrot is half-heaven. But even in heaven you would still be shortchanged

The proud honest citizen who despises the morality of the shark is a double loser. He pays his taxes. The money vanishes, more or less. And he is too dignified to want anything from the mysterious vault, even if it has been converted and lies in the basket of carrots.

He is the last patriot. The ruling NRM understands how it lost him. But the cost of reclaiming him is too high. It is not money. It is to reverse the ideological and moral bankruptcy of the NRM. It is easier to use 2020 to keep power by the principles of the shark than strive to impress patriots.

Opposition politicians, who do not have the tools of violence or the financial resources to spread enough carrot, can attempt to charm the patriots. The ruling elite will not be amused. It will show them the jaws of the shark.

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.