This Christmas, more clergy could speak more forcefully

Sunday December 24 2017


By Bernard Tabaire

A majority of our MPs are one group of Ugandans sure to have a superb Christmas. When you think about it, their privilege is quite something. They determine their own pay and related emoluments. They go on lavish trips, especially to “outside countries’ where choice shopping is always a part of the deal. You would think they were living the life, given just how dirt poor millions of their fellow Ugandans are.

But they still want more because constipation is a condition foreign to them. This past week, they decided it is a wise idea, one in the national interest no less, to change their term of service from five to seven years. No, there is no high-minded anything here.

This change starts with the same MPs, not the next crop. This means instead of parliamentary elections in 2021, we will have them in 2023. Not a bad perk because for a little longer they will continue earning big as they do nothing of consequence for Uganda.

Of course, they had the best opportunity to achieve their small-minded aim and took it. They were not going to allow President Museveni rule for life by removing the constitutional upper age limit of 75 that would cut him off the presidency without getting something tangible in return. Mr Museveni could not stop them because this is a transaction involving politicians completely lacking in scruples.

At least, local councillors will also benefit from the extended term — good for them. The ingenuity that went into this massively corrupt bargain is something we will chew over for decades.

Anyway, let me not begrudge my elected representatives for their rank selfishness for that would not comport with the season’s spirit of generosity. Their comeuppance will come aplenty, possibly sooner.

For the rest of us, it is the usual super-hot Christmas season. Christmas of increased crime, mostly petty to meet immediate ends. Christmas of road carnage. Christmas of eating for those who can afford a decent meal — like the MPs.

It is also Christmas of church and listening to clergy platitudes about loving thy neighbour and sharing. Big deal.

If only the religious leaders had the moral and political courage to actively mobilise tens of millions of their congregants to stand up against the devil’s bargain we just witnessed in our politics! What’s the church for again? Or mosque? Or synagogue?

Once upon a time, there was something called liberation theology within, especially the Catholic Church. These days, it appears the closest thing to a liberation theologian in that church, although he never started out that way, is Pope Francis. No wonder he is from Latin America, a part of the world that birthed that theology, thanks to Peruvian Dominican Priest Gustavo Gutiérrez.

That was a theology about social justice in the deepest sense. You cannot have social justice unless you challenge entrenched economic and political interests. In Uganda, our politicians have obviously turned against us (if ever they were for us anyway), holding power and doing nothing worthwhile to advance society. All they care about is fattening their bank balances and those of their fawning cronies.

So, shall we hear something fresh, even radical, from the pulpits this weekend? I am putting no money on it. What I can bet on is that our statist approach will have the same conniving politicians invited to greet the people. To wish a merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year to the same people they urinate on. Instead of robustly challenging this nonsense, the church meekly stands by.

We may have to wait on Pope Francis, maybe, for inspiration. In his Christmas message last year, he spoke of the “peoples who suffer because of the economic ambitions of the few, because of the sheer greed and the idolatry of money…”

Local clergy need to stand up for those of the overwhelming majority of Ugandans suffering because of the economic and political greed of the few. And, by the way, greed is a cardinal sin. So is the sort of hubris we saw in Parliament as NRM MPs bragged about having the numbers to trash the Constitution.
Merry Christmas everyone, including you MPs.

Bernard Tabaire is a media trainer and commentator on public affairs based in Kampala.
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