Other countries have safety nets, we have Nabbanja

Rt Hon Robinah Nabbanja

What you need to know:

There are some people Nabbanja will not be able to get to in time

It is that time of the year when we sit back and assess the year. In doing so, we highlight individuals and events that stood out for us. For me, no one stood out more than Rt Hon Robinah Nabbanja, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Uganda and Leader of Government Business in Parliament.

In a country that seems to be run by an unidentifiable ‘Above’, Nabbanja has gone to great lengths to give her office a face.  The jovial and comical politician might have questionable knowledge about world geography but at least we know who she is and does not shy away from flexing her power when the need arises.

One of those unforgettable moments was when she rescued a petty trader who was facing jail time for failing to pay a loan. The trader, whom I shall henceforth refer to as Lucky because of her obvious luck is one of the many people that have been sucked in and spat out by our economic system. The many unfortunate urban poor that have found themselves in the clutches of near-poverty.  Seduced by the possibility of transforming her economic status, Lucky got a Shs5m loan for which she gave the money lender her plot of land as security. Unfortunately, Lucky did not plan for contingencies such as the Coronavirus pandemic that shut down the global economy. And in common speak, the money lender did not want to know and soon the he came knocking demanding for his money back which Lucky did not have for obvious reasons.

A push-pull battle ensued where property was destroyed and arrests made. As Lucky was headed for jail, lady fortune struck and Nabbanja got wind of her misfortune. I do not know what moved the prime minister so much that she ignored all protocol, confronted the magistrates and rescued the hapless Lucky. While I was touched by this gesture, this incident is an eye-opener to what is wrong with this country.

This is a country of young people who have more ambition than capital. Growing up in the social media age, many of them are inspired by motivational speakers looking for likes and views and start their businesses on this hollow foundation.  This is also a generation that does not only lack financial literacy but is also wanting in common sense, which explains why Lucky could comfortably give in her property for just Shs5m.  We have seen many of them make and lose fortunes because they are not taught to think about how structural and sociological problems directly or indirectly affect them. 

Many of us overlook and underplay the effects of forces that operate beyond our control; forces such corruption, failing infrastructure and lack of safety nets until they affect us personally. We just go about our lives blindly hoping for the best and when we are down on our luck, we hope for someone with Nabbanja’s muscle to confront our opponents and overpower them for us.

Where other citizens have trust that should the worst befall them, there are social nets meant to catch them, in Uganda we have Nabbanja. But even with her uncanny ability to be everywhere at the same time, there are some people Nabbanja will not be able to get to in time.  We need to get away from situations such as these that distract politicians from performing the roles for which they are elected and pit them against the very system for which they work.

In the long term, we need to ensure that our access to resources and services is not predicated on who is standing in your corner or who you know.  This means making polices such as universal healthcare and universal education, government funding and others accessible to all. Let us make sure that instead of relying on a one-woman social welfare system, we have an empowered citizenry that is able to fight back against exploitative fiscal policies, poor working conditions and poverty-level wages. 

Our public service system needs a long overdue overhaul to be able to handle emerging issues that were nonexistent several decades ago when it was shaped.  Otherwise, we will continue trying to solve modern problems with outdated solutions, which is also known as madness.


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