The Ugandan dream is also its nightmare

Author: Nicholas Sengoba. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • This country will never have meaningful change if  whoever has the potential to stand up to the regime is co-opted by being granted social and economic comforts... 

In Uganda to get things done quickly and perfectly in the official straight and narrow way is not so easy. 

Even when the systems have been perfected to serve you; when it is your right, you have paid for it, and it is easily available and in abundance you may still need to do something out of the norm. 

We end up in a situation where you must know someone who can kick-start the system to serve you as you please. Or be in good books to have the opportunity to serve the government for good pay. That person may more often than not, need an inducement. This is called a connection. 

So slowly a culture of skipping the legal or acceptable way to get what one wants has become the way to a happier life. If one gets to a point of getting all they need in this manner then they have attained the highly prized and privileged Ugandan dream. 

In the extreme, the Ugandan dream affords one a blank cheque of impunity to do as one pleases. It becomes a right. When one attains the Uganda dream, then nothing is impossible. There is no need for discipline or self restraint. 

The realm of impunity is such a comfort zone that when one enters it they will never want to leave. They will fight to see to it that they maintain the status quo or will not be bothered by anything that goes wrong except that which stands in the way of impunity. They become totally detached from society and its demands for betterment.

During the season of Covid-19 lockdowns someone got a pass from a close buddy of his in a security office that allowed him to drive as he pleased. He would even drive upcountry at anytime of the day. He ceased to understand why people were asking the authorities to lift the curfew. 

He soon joined another group that partied all night at a famous bar that was immune from the Covid-19 standard operation procedures that closed down places of entertainment. He was unbothered by those who were arrested for being out during the curfew hours or the ones who cried about the destruction of their businesses because of the restrictions.

The man who has a police escort to clear the way for them during the gridlock at peak hours ceases to see the need for an overhaul of the transport system to curb congestion. His government-provided four wheel drive vehicle does not allow him to appreciate the bad state of the roads. 

He who is assured of free medical care abroad will be detached from those who call for improvement of the healthcare system at home. He will frown upon the ‘unrealistic’ demands of the medical workers in case they seek a raise or ask for better working conditions. 

So for those in power the best way to stay put without fear of the people putting them under pressure to reform is to create a critical mass of people who achieve the Ugandan dream. 

It starts with pampering politicians and Members of Parliament including those from the Opposition. The huge salaries and allowances plus per diem earned from globetrotting for ‘bench marking’ blurs their vision. 

The same applies to top security officers and government bureaucrats. Avail them endless financial opportunities. Look away as they misuse or steal public funds. Encourage them to do business with government even if they risk having conflicts of interest in the process.  Offer them huge retirement perks that are not given to other public servants.

Shield them from prosecution in case they step out of line. 
Before you know it, they have become impotent and detached from the realities that affect society. This is very dangerous for society but good for dictatorship.

Through history, it is the so-called intelligentsia that have played the role of threatening or actually leading the Fanonian wretched of the earth into raising up against autocracy.

This class, because of acquiring the advantages of formal education and cerebral exposure have the ability to grasp and articulate the predicament of a society. They also have the potential of leading organised and meaningful protests and demands for change using the sweat, courage and muscle of the lumpen proletariat or the unwashed.

The smart autocrat drives a wedge between the two. In the end this dangerous class is  detached from the intelligentsia. 

This is through heaping privileges on the (intelligensia) and granting them licence to manoeuvre their way through the plight of society via short cuts of impunity and outright law breaking.

They no longer have anything in common with the grassroots being beneficiaries of the system. 

They are also no longer in the middle of the autocrat and the down trodden because they benefit from the autocracy and associate with the establishment. 

They are now impotent in this new dispensation and can no longer stand as power brokers. They are slaves to the system and aliens to the grassroots. That is how the intelligentsia have been removed from Ugandan politics.

This now is the Ugandan nightmare. This country will never have meaningful change if  whoever has the potential to stand up to the regime is co-opted by being granted social and economic comforts attained mainly through unjustifiable privileges, impunity and corner cutting. 

To understand this quagmire just look at the Uganda political landscape. All the politicians who pose a threat of any degree to the NRM government have either been part of government or are surviving on an arm of government like the legislature. In better times, we would have intellectuals and thinkers  from the university. 

Now most of these are living the Ugandan dream, running well paying government consultancies. The equivalent of trade union leaders are now well-paid worker’s MPs voted in by majority NRM electoral colleges. You don’t need to be too smart to know whose interests they serve. 

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


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