No matter how hot our anger is, it can’t cook yams

Mr Charles Onyango-Obbo

What you need to know:

The anger, the rant, and denunciation might also be hurting our democracy and progress – which, ironically, is good for the same corrupt governments that give rise to them.

As tales of the Corruptublic of Uganda continue to fill the media, air, and social media, we are beginning to see more clearly the impact of graft on the country’s culture.

Some of it has been out there for some years, but we didn’t make the connection. Not too long ago, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) produced a writeup meant to be a resource for lecturers teaching about corruption.

At one point, it says; “While the victims of corruption suffer personal loss, intimidation and inconvenience, those who perpetrate corrupt acts and schemes tend to experience personal gain,  A SENSE OF SUPERIORITY (emphasis mine) and greater convenience.”

So, those big men and women in Kampala who drive brazenly on the wrong side of the roads, and clamber in their 4X4 over embankments, are driven to impunity by a sense of superiority – which is a child of corruption.

UNODC notes that; “When corruption, in particular state capture, becomes the norm, this can lead to polarisation among citizens: those in support of corrupt regimes (because of kickbacks and handouts) versus those opposed to them. In the presence of opposed groups in society, compromise and reasoned discussion diminish. Policy is judged not on the basis of ideology or a project’s inherent merits, but on who the policy proponents are and what benefits competing networks can reap”. Wow! Just wow!

Just there, they describe what goes for intellectual discussion on several Ugandan TV and radio talk shows, and blogs and vlogs on social media. Corruption has given rise to the media heckler, and displaced reasonable thoughtful reflection in Uganda (and for sure many other places) with the angry rant.

It has led to a large number of internal intellectual exiles, who can’t shout and hurl abuses, and fear the names of their dead parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents being dragged in the mud by an angry mob.  It can be hurtful to hear some hack claim, wrongly, that your beloved grandmother was ugly (bless her soul), simply because you pointed out that economic inequality is rising.

These clever men and women have now taken sanctuary in WhatsApp and Telegram channels where calmer discussion is sometimes still possible, sharing bootleg PDFs of great books, and thoughtful articles by fellow intellectual refugees from other parts of the world published in obscure journals.

In popular culture, the death of good things in public life and the kleptocracy have led to the paucity of hopeful music, for example (with the odd exception of a handful of Nigerian Afrobeats artists). The creative spirit has soured. Musicians rarely sing happy love songs these days. Most of the hit songs today are either cynical, angry, or gross. Perhaps it is why the upbeat “Jerusalema” by South African DJ and record producer Master KG featuring vocalist Nomcebo, swept not just Africa, but the world in 2020 when we were suffering in Covid-19 lockdown. TV dramas are dominated by evil wives, cruel stepmothers, devious neighbours, thieving and philandering men, land grabbers, organ harvesters, drug dealers, corrupt police, and triple-faced politicians.

The anger, the rant, and denunciation might also be hurting our democracy and progress – which, ironically, is good for the same corrupt governments that give rise to them. In anger and blind rage, we become susceptible to conspiracy theories. So you are likely to believe claims that the president is very ill and could die at any time, or that he is senile.

So, instead of working creatively to remove him from office through something practical, you do nothing, and sit back and wait for fate to take its course. Before you know it, it’s 20 years and he’s still celebrating his birthdays. In the West, we have seen people resolve this by believing the real president died, and the person claiming to be him is a body double who was put in place of him by the deep state. And, if you believe the president is senile, then you underestimate him, thinking he no longer has the brains to undercut you. Then you wake up one day, and he is receiving your leading supporters who decamped (motivated party by some fat brown envelopes) to his party at a rally.

You also discover, too late, that corruption has a strange way of giving some presidents a long life in the State House. Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, runs a nepocracy and kleptocracy. Guess what, he has been rewarded with a record 45 years in power – and still going.

Cameroon’s President Paul Biya, at the ripe age of 91 with marvellously boot-black dyed hair, has wangled 43 years in office, most of which he spends away in Europe. Our own President Yoweri Museveni, last month notched 38 years. The Nigerians were right; no matter how hot our anger is, it cannot cook yams.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. Twitter@cobbo3