In just under two years from now we will hold yet another election. We will tell ourselves that we are exercising our constitutional right and choosing candidates with the best policy proposals. Every vote will count and be counted, we will vow, and the Judiciary will resolve any disputes without fear or favour.
More likely, most of us will vote for relatives, friends and in-laws if they give us money. If they don’t we will vote for strangers who do. Few people will read the empty manifesto promises. People will vote primarily for selfish interests, depending on whether they are “eating” from the regime or not.
Some, genuinely tired of the corruption, incompetence and ethnic chauvinism, will vote for what they hope is better change. Others, frustrated by the long queues outside the banquet tent, radicalised by ossified hopes and dreams, will vote for anyone and anything other than the incumbent. Put a half-empty jerry can of water on the ballot paper and they will vote for it.
No one expected us to become a democracy overnight. Not even in a mere two decades. But neither did anyone expect us to go backwards by ripping the soul out of our Constitution. The checks and balances, limits to the tenure of individual presidencies or wider limits to executive power, have been expunged by constitutional amendments or undermined by a combination of violent aggression, gerrymandering, sabotage, partisan appointments of cadres, or naked bribery.
We aren’t dealing with teething problems, but with a Constitution that has been kicked in the teeth. Astute political scientists say we will need more than make-up to deal with the bruises. Facial reconstruction, in the form of a national dialogue, has been mentioned.
A good place to start is to stop pretending to be a flawed democracy and accept that we are a functioning dictatorship. Having freed ourselves of our delusions, we could then start taking practical steps to, on the one hand, understand the extent of the challenge we face and, on the other, stop applying Band-Aid where surgery is needed.
Take elections, for instance. The Electoral Commission says it needs about Shs800 billion for the 2021 elections. That is on top of its annual appropriation. Then the black hole that is the presidency has more than Shs500 billion in a five-year term in handouts and donations made, no doubt, with an eye on electoral support. If you added the other off-balance-sheet numbers into the mix, we are looking at not less than Shs2 trillion. This is about what government owes local businesses.
So here is a question for us: Do we spend this money on an election with only one permissible outcome or inject liquidity into the economy so that businesses can create jobs and value?
Of course, these are not mutually exclusive choices. But what is the point of doing the same thing over and over again while expecting – or rather hoping and praying for a miracle?
I know my democrat friends will strike my name off the Christmas cards list, but throwing money at what has become a ritual rather than a genuine contest of ideas and renewal of mandate – and doing so every five years with the same dodgy outcomes -- does not strike me a smart investment. How about making the life presidency project cheaper by replacing elections with natural selection?
We could, of course, save a whole lot more money to pay off our mounting debt if we scrapped Parliament altogether. But the role of Parliament, under the current arrangement, has changed from legislation to elite reward, so getting rid of it would leave a lot of elites annoyed. But we do not have to go through the farce of parliamentary elections either.
I am told a parliamentary seat costs anywhere between Shs200 and Shs800 million depending on location and strength of competitors. Much of this money goes into consumptive expenditure – posters, car hire, mineral water, soap, sugar, paraffin, et cetera. It is all a passing cloud.
What would happen instead, is that each constituency would hold an auction, with bidding for each seat starting at, say, Shs50 million. It would rise until there was one candidate standing, who would be declared the ‘selected MP’. The money raised would be spent on useful things like fixing the roads, top-up salaries for teachers and doctors et cetera.
Constituencies with many aspirants can tweak it into a lottery: every aspirant pays say USh50 million for a ticket, lots are drawn and the winner is the MP. Thus MPs don’t waste time lying to voters, the money goes to useful development projects and aspirants cap their losses to a pre-determined figure.
Y’all are welcome in advance!
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s freedom fighter. firstname.lastname@example.org