So finally, Opposition parties in the Ugandan Parliament, excluding FDC, sat on the same table with the chairman of the ruling NRM and had a chat about Uganda’s past, present and future.
The Opposition represented by DP, Jeema and UPC had one major item on their itinerary; to ask President Museveni to think about or even state a date he was planning to ‘peacefully hand over power.’
As expected, especially by the skeptics, Museveni instead lectured them about his plans for a much longer stay than they may have expected. He is thinking about first sorting not Uganda’s but Africa’s many problems, a myriad of which he has no control over.
These talks came after a grouping called The Elders Forum, which comprises religious leaders and senior citizens, had mooted similar talks. In the same period, Museveni tough-talked to the nation at length about his plan to fight corruption once and for all.
The cynics again had their say that it is going to be all talk and no action, also known as business as usual.
Over the years, Uganda has undergone a terrible change in mindset and attitude towards leaders. They rarely trust what the latter say and suspect that at every turn, they are only about hoodwinking the people. There is a belief that leaders only become serious if they are enriching themselves at the expense of the poor or engaging in activities that help to perpetuate themselves in power.
The leaders are no fools either and have also adapted to this situation. They know that the people not only want answers but also need to see action.
So they put that action in words and demonstrations. The end result is Uganda has now become the capital of talk shops. From commissions of inquiry to seminars, to national dialogues, to prayer breakfasts, to white papers, to declarations, to conferences, to launching roadmaps that lead nowhere etc, you find it all here.
The recommendations are all very good to the ear and the heart but are rarely put to good use.
All this is understandable. After more than three decades in power by the NRM with its cadres, almost everything that goes right and wrong falls on the shoulder of the same people who are appointed by the President to help him govern this country. They dominate almost all spheres of life and the State from the executive, to the Judiciary and the legislature.
The legislature will support laws that are in line with what the President wants. In the Judiciary, you will find a cadre judge who will consider Uganda’s history and how far we have come before passing judgment for the sake of peace and stability.
In many cases, if we are to correct the ills by punishing the wrong doers, it will be akin to going right at the heart of the President’s wishes and bosom buddies. This in turn hurts the President and his ultimate hold onto power.
So it is with the politics. Correcting what is thought of as Uganda’s predicament may mean Museveni stepping aside.
This increasingly has become a very difficult thing as it carries the heavy baggage of hangers on and their interests.
There are many whose fortunes are tied with Museveni’s continued stay in power. The tender acquired because one name-dropped the occupant of State House or any of his innermost circle, is at risk when the latter are out of power. So it is with various jobs and properties acquired illegally or with the help of orders from above. These orders may not necessarily be from State House, but the proximity to State House may be misused, as is the wont.
That is how we end up with these high sounding declarations of intentions to act but nothing happens thereafter.
It helps play to the gallery and serves two main purposes. First, it serves as a catharsis of sorts to pacify the multitudes of people agitated by bad governance. It gives them hope that ‘may be’ this time round, something will be done once and for all.
Secondly, it plays right into the revered hearts of our funders, the great donor community.
In many European capitals, governments are under pressure not to fund or even to place sanctions on ‘undemocratic and corrupt’ governments under which description several African countries like Uganda fall.
So when the media is swamped with stories of leaders engaging in dialogue, hugging, back slapping, smiling, exchanging gifts or announcing tough policies about ‘fighting corruption,’ they give the impression that they are not a shameful lot of people and, therefore, can be dined with.
The pauses for the photos thereafter are the record that goes around to prove the seriousness. Otherwise it is all talk. In case of doubt, time will be our judge.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. [email protected]