A few years ago, I was visiting a government office when I noticed staff sauntering out en masse.
It was close to lunchtime so I quipped to a friend that perhaps, I should be invited to lunch, so that I can have a chance to eat ‘on’ government money. He laughed and said that they were going for lunch hour prayers to feed the soul and not the stomach.
The sight of government officials trooping out to pray was impressive because if they are dedicating their time to God then we can expect excellent service, right? But it was also puzzling because it got me wondering who steals tax payers’ money in all these corruption scandals we hear about and those that go unreported.
The average Ugandan really does pray – even if you can’t tell when you encounter them on the road or in places where they wield some bits of power. Over the last decade or so, the public sector has become a lot more ‘Christianized’, yet we are also seeing an unprecedented hemorrhaging of public resources through corruption by the same prayerful public officials.
Something doesn’t add up. How is it that the more people are praying, the more they are getting corrupt and greedy? But also, if we are praying like this, why are more of our people sinking into poverty and its related evils?
The answer is as complicated as it is simple but let me share a story that might help you see what is happening.
Apparently, this man in Kamwenge, got arrested in the middle of a deal gone bad.
For Shs 250,000 (about $70) he was just about to sell his daughter, when the transaction was nipped in the bud. I didn’t quite get the man’s story because there was no way to move past the shock of someone wrapping their child in a sack, and heading off to put her up for sell.
What was the buyer’s intention – child sacrifice or organ trade? Also, Shs 250,000! How did they arrive at that figure as the value and price of life?
This story also coincided with media revelations that in some parts of the country, district officials, data entry assistants and even religious leaders, had connived to have themselves registered as waiters, cobblers, vendors or whatever lowly job titles they could conjure, in order to receive the ‘Nabbanja money’.
The peculiar thing about these two stories is that all the players involved are more likely to profess God – publicly for the clergy and politicians – than not.
However, the difference here is that unlike your high-flying government official who steals billions or is implicated in a shady multimillion deal, those implicated in the latter two stories are also the kind you would call ‘bantu ba wansi’ or ordinary folks.
From the looks of it, you could suppose that these two sets of people are praying to different Gods – but I doubt that that is the case. What I think has happened is that a couple of folks in and around government have figured out how to pray but also not wait on God to answer their prayers. So, while the rest are waiting for miracles to come from heaven, a few are creating them here, for themselves.
When those who get away with stealing don’t leave enough for the rescue of those who are sinking into poverty, they inadvertently operationalize the law of the jungle.
So, even the ‘bantu ba wansi’ decided to start helping God answer their prayers as well but for them, there is little to create miracles with. Nabbanja’s Shs 100,000 for some, and for the guy in Kamwenge, performing ‘an Abraham’.
If only these were normal times when the economy is functioning as it always has – but it isn’t. Covid-19 and the lockdowns have battered the economy so much, reducing whatever little there is to steal even for those at the top of the food chain. This can only mean that things will get worse for everyone and there is no way to tell how whoever is selling their child today is going to behave then.
Without enough resources for everyone’s greed, there will certainly be fewer miracles but no doubt more prayers – because that’s what happens when an economy is not working right. I am no prophet but that can’t be a good thing.
Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds. @Rukwengye