Have we attained a middle income status?

Emilly Comfort Maractho

What you need to know:

  • What seemed like the joke of the year suddenly made sense, passing by the petrol station while watching my fuel gauge without the comfort of ‘saying absolutely nothing’.

My mind was asking my heart, is it true, that we have attained a middle-income status? And the voice in my heart had no answer. Having missed the State-of-the-Nation address, I woke up to some headline along the lines of ‘Uganda attains Middle Income Status’.

What seemed like the joke of the year suddenly made sense, passing by the petrol station while watching my fuel gauge without the comfort of ‘saying absolutely nothing’. It made sense, thinking about the 2.4 billion car expenditure that people have been going crazy over. How many of us would not buy the best car money can buy if it was at someone else’s expense and we have just attained a goal of nearly four decades?

All the difficult explanations Parliament has been giving to explain the purchase of these cars would be unnecessary if we just said, ‘having attained a middle income status, we can now afford any car that our Speaker and her deputy deserve. Because they are good people and have nice personal cars, surely the State cannot be embarrassed by failing to match their class. Besides, even their homes are too good, we have to outmatch them and buy them nicer official ones befitting of their position and our current middle income status.’ That surely would have ended the debate. Being middle income comes with responsibilities of image in the community.

It also makes a lot of sense, that we have the luxury of trusting our investments like in our beloved coffee to a person who by the President’s admission, was clueless about coffee. The President is quoted to have said, ‘when I met this madam Pinetti, the one you are attacking, she had no idea about coffee. She, however, had a big network.’

This admission, and dismissal of concerns around the Vinci Coffee deal appears to be annoying to some people. The thing is, most of us students of President Museveni, see his consistence in some things. He truly rewards networks, and it is not just for foreign investors.  The problem with some Ugandans is that, they create annoying terms to people of ‘good’ networks like ‘social climbers’. Let us stick to the concept of social capital, associated with the work of Robert Putman, a professor of public policy. The social capital theory suggests that social relationships are resources that can lead to the development and accumulation of human capital. Ofcourse, not as in ‘social climbing’.

Locally, there is abundant evidence of these social networks making miracles happen. The right network, means a lot so that when you see some people now devoted to praising the dress code of government officials, they have only taken the pursuit of social capital a notch higher. They may talk their way into the list of 2023 hero’s day medal winners.

On that note, I truly congratulate Mr Fred Enanga on a well-deserved win for service to the country. What would government’s image do without Mr Enanga, surely? Those who are making light of this win, give us a break. Celebrate with him.

Throughout my research on women in public life, our sisters in civil society, media and academia through various pieces of research have criticised the sisters in politics. ‘All these women do is praise singing, they do one thing, sing praise of the president,’ many told me. ‘Those who talk are punished. That is why the women fear media, they may say something controversial’, they told me. Even then, I felt it was a harsh critic, and tried to put in perspective.

Yet, another Kenyan had pointed out his disappointment with Ugandan female writers. ‘They use Amin as their whipping post, then suddenly turn into praise singers of President Museveni, through all the years.’

To be fair, this praise singing business, a fairly effective tool in the politics of belonging, is no-longer something reserved for women politicians. Whether we name these things patronage, political expediency, social climbing or birthday parties, it is reaching levels we should be concerned about, if people get deals and jobs they are clueless about on the basis of networks.

Is it not a great relief to finally achieve this goal that President Museveni has been pursuing for decades? Now we can move on with our lives and support the Parish Development Model and praise our leaders for various achievements.  It will do us all good, to give up some things in this middle income.

Ms Maractho (PhD) is the director of Africa Policy Centre and senior lecturer at Uganda Christian University.                       [email protected]