Caption for the landscape image:

Can Ugandans count themselves?

Scroll down to read the article

Author: Alan Tacca. PHOTO/FILE

After a botched census in Nigeria a few years back, one of Uganda’s 1981-6 Bush War figures, Gen Kahinda Otafiire, caused a minor diplomatic incident when he insinuated that the Nigerians were daft, unable to count themselves.

Okay, Gen Otafiire, a perennial government minister, did not deploy his tongue as cautiously as a big man should.

On the other hand, the Nigerians were served with spiced tea and they tried to kick up a storm in the cup.

Nigerians are like that. Even when saying something tender, the man will utter every word with such force you would think he is swallowing a kola nut.

They should have asked me. I would have given them free education that it was absolutely useless to get angry with Gen Otafiire. He had fought many battles and emerged alive, and not limping. 

I would have told the Nigerians that there is no Bush War-grown general who delights Ugandans more than Otafiire. He is a fearless tough guy who knows how to relieve them with moments of fun.

His swipe at the Nigerians was certainly not intended to cause serious injury, and in time he would redress the balance by targeting his fellow Ugandans with his tongue.

Indeed, I strongly suspect that our ongoing census conducted by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) has reminded him of his skirmish with the Nigerians.

I am writing on Wednesday. Six days into the prescribed 10-day census, Gen Otafiire must be pondering: Will the Ugandans vindicate him? Or will the Nigerians heckle us that we are even more stupid?

Of course, unless we got drowned in a shower of wishful thinking, everybody feared that the census was exactly the kind of large exercise that Uganda’s failed institutions just could not coordinate and get right.

As it is, many of the little computers have not worked as expected. Some of the enumerators recruited and trained are said to have been replaced by strangers who did not understand the work. Some of the gadgets have been stolen. 

The money for the enumerators came in mysteriously reduced portions or was not coming at all. A shortage of boots and reflective jackets was reported.

The enumerators interviewed on day-two sounded desperate for money to cover food, transport and accommodation.

This was expected, the enumerators being mostly poor and otherwise unemployed.

However, as if parading his patriotism, one Pastor ‘Bishop’ Mukiibi (don’t ruin his day by asking him to describe the nature and boundary of his diocese in the census) spent plenty of radio talk-show time telling us how he had put two biological children in the exercise. 

They, too, had returned disappointed. So he had preached to them to work, not for the money, but to serve their country.

He urged all the other enumerators to do the same. He reported how he                                                   personally drove his two children to and from work.

But sir, most reverend pastor and patriot, how many of those 110,000 enumerators have parents who can afford to do what you did?

Now, to hazard a guess, our census might return 30 percent fairly accurate records and the rest a pack of beautiful concoctions.

In his own time, Gen Otafiire might find a humorous turn of phrase to describe how this level of competence compares with the Nigerians at counting ourselves.

Mr Alan Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.
[email protected]