In the ‘cacophony’ of events that are pock marking Uganda’s political scene, one is left with one enduring question, how does one make sense of today’s Uganda? Every day we wake up to a dose of one more shocking piece of news. Like a person in a drunken stupor, we seem to be treating our hangovers with more intoxicators. What, with all these scandals, in Office of the Prime Minister, Ministry of Public Service, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, Roads, Local Governments and several other institutions. While reflecting with colleagues on what seems to be the three big things that characterize the current state of play of life in Uganda today we came up with the following issues that characterize Uganda in 2012.
First is the collapse and run down public services. This is a big thing because for a citizen that pays tax and votes leaders into power – they are getting a raw deal. This is not just an NRM regime phenomenon, but it is one that comes from years of deceptive government investments. The colonialist worried more about investing for extraction and not for development, the post colonial government spent all the time fighting to maintain their grip on power and not caring about the citizen. Today what we reap is a total collapse of public services that even the post-1986 government has failed to fix. Children continue to go to school and learn nothing, mothers continue to die on hospital floors and poor roads continue to claim the lives of numerous Ugandans.
The second big thing is the worrying reality that all Ugandans - from the President to the Peasant are living on the edge and characterized by different kinds of vulnerabilities. The President does not want term limits because there is no security outside presidency, the peasant desperately ekes a life out of a rugged rural life because that is the only way to live. They dig with a hoe hoping against hope the one day and maybe one day it will change their lives. They accept everything that the next politician around the corner can offer because ‘that is indeed where like it has reached’. A 500 shilling coin is enough to buy a vote, a glass of waragi on election night is enough to drown the sorrows of a man and guarantee an empty life every five years. While we the middle class look on. We see both sides of the road – we look at the comfortable political and new-age electronic thief in government on one side and the desperate urban youth riding a boda-boda like there is no tomorrow and the desperate citizen rural folk who look on mesmerized by the elite gluttony and incomprehensible contradiction that surround our lives. The middleclass continues to ‘live on the edge’ in prayer (for the demon chasing Christian), the half-hearted opposition politicians that will pull a few camera friendly stunts, as savvy NGO workers will continue to see a project in every crisis and construct our small worlds filled with Facebook, Twitter, DSTV and enjoying short spurts of modernity facilitated by donors funds. This is a big thing.
The third big thing is the paradox of a very present government and very absent government. On the one hand we are over governed from LC1 – LC5, Presidential Advisors, an army of Ministers and several other visible troops ‘serving’ the state. On the other hand if you are looking for a supportive government it is not there. Avoidable diseases are killing people – death from Malaria, Maternal Mortaility, Infant Mortality, Marburg Disease, Ebola let alone the rise of HIV - are all things to worry about. In fact, whenever there is a fire the fire-brigade is never on time, we gave up drinking water from taps long ago, in the education sector parents (even the poor) vote with their feet and try to desperately find alternative quality education in private schools. Yet on the other hand if one ‘walked to work’ there is a heavy presence of government, if one protested corruption publically it is not see in good light, police will always find enough number to deploy for hotly contested elections. So while government is very absent in the world of social services, government is very present in the world of political and security services. While in some parts of Uganda you walk 5 kilometers to find a policeman, in Kampala you walk 5 meters to find one. This absence and presence of government is making many wonder, where in the world we are going. Welcome to Uganda at 50 and the three big things!