What you need to know:
- What has been noticeable is the size of young people gathered in the UAE, taking part in whatever activities and enjoyments might be on offer. They are probably not there on the government’s bill – because even while Uganda is a majority young country, our policymaking isn’t representative of that.
There was quite a stir last week when it was revealed that Uganda’s contingent at #COP28 is a staggering 600 delegates. The nadir where Uganda’s representation is concerned, was only a few months ago, when it was reported that Uganda had sent two high-level delegations to the United Nations General Assembly.
That time, the Vice President and the Prime Minister, both of whom were guilty of ferrying hangers-on to public duty were in the eye of the storm. It is certainly not the first or last time this is happening.
We have seen it in sports, with Parliament, and even with the presidency. The most noticeable trend – perhaps which irks the public – is that there is no return on investment spent on ferrying office bearers’ children, spouses, side pieces, and relatives at the taxpayers’ expense.
It is how they make money from per diems, get to see the world, and take a break from Uganda that they continue to make unbearable for others. There will be tens of senior government officials currently lounging in the UAE, wining, dining, and sightseeing, some with their spouses, others with concubines – doing everything else but representing the interests of Uganda, even if the taxpayer back home is picking the bill.
That is why the story of the #COP28 delegation feels like recycled news because it keeps happening and we have grown so lethargic as to be able to do anything about it. I don’t understand a lot about Climate Change activism and as a matter of principle, generally stay away from conversations about which my ignorance supersedes my knowledge. Unless it is to learn.
And #COP28, which from the looks of it, is the Davos of Climate Change, falls squarely into the centre of things I don’t understand and so, will not comment about. What I have a good grasp of however is planning and lobbying – which is why a contingent of 600, if it will deliver the goods – whatever those might be – should be nothing to make noise about.
And going by the sizes of delegations from other countries – including those considered to be a lot more serious and frugal – we are well within the circle. What has been noticeable is the size of young people gathered in the UAE, taking part in whatever activities and enjoyments might be on offer. They are probably not there on the government’s bill – because even while Uganda is a majority young country, our policymaking isn’t representative of that.
Few things have as much lasting educational impact as travel and exposure have – even if it results from joyriding freeloading, as might be the case for many young people on the trip. For many, this would have been their first opportunity to travel outside of Uganda and experience, firsthand, how high-level negotiations, networking, and nothingness work. It will also have been a great opportunity to experience a world where things – even as simple as water taps – work.
Not to mention a break from the soul-crushing chaos that is navigating Kampala’s roads to arrive late to work or at a meeting from which they won’t make enough to cover their rent. Seeing your country from the outside gives you a different perspective. It makes you angry and optimistic at the same time. It can also make you despondent.
They will certainly come back changed, even a little, from all the exposure. They will have seen what other young people elsewhere can pull off and wonder why not them. They will see how other governments deliver public services with such efficiency and wonder why not theirs. They certainly will want more and realize that the current structure isn’t designed to deliver on their ambitions. What they do with that enlightenment is up to them.
What’s true is we have a government that is divorced from the realities of its people – mainly thanks to the glaring age gap, level of exposure to globalization, and ambition. Your average Ugandan can compete and hold their own against their peers anywhere in the world – but that’s not always reflected in, especially our politicians. Sadly, it is they who get into the boardrooms and sign on the dotted lines.
Would getting more young people in on these delegations shift the needle – especially if their voices and ideas were respected? And of course, it goes without mentioning that they would need to be those who have earned their stripes and not relatives and constituents of the principals, as usually happens.
Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds.