Of useless professors and Museveni’s kupalappalanya

Author: Alan Tacca. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Africa’s failing regimes deliberately avoid common sense.   

To achieve deeper communication, President Museveni sometimes renders his message in one or other of our indigenous languages. More frequently, it is Runyankore and Luganda, presumably because of his competence in the two, and their wide usage.

The Luganda word, kupalappalanya, aptly describes what the President does nowadays by way of explaining why Uganda is lagging in industrial development.
Kupalappalanya means the vigorous use of patently unconvincing excuses for one’s failure to perform as desired or expected.

The trait is very common among amateurish sportsmen, who fish around for lame excuses after a decisive defeat. They are covering their inadequacy: bapalappalanya.

Take President Museveni’s swipe at Uganda and Africa’s Economics professors during his Independence Day speech. The President – who (I suspect) now feels too big to be drilled about as a common ruler burying a First World Queen – looks at all the paraphernalia around him and probably despairs at the near-total absence of an African stamp.  Thirty-seven years ago, he was visualising a Uganda that makes (industrial) machines that make (small) machines.

In effect, Mr Museveni was mentally wandering in the world of huge foundries and modern furnaces turning out intricate castings; of heavy-duty metal presses, robotised multi-function lathes, electroplating and other finishing machines; a world in which sharp research and development designers/engineers would be lords; not gun-toting generals supposedly ‘creating’ wealth by dishing out money from the coffers of poor taxpayers.

Museveni, therefore, stood way taller than the dwarfs who ruled the African continent. He was in the league of the leaders who had made the Asian Tigers. Quality fabrics, bicycles, cars and electronic gadgets would roll off Uganda’s production lines.

But after 37 years, most of the things around him – perhaps even those huge white shirts – are imported.

“Are there professors of Economics in Africa?” he asked, contemptuously.
Yes, His Excellency, there are many such professors. But they are useless in autocratic vampire states like Uganda, which are built on patronage, plunder and brute force.

Instead of paying for tractors, irrigation equipment, industrial machinery and broad technical know-how, Uganda pays for more districts, more RDCs, more MPs, more ministers, more weapons, and more goons and teargas to chase Dr Kizza Besigye and Bobi Wine from their campaign rallies.

The regime deliberately chooses professors who, for instance, lure the innocent public to think that they are using taxpayers’ money to develop electric cars that will be mass-produced in three years. Ten years down the road, they give the public a handful of Chinese or Indian diesel-powered buses assembled in unclear local arrangements. Audit the haemorrhage. What in effect, even in the long term, is the cost per bus? Is their story more reassuring than that of Uganda Airlines?

Africa’s failing regimes deliberately avoid common sense, and their wastage of resources fuels the loss of public good will, which in turn necessitates harsher, wider and more costly repression, rendering these regimes even more impervious to reason.

It is impossible to convince a serious audience that Africa’s tragedy is a lack, or indifference, of economists to show our rulers the shortcomings Mr Museveni himself recognised 37 years ago. 

Even Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile, who once reportedly unsuccessfully objected to the purchase (using borrowed money) of Russian fighter planes (not industrial machines), might turn in his grave. He was not only an Economics professor, but also the Central Bank governor. 

Nor can we still buy into the excuse that Western actors are constantly scheming to block our progress. Why didn’t they block the Asian Tigers? In short, the President – apalappalanya. 

Mr Alan Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.
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