We must force the emperor to realize that he is naked

Author, Benjamin Rukwengye. PHOTO/FILE. 

What you need to know:

  • The people – elites – currently having these conversations are not necessarily those who are affected by them. They can find opportunities everywhere. 

Many years ago, I was on a Boda-Boda that nearly got hit by a white Harrier with tinted-glasses. We couldn’t tell who was driving but they were in the wrong.

My Boda guy exclaimed, “Naye Abanyankole!” And then went on to mumble and grumble, the whole way, about how Banyankole were taking their liberties with everything and everyone. It was hard to surmise how he had come to the conclusion that the aggressor was a Munyankole and even harder to say, “Not all Banyankole”. I am one, and I was sitting on his bike.

So, I listened, uhmm’d and ahhh’d. Mostly, because I could also see where he was coming from with his tirade. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence to go on. Sometimes, correlation can lead to causation.

Much later, I bumped into a former colleague who had gone on to get appointed as Resident District Commissioner. As we chatted, I asked if he had been moved to Kampala, seeing as he looked like he had been around the city for a while. “No,” he said. “Where are you now?” I asked. “That Musoga woman chased all of us and brought in her people.”

I knew who he was talking about. I knew what he meant. If you look around most of the key government institutions where the principal has power to hire and fire, you get the picture. Even where they don’t have that mandate, they will figure out ways to circumvent the process. When they leave, the next guy does the same thing. A very literal “It’s our turn to eat.”

This column has previously written about the issue of tribalism or however those with more nuanced understanding want to define the idea. So, perhaps, it is best to circumvent it, even if a lot of people on Elon Musk’s platform have been going on about it.

Yet, it is not a subject we can pussyfoot around. It concerns access to resources and opportunities, in a place where they are in terribly short supply. Which also portends conflict, if it isn’t dealt with or if we spend more time overanalyzing. Both of which we are currently over-embroiled in.

So if you think about it, this is a subject that is not done yet. In fact, it is only just starting and the only thing we can hope for is that it doesn’t take a turn for the worse. What’s worse you ask? The one where it becomes physical. When these conversations leave our phones and homes and get onto the streets. When people stop mumbling and start shouting. That is when. And if we don’t act now, there’s no telling how much longer we have before then.

What is sadder for Uganda is that this conversation is on a loop. Whichever period you pick from our history, you will find a version of this conversation and these tensions. Which is also a contradiction of who we really are — a melting pot of cultures and diversities and identities. The things that make us unique but similar too.

Not sure whether it should be any comfort to say but it is also, in part, the same conversation on nationalism and chauvinism that we see in South Africa, where Xenophobia occasionally rears its ugly head. Europe and the United States. Theirs is not tribal but the context and premise is a contention over access to opportunities and resources.

In a situation where laws are merely suggestions and morals have been thrown out of the window, the saving grace can only be found in innovation. There is enough for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed. Which is why, even those who are eating today need to open the economy up a little more so that those who feel marginalised can participate and create.

The people – elites – currently having these conversations are not necessarily those who are affected by them. They can find opportunities everywhere. So picking on them or denying what they are talking about is silly and lazy. They don’t have a lot to gain, personally, from it. Conversely, it could even be argued that they are looking out for those who perpetuate nepotism, cronyism and tribalism.

The ones who are currently bent on denying its existence, even if they have the data to prove that something isn’t right. It is important that we don’t stop mumbling and grumbling because things can and could get worse.

Benjamin Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds. @Rukwengye