First game of Afcon 27; ‘them’ against ‘the rest’

Mr Nicholas Sengoba

What you need to know:

  • Today we live in a country where for many, if you fall sick you survive by either crowd funding or seek the miraculous help of pastors and witchdoctors. The health care system is literally sick and in some places on its deathbed.

It is official, Uganda will be hosting the 2027 edition of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) alongside Kenya and Tanzania. When the news broke, one thought there would be a natural outpouring of joy and pride. And why not? It is not every day that a country plays host to the best African football teams, for a month.

These teams have some of the finest African footballers that play the famous European leagues; the Mo Salah of Liverpool and the likes. The stars who Ugandans, young and old follow; animatedly, week in, week out the whole year round will be in town, living in flesh and blood.

It means greater economic activity with tourists and football fans visiting. The Ugandan government and the Confederation Of African Football Association; the organisation in charge of running the game in Africa, will inject huge money for infrastructure, security, transport, hotels, feeding, medical facilities etc. to ensure we have a successful tournament.  In theory all this will trickle down and boost our economies. Global media will mention the East African countries for the better part of the year; before, during and after the Afcon 2027.

But looking through threads on social media one gets inundated by cynicism, negative comments and outright malice by East Africans against their own countries hosting the tournament.

One Kenyan on popular social media platform Twitter or X via his handle @FrancisGaitho wrote a cryptic one above a picture of a rally car peeping out of a cloud of dust on a dirt road. Said he, that ‘you will soon (painfully) realize that the only sport Kenya can host comfortably, is the FIA Safari Rally where the main requirement is bad roads. #Afcon’. 

Ugandans on the other hand took to creating all manner of derogatory memes predicting a disaster during the tournament. One was of a boda boda rider with his legs in the air, maneuvering the contraption through the middle of a flooded road. The caption was a referee running late to officiate a game. Another was under a photo of a road, blocked by a huge military truck; the type that is used to seal off the airstrip and other places where the President is presiding. It greatly inconveniences road users because it leads to traffic jams and longer routes.  It says Mo Salah and his team mates arrived late for a game due to some technicalities. It points to the picture of the truck as the ‘technicalities’.

All these are reminiscent of the opposition to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm 2007,) 16 years ago. Then more recently the MTV Music Awards 2021. These were supposed to take place in Uganda but the organizers backtracked due to an avalanche of complaints from Ugandans. 

The latter claimed that the MTV brand was associating itself with a country and government where elections were violently stolen and human rights of the opposition abused. They pointed out people abducted by armed agents some of whom have never been seen till this day. 
Citizens usually love a country that goes out of its way to care for them. That love is called patriotism. It makes them feel that they matter. That they are part of it. That leaders lose their sleep thinking about things getting better and won’t eat if the one proverbial sheep out of the 100, gets lost.

Patriotism is something that cannot be taught or instilled like we have tried with the National Secretariat for Patriotism. It is a natural reaction that is very sensitive to the prevailing social- economic and political circumstances in a country. 

That is why the Ugandan citizen of the 60s to the 80s before NRM and privatisation was different from the Ugandan of today. They enjoyed free medicare, cheap government housing and transport, free  university education, scholarships abroad plus subsidized fees at lower levels. They spoke of Uganda with pride and nostalgia. One surprisingly is angry to this day that the Tanzanian army with the UNLF exiles overthrew Idi Amin in 1979. They claim Uganda was defeated!   

Today we live in a country where for many, if you fall sick you survive by either crowd funding or seek the miraculous help of pastors and witchdoctors. The health care system is literally sick and in some places on its deathbed. Yet some are flown abroad at exorbitant cost on taxpayers money for treatment.

There are hardly any respectable jobs for the youthful population. Entebbe Airport is swamped with desperately fleeing young people who have to go to the Middle East, Europe and Asia to do menial jobs under abusive human rights conditions. 

Yet some hop from one job to another because they allegedly are ‘well connected,’ even when they are not suitably qualified.
Many private businesses have collapsed under the weight of debt and mismanagement. Others close to the powers that are in similar dire circumstances have been bailed out using public funds. 

There are many who have failed to get justice in the courts of law when their land and property is grabbed. In some cases the grabbers have been identified as perennial beneficiaries of impunity who are untouchable despite their proximity to power.
Even in small things, it is visible that many are increasingly living on the fringes. The way some with siren blazing military escorts habitually push the ordinary Ugandan off the gridlocked, potholed roads is a case in point.

Almost every day there are proposals to squeeze Ugandans financially in a situation where there is hardly a social safety net to fall back to. One day it is health insurance. Then new number plates at astronomical prices. Then increases in school fees, fuel prices, water and electricity tariffs, taxes etc. Yet for all these collections, corruption in high places is rarely punished.

For most part of the last 37 years of the NRM rule an impression has been created of Uganda being the preserve of a clique of people connected to President Yoweri Museveni and members of his family and their friends. Many of these get the biggest deals in the land for which they are promptly paid by the government. With AFCON 27, they will get the contracts possibly without competitive bidding. If history is anything to go by, do shoddy work and walk away scot free. That is how it has become their Uganda. It is them against the rest.
A success for Uganda is viewed as ‘their success.’ So the ones who lie in the realm of ‘the rest,’ will fight to bring it down. That is how they view Afcon 2027.

It is a good thing happening in the home of their nemesis and lets be real, no one rejoices when the enemy has good tidings. That is a summary of the other side of Afcon 2027.

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues
Twitter: @nsengoba