The state of the nation is scattered clouds of prosperity with a high chance of angry floods

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Daniel Kalinaki

What you need to know:

  • We are a country where water supply to hospitals is cut off over unpaid bills. A country without an ambulatory system or health insurance. A country without a safe and efficient public transport system.

I am writing this before President Museveni delivers his State of the Nation Address.

Given that he has delivered it every June for decades, predicting the contents is not rocket science. In fact, the farther off-script he wanders, the more interesting he is.

The President will speak about his latest attempt to fight poverty, this time in the form of Emyooga and the Parish Development Model.

He will make some noises about people sabotaging the plan or not following his guidance.

Mostly, he will probably speak about the hardware stuff. The roads being built, progress on the power dams, and the latest plans to revamp the railway link to the coast.

He will probably give an update on the oil and gas sector, and run some statistics on milk output, coffee exports and other agricultural indicators.

He might say something about security and Somalia and tell us who made which mistakes. And if time allows, he will lambast errant civil servants and maybe even the evil newspaper.

What the President is unlikely to speak about in his address is the software; the real state of the nation and its people.

A state might have its geographical boundaries, its monuments and official paraphernalia but it is not a nation until its people have a shared history and a common story.

Uganda today is a simmering pot of contradictions. It is a country of young people ruled by the old.

It is a country with fantastic natural resources but full of poor people. A country welcoming to all, except those who call it home.

Make no mistake; there has been progress in many areas. Until recently, the economy was on an unbroken upward trajectory, albeit below where it should be to be truly transformational.

Shops are full of goods for those who can afford them. Crime is a worry, but not at crisis levels. Yet. There are more university graduates and even more universities.

Homes are filling up with white goods. Owning and driving a car, once a luxury, is now a mere convenience.

But look beneath the surface and the picture darkens. We are a country where water supply to hospitals is cut off over unpaid bills. A country without an ambulatory system or health insurance.

A country without a safe and efficient public transport system. A country where it is hard to find a public service that works as advertised.

We are a country whose aforementioned graduates have received such a mediocre education that they can hardly walk while chewing gum.

A country that has mastered the art of putting the least qualified people into the most important public positions.

A country where everything is for sale, including justice, judicial rulings, and the rule of law.

We are a country where the most basic rules, like banning smoking in public, littering, or the import and manufacture of single-use plastics cannot be enforced.

A country where pesticides and raw sewerage are dumped into the lake from which we draw our drinking water.

Where a presidential directive to have dustbins every few metres, or to “ban dust” from Kampala is received with a side-eye, a shake of the head, and a polite chuckle.

A country where it takes us five years to refurbish an airport terminal and 20 years to finish a 21-kilometre road.

A country that buys planes for cash then has them sit on the tarmac for years as it negotiates for landing slots and routes.

A country where public spaces and school playgrounds are carved out for bars and concrete blocks.

This lack of seriousness and chronic incompetence has seeped into the population and created a septic strain of cynicism.

We have been stripped of our empathy and ubuntu to the point that we laugh and mock those who lose their loved ones.

We rush to accident scenes to rifle through the pockets of victims, then break the necks of survivors so that they do not recognise us later.

This, Mr President, is the state of the nation that you rule. It is a nation of angry and hungry young people most of whom will never get the chance to fulfil their potential.

The soul of a country is shaped by the signals from the top. Do the leaders know how those they lead are living? Are the leaders sharing in any sacrifices that need to be made? And if the leaders know, do they even care? I bet you my last shilling that none of this will make it into the President’s address.

Thank you for all the hardware, but it cannot fix software issues. Uganda’s greatest need today is healing and unity, otherwise all the roads and bridges will be swept away.

Mr Daniel Kalinaki is a journalist and  poor man’s freedom fighter. 
[email protected]; @Kalinaki