What is Uganda’s problem?

Author: Moses Khisa. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • The rulers at the top think they can cure an endemic problem of mass youth employment and the desperate quest for a livelihood by promoting a despicable practice called ‘labour externalisation’

This is a rhetorical question, to be sure, only that President Museveni actually published a whole book with the title, What is Africa’s Problem?

There is no one problem that a country or continent can face at any time. We live in a world of multiplicities of problems, and complex combinations of issues that take on different dimensions from time to time. In the final analysis though, it is worth nailing down what might be the most crucial and consequential problem that once fixed, a country can turn the corner on other problems.

Mr Museveni had an answer to the question what is Uganda’s, indeed Africa’s, problem after he swore-in as president of Uganda in 1986. He so eloquently stated that the problem of Africa and Uganda was leaders who overstay in power!

In recent years, when reminded about this he has edited himself and now says he meant leaders who stay in power for long without the people’s mandate or getting elected. In other words, that what he said in 1986 does not apply to him because, apparently, he is elected by the people every five years!

This is just one of the things that expose Museveni’s deception and duplicity. We need to recall that during the first 10 years of his rule, from 1986 to 1996, Museveni was unelected. He was ruling as a military man. So, he was actually ‘overstaying in power’ without the people’s mandate.

Even when he started subjecting himself to the motions of elections, since at least the 2001 elections, this exercise has become a charade and nothing worth using as a stamp of legitimacy and justification. Museveni’s elections even for a five-year term, let alone over six terms, are no badge of honour. I wonder what Mr Museveni would say is Uganda’s problem today, but he was incredibly prescient in 1986, essentially predicting what he has ended up being: a leader who has long overstayed his welcome and relevance, now demonstrably incapable of tackling the acute problems we face.

Given that our population has more than tripled since 1986, the problems we face today are far more complicated such that a mere fix of ‘good leadership’ is unlikely to make a fundamental difference.  In all sorts of ways, we are a country in a very bad place, socially and economically even if one were to set aside the political side of things and pretend we don’t have an utterly broken political system.

This may all sound hyperbolic to someone with an optimistic predisposition or for folks in love with the current rulers or the legions of direct beneficiaries of the current system of spoils. Yet, to be sure, we keep getting flashes and signals of what has gone wrong and what will likely get worse if we don’t marshal the intellectual bandwidth and collective wisdom to redirect things.  When the average citizen feels a deep sense of hopelessness and is desperate for the next opportunity to flee hoping to find a livelihood in a foreign country, there is either a huge socioeconomic crisis biting hard or a national psychological crisis of confidence or both.

For quite some time now, the media, including Daily Monitor, has run harrowing stories of Ugandans taken to different countries in the Middle East in what has been granted a bizarre euphemism of ‘labour externalisation’. One recent story, deeply painful to read, involved a young woman trafficked to the Jordanian capital, Amman, for a couple thousand dollars and in turn sold for another few thousand dollars.

Not too long ago before this jarring and scourge of a practice called ‘labour externalisation’ came around so brazenly, in official speeches Mr Museveni often castigated African rulers of the precolonial era, blaming them for failing to protect their people against slavery and colonial conquest. It  has been a while since I last heard him harken to that line of attack now that we have blatant enslavement on his watch!

Today, in the 21 Century, Museveni is in charge of a country from where young women are literally sold into slavery through companies and agencies legally licenced by Museveni’s own government. Where is our pride as a people, as a race?

So, if I were to attempt answering what is Uganda’s problem, I would say it is the poverty of imagination. The rulers at the top think they can cure an endemic problem of mass youth employment and the desperate quest for a livelihood by promoting a despicable practice called ‘labour externalisation’.

For the general public, the absence of outrage is telling, an indictment on our collective national psyche. What is at stake is our dignity and worth as a people, something long stripped away when slavery was a global enterprise.

Here we are now, the same practice shamelessly reinvented and repackaged at the behest of a ruling class that has been quick to embrace simplistic and dehumanising solutions in the face of serious socioeconomic problems.