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Yet, it does seem like every time we are faced with a problem and have tens of simple and clear options to pick a solution from, we always choose the most complex and costly.
Let me tell you a story about the nuances of aid cuts from that time when the government of Uganda and the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) got into the mother of all panty-twists in 2021. James wanted to buy a state-of-the-art Mercedes but didn’t have the money for it at the moment. However, he had a plush job with an NGO that was one of the grantees of DGF. So, he requested his friend, Sula who had the money to import the car with the promise that when payday came, Sula would get paid back.
Sula did as requested and got the shipment going. But before the vehicle arrived in Kampala, the pissing context began – apparently over political interference or some such story. Accounts were frozen, projects unceremoniously suspended and eventually wound down. Over 100 million Euros were taken off the table.
Consequently, James was in no position to pay Sula for the car. So, Sula now had a car that he didn’t need and in fact, could hardly afford. Also, there weren’t many buyer options available because the profile of buyers like that is usually associated with high-paying NGO and civil society types whose paychecks are dependent on large grants from the West. The others are usually government officials whose income streams only they can math.
But this is looking at repercussions from the top where victims have options. That kind of money in an economy such as Uganda is hard to contextualize. Unfortunately, we don’t do these sorts of impact studies but you wonder how many people couldn’t meet their social obligations such as paying fees for dependents, medical bills of loved ones, rent, completing personal projects, etc – because of a piss-off that needn’t have wetted the ground for everyone.
Fast-forward to this week, with the Ghetto Kids performing at the prestigious talent show – Britain’s Got Talent – where they stood to win 250,000 GBP Talent shows are quite intriguing because of the irony in the name. They are very rarely about talent. Sort of like countries that have the word “Democratic” in their names, or the tens of others that hold elections every couple of years.
That is partly why the kids’ dancing group made it to the finals of the show but also didn’t win it. It is also partly why the winner, Viggo Venn, the Norwegian comedian, had his act largely categorized by many observers, as underwhelming. But to see those kids on the stage giving it their all and representing Uganda in all the ways we deserve to be was the stuff that goosebumps are made of. Outside of our occasional feats in track and field, we very rarely make a good account of ourselves on the global stage. Much worse now, when the country is getting a pummeling from passing the Anti-homosexuality law.
You might have already read the media releases about donors, especially in health, walking away with their monies because of the law. The hope is that this doesn’t turn into another DGF-esque situation where they go. Because whereas we can debate human rights – even if we really shouldn’t – we cannot debate access to healthcare services, especially for the most vulnerable components of our population.
The tragedy – and it isn’t uncommon for many African governments – is how we behave like small informal businesses. When the owner is angry, even the business is angry, and everyone – staff, clients, contractors, etc – will have to know.
In many ways, that galvanic showing by the Ghetto Kids is how many Ugandans want to see themselves. Striving and thriving despite the obvious systemic shortcomings. Taking their shots and believing in their abilities to get them to the top. Even when they don’t win, it is enough to know and feel that they gave it their everything and other factors out of their control decided the outcome.
Yet, it does seem like every time we are faced with a problem and have tens of simple and clear options to pick a solution from, we always choose the most complex and costly. The reason is that those in the rooms where these decisions get made are seldom the ones left in the room when stuff hits the fan. They certainly aren’t burdened with sidestepping the bog they leave along the trail of success. Perhaps it is time to figure out how they too face the consequences of their choices.
Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds. @Rukwengye