We shot ourselves in the foot, left millions behind. Now we’re staring down the barrel

Author: Daniel K Kalinaki. PHOTO/FILE. 

What you need to know:

A few of us got ahead in the race but we left millions behind. Some of them just happen to have high-calibre firearms, which they have been trained to use, and nothing to lose.

We will never know why Private Wilson Sabiiti turned his gun on Charles Engola, the minister he had been assigned to guard, and pumped him full of lead. Both men are not here to speak, Private Sabiiti having saved his last shot for the roof of his mouth.

We might have better luck with Corporal Ivan Wabwire who, instead of depositing cash with his shylock to discharge a debt obligation, deposited rounds of hot lead, delivered at deadly velocity, and at close range, from the muzzle of his Ak47 rifle. He then ran for the hills before being lassoed back into custody.

The two incidents have provided gunpowder for explosive jokes about guards suddenly receiving VIP treatment from the VIPs they are assigned to guard, but this is no laughing matter. Something has gone seriously wrong.

That something is quite easy to see: we have left many people behind. Liberalisation and privatisation injected oomph and enterprise into the economy, powered three decades of growth, and created a small elite whose first-generation wealth beggars belief.

But the failure to invest the proceeds of that economic boom into public services has left millions of people living on the edge, their lives permanently marked by the stubborn stain of poverty.

Many of us, reclining on the armrest of privilege, or merely sweating off the unending treadmill of capitalistic endeavour, take our children to private schools and hand over medical insurance cards at private hospitals when we fall sick. We munch on aged steaks or imported seafood at the mushrooming restaurants and sip coloured drinks or smoky teenage whiskies.

The majority around us, however, are barely getting by. There are no drugs in the public hospitals we send them to because they have been stolen and sold to private clinics. There are no doctors either, because they are in the private clinics trying to earn a living because we have mistreated them and taken them for granted in the public hospitals.

The public school system is broken, held together only by the band-aid of alumni agency and the tenacity of teachers. Public transport has been abandoned to the chaos and calamity of boda boda motorcycles ridden by the flotsam and jetsam of the aforementioned public school system.

Life is expensive, and you pay a lot for very little.

For many years the government held the line – rightly so, in your columnist’s view – that increasing salaries so that people could afford life was bad politics and poor economics.

But under political pressure this line of defence started giving away. The salaries and allowances of those holding important offices – judges, ministers, MPs and other top bureaucrats and technocrats – started going up. Those of the majority workers on the government payroll – teachers, police officers, soldiers, medical workers and the like – either remained flat or rose slower.

Not only did this lead to wage inflation and divert money that should have gone into delivering public goods, but it also increased the inequality, the inequity, the injustice, and the incongruousness of it all, such that a driver or junior officer in one government agency can make more than a university lecturer or a doctor.

So now we arrive at a fork in the road. Having increased the salaries of a few, we lost the moral argument for not raising those of the many. But to raise the salaries of the many is to print money and undermine the economic fundamentals for all.

A private sector led economic model creates incentives for enterprise, innovation and hard work which grows the economy and lifts all boats. It is sustainable, however, only if the state redistributes some of the surplus to provide good and affordable public services for the majority. This is a lesson even ultra-capitalist societies have learned and tried to solve and one that now presents itself before us, increasingly violently. Yet competence is not something we are frequently accused of.

A few of us got ahead in the race but we left millions behind. Some of them just happen to have high-calibre firearms, which they have been trained to use, and nothing to lose. We shot ourselves in the foot by failing to build an efficient state that lifts all. Now we are staring down the barrel of a gun, and it is loaded.

Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and poor man’s freedom fighter.

[email protected]; @Kalinaki