What you need to know:
Clearly the government is absent in this core aspect of operationalizing the social contract.
Three comment-worthy stories in the media last week. First, Evelyn Nakabiri, a.k.a Lagu, and lately ‘Love’, died after a long well documented battle with kidney failure. She was a musician and an actress. Grew up an orphan. Went through school and fell back on her talents to get by in the entertainment industry. A few years ago she was diagnosed with the debilitating condition. From then on it was a fight for her life. Cars were washed. Concerts and all manner of activities took place to raise funds to save her life. On her final bend she was going for a couple of costly sessions of dialysis a week until the curtain fell on her stage.
Then went Innocent Mbabali. Described as one on the best talents in the game of hockey. Mbabali, rose from relative obscurity to become a great player and coach in a sport that receives very little funding and media coverage. Mbabali trained and inspired many young people and women in the game. He played the game in Uganda, moved to Kenya, then Italy and lastly to the Netherlands where he slipped into a coma and died ‘alone’ in hospital.
Then it was the usual fund raising to repatriate his remains for burial. May the Lord keep them well.
People die every day and will continue doing so. There is nothing special about that.
What is striking here is that Uganda, with all its challenges that have made it almost impossible for especially young people to live here in peace, has motivated others into resilient fighters. They are strong because that is the only option they have. They do not have the luxury to fail. They dig deep inside and fight to bring the best out of themselves and live decently. Some have left the country to go and do what the arrogant describe as washing toilets in other countries.
The stories that thrill us in the world of sport like the great exploits of the long and medium distance runners making a mark on the global stage; the Halima Nakayis, Winnie Nanyondos, Stephen Kiprotichs, Joshua Cheptegeis, Jacob Kiplimos, come after this fashion.
The world of music and entertainment from time immemorial is full of these. The indefatigable Afrigo Band, the late Philly Bongoley Lutaaya, Jimmy Katumba to the contemporary popular artistes like Julianna Kanyomozi, Chameleone, Bobi Wine and Alien Skin. All the farmers, mechanics, roadside tailors, traders, meat and maize roasters, car washers, freelance grass cutters, plastic, paper and recyclable waste collectors, gym and sport instructors. There is a whole world of people who are working outside of the realm of what we perceive as government to take care of themselves and their children. They will not sponge off the government. They gave up long ago or saw no hope in trying.
It is good for innovation and self-reliance. It lowers the pressure on the government to provide employment for multitudes that need it.
If they are lucky, unlike Evelyn Love and Innocent Mbabali, the government will come in to ride on the crest of their triumph. This is understandable, for success has a hundred fathers and failure is an orphan.
You would expect that the government would see promise in this and have the innovative sense to encourage them with financial incentives or just work on ensuring that conditions in the country get better to ease their work. For instance, cheap constantly supplied reliable electricity and water. Improve transport and have better roads so that labor moves faster and efficiently. Have more green areas for sport and entertainment.
But this is Uganda, a land of many wonders. This brings us to our third story. Deep in the middle of an economic crisis, we still have a profligate and totally insensitive misguided sense of entitlement by those who run the state. They must have all their perks and if they don’t exist, create excuses just to have them. So we elect to send two delegations of officials and joy riders to the UN of over 70 people (some not necessary) at a cost of approximately a whooping Shs2 billion.
Some people who behave like they landed from the provinces recently cannot imagine missing an opportunity to tour the world on the backs of taxpayers. Most of these taxpayers’ backs are on the wall. Yet they are being squeezed further for ‘taxes for development.’ Many are desperate to stay alive as the social safety net has all but collapsed. Almost on a daily basis, we are inundated by calls for help to save people from all manner of medical conditions. I once visited the Cancer Institute at Mulago and felt weak at the knees. The patients and their caregivers overwhelmingly outnumber the overworked health professionals and the equipment which breaks down from time to time. There are many crying out for tuition for the education of their children so it is with shelter and clothing. In some cases people are desperate for a warm meal, in a land with vast fertile soils, which if put to proper use, may feed all of us many times over, with a surplus caring for the rest of the world.
Clearly the government is absent in this core aspect of operationalizing the social contract. What we have instead is this rapacious and sadistic appetite to spend on non-essential consumption to patronise and appease a small constituency of actors. These are not mistakes or even acts of incompetence. It is not that the system is not working. It is designed that way; not to work! It takes from the many to appease a few who make a critical mass in vital places. Those ones work so hard to keep a tab on the levers of power and ensure that the NRM government remains in place perpetually.
It does not matter even if the rest of the country falls apart. Look at the roads. The cry about potholes and gridlock thereon has seen many public officials receiving (from the taxpayer,) expensive fuel guzzling four wheel drive vehicles for the comfort of the big people. There is an added siren blazing, armed escort vehicle to clear the way in case the little people are slowly maneuvering their cars to save them from the gullies in the roads. If big people fall sick they again task the taxpayer (who fundraise by washing cars,) to foot their medical bills abroad.
If all is well, then they will be rewarded with joy trips abroad to earn some per diem and other generous allowances. This seemingly energizes them to come back and continue insensitively perfecting the power relation that keeps the many cowed; busy, struggling to survive.
We are dealing with evil.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues