The year 2020 is already on the go with as much energy as any.
Accidents at construction sites, like the one in Kampala’s Kansanga area that killed six, will likely continue. Few care for any standards. If a corner must be cut, it will be cut. The government that is supposed to enforce standards is more concerned with enforcing standards in politics — against the Opposition.
“Two tractors burnt as Kayunga Forest Reserve dispute escalates.” Headlines such as that one in Daily Monitor a few days ago suggest that land issues will continue to cause fights and politicians will be on hand to exploit the situation by standing with omuntu wa wansi (read voter). Just like the government has utterly failed to make Kampala a functional city, it has failed to manage land issues in Uganda. I have no idea why this is.
Security forces started off by violently blocking some Opposition politicians from holding political consultations. The law is cited in such ways as to make it difficult for politicians to do politics. Why do our laws always aim to control and not regulate citizen activities, especially when it comes to Opposition politics and critical media? This is a perverted way of doing things. And it will only get worse as we hurtle toward elections early next year.
That is a pity because it undermines good things happening, or that could happen. Here is an example of what we should be latching onto. The good people over at The New York Times, America’s most storied media establishment, declared last week that Uganda is one of the 52 best places in the world to visit in 2020.
They say Uganda is a “primate capital and birder’s paradise”. They are right, although they ranked us number 30 instead of anywhere between 1 and 5. I am not griping, really.
Part of the piece went: “Uganda is one of the world’s primate capitals, with 15 species (four of which are endangered) and the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, a renowned mountain gorilla sanctuary. The Unesco World Heritage Site, in south western Uganda, is home to roughly half the world’s mountain gorillas. The park’s gorilla-trekking safaris limit contact to eight visitors per gorilla group per day, and proceeds from their trekking permits go toward conservation efforts and protecting the animals from poachers. The dense forest mountain park, which ranges in elevation between 3,810 feet and 8,880 feet, also features a scenic waterfall trail framed by ancient ferns and wild orchids, and is a birder’s paradise, with 350 species of forest birds.”
Bwindi got all the focus, but the rest of Uganda is just as cool if you look closely. In fact, The Times was beaten to the press in recommending Uganda. In December 2019, Harper’s Bazaar, another serious American media entity, ran a headline that read: “Uganda: Why you need to visit the garden of Africa in 2020.” The sub-head spoke of the country being “one of Africa’s most inspiring destinations”. As gushing goes, here is the opening sentence: “What no one tells you about Uganda is how green it is.” The piece even says Uganda has excellent food. Who knew?
The Brits were also in on the action. In December, The Telegraph had a piece on Uganda with this passage: “Kibale Forest National Park, in south-west Uganda, is home to over 1,450 chimps, including several habituated troops. It’s one of the best places in Africa to observe our closest living relatives – and, indeed, the action has been so compelling that I’ve lost all sense of time.” Yeah, Uganda, where some go to lose themselves.
If foreigners, the adventurous type at least, so love Uganda maybe we Ugandans should love it more. How about letting freedom reign for all? Security forces meant to protect citizens turning on those very citizens with brutality sends the worst possible message about a country than I can think of.
The potholes and congestion of Kampala are bad; the endless land quarrels are bad; the dead tourism roads are bad; the unrestrained public sector corruption is bad; the wetland encroachment is bad. But, for me, there is something particularly crazy about security people killing and maiming fellow Ugandans in the name of politics.
Unfortunately, 2020 and its electioneering will change nothing. Apparently, we don’t care.
Bernard Tabaire is a media trainer and commentator on public affairs based in Kampala.