Instead of iron sheets, return cash and an apology to the Karimojong 

Author: Daniel K Kalinaki. PHOTO/FILE. 

What you need to know:

  • A photo of each suspect looking suitably remorseful while handing over the cash to deserving Karimojong should help with restitution – ...

A group of young men turned up in downtown Kampala this week to protest the stealing of iron sheets meant for the wretched of Karamoja. The iron sheets they carried on their heads helped to ward off the mid-morning drizzle while adding drama to their protest. And if anyone missed the point, they had a small megaphone through which they added their words of protest to the cacophony of noise in the city.
In less than 15 minutes the police, ever lurking, swung into action and arrested the protesters. They were briefly held in a police cell downtown before being thrown onto the back of a police pick-up truck which zoomed off, siren blaring, in the general direction of court.
By the time of writing, it wasn’t clear what offence they would be charged with, but here the police are spoilt for choice. They could be charged with being idle and disorderly,  holding an illegal gathering without the permission of the Inspector General of Police, resisting arrest or assaulting a police officer. They could be charged with plotting to burn down a police post with a chapati straight off the pan (true story!). They could be charged with anything, really.
The point is, almost a month after news first broke that government officials had diverted iron sheets for their own personal use, the first – and so far, only – people to be charged over the matter are young Ugandans protesting because none of the suspected thieves has been arrested. You can’t make it up.
On the face of it, the iron sheets scandal should be easy to fix. In reality, the depth and breadth of it makes it extremely difficult to sort. For instance, there are so many ministers named as having received iron sheets that asking them to step aside for investigation would leave the Cabinet meeting room pockmarked with empty chairs.
And the schemes to eat from Karamoja go back so many years that it would make uncomfortable reading if one were to, for instance, order a 10- or 15-year audit going backwards. So Karamoja and its iron sheets are like an old sweater with a thread sticking out. Leave it untouched, and the sweater looks shabby. Put on it, and the whole sweater could come apart. 
The easiest  option would be to ask the recipients to follow the example of Speaker of Parliament Anita Among and return the iron sheets given to them. And no, this does not mean unroofing their cow and goat sheds and bringing back used iron sheets; they would have to buy new pieces and hand them back, with an apology note.
Getting the iron sheets back is the easier problem. The harder one is that the people of Karamoja did not ask for and perhaps do not even need them. This, then, would leave us with stores full of iron sheets. It would also leave us with rather uncomfortable questions about who ordered for the iron sheets to be bought in the first place, and what else has been bought for the Karimojong over the years that other people found better uses for. 
Instead of iron sheets, therefore, the suspects should return cash. They should identify needy households in Karamoja and hand over the cash in person to them, with an apology. A photo of each suspect looking suitably remorseful while handing over the cash to deserving Karimojong should help with restitution – and serve as evidence that the money did not end up, once again, in faraway constituencies.
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Dr Monica Musenero had a long and expensive shopping list which included lab rats trained in international schools and raised on aged cheddar cheese, and assorted equipment to produce our own coronavirus vaccines. 
No one has seen the vaccines, and with government cash-strapped, the rats are now scrounging on UPE school diets. This week Ms Musenero, a qualified veterinary doctor, told Parliament that an expensive piece of kit, the Dr Oligo DNA Synthesizer bought at Shs1.5 billion, was never installed because there was no land on which to sit it.
With all this undeveloped land and all these industrial parks? Anyway, your columnist, with his clever-clever, looked up the Dr Oligo DNA Synthesizer and spoke to its manufacturers. I will tell you about the price another day, but the damn thing is the size of a deep freezer found in any bar or restaurant. Uganda doesn’t have rats; rats have a country called Uganda.