Outside the occasional successes on the soccer field by the national soccer team, the Uganda Cranes, and the equally occasional successes by the country’s generally neglected and mostly struggling athletes, Ugandans rarely engage in mass celebrations of anything.
Much of this has to do with the largely poisoned political environment.
The toxicity is born of a zero-sum approach to competition for office that sees winners take everything and losers get nothing.
Augmenting the toxicity is the widespread tendency to associate electoral success with cheating. An inevitable product of this is the reluctance by the losers to celebrate any achievement by the other side and a keenness to denounce whatever they try to do.
It is taken for granted that this is what any self-respecting “opposition” ought to do in a democracy. It is what marks out a “strong” opposition from a weak or non-existent one, and what makes them popular and electable.
But in recent times, something rather than a successful soccer match or marathon has sent Ugandans into spasms of collective self-congratulation regardless of political inclination or affiliation.
The good news came by way of the launching of a road leading into a section of Kampala suburbs. Kira Road used to be one of the city’s narrowest and most potholed thoroughfares.
At peak hour, it would get so clogged with traffic that a short journey of only a few kilometres could take anything up to two hours or more.
And then Kampala city acquired new leadership that saw sorting out the city’s crumbling transport infrastructure as a key priority. The result has been smoother roads, remodelled road junctions and in some cases, street lights where before there was pitch darkness at night. Kira Road is one of the latest roads to be repaired and widened. And now not only does it have traffic lights, it is also lit.
As soon as the lights started working, photos of what it looks like at night flooded social media. Some Kampalans have gone as far as proclaiming that soon enough, “Kampala will be like Kigali.”
I don’t know about that. What I know, however, is that finally the people responsible for the day-to-day running of the city spend time trying to do what they were hired to do.
Their predecessors, it is now clear, simply didn’t.
They were hardly alone in not doing what they were supposed to do. Indeed, so common is the phenomenon of people not doing what they are supposed to do or doing what they are not supposed to do that it has become “normalised.” The consequences can be as comical as they can be tragic.
Of late, nothing has provided better insights into the comical side than President Yoweri Museveni’s involvement in activities that, as president, he ought to leave to the people his government has hired to carry out.
A few weeks ago, he was all over the media, fetching water from a village well on a bicycle in a jerrican and using it to water plants on a “presidential model farm” somewhere in rural Uganda.
Driving him to do it was the desire to show peasants whose capacity for producing food and other products for their own consumption and for sale depends on rainfall, that irrigation was the answer to their troubles.
As one would expect, Ugandans had a field day lampooning him not only for doing what agricultural extension workers ought to do but for the most part do not, and for not modernising the agricultural sector and shifting it from subsistence production.
Museveni, however, is not one to be diverted from things he believes in. A few days ago he was at again, only this time he was in another part of the country where he has another “presidential model farm,” doing exactly the same thing: showing peasants how to practise irrigation using rudimentary technology, leaving many in stitches.
Perhaps the best illustration of late, of the tragic consequences of people taking on responsibilities that do not belong to them is the case of a young government minister who at the time of writing was rumoured to have been relieved of his duties.
His woes started with a touching desire on his part to help a young lady who was alleging sexual harassment by her employer. Rather than leave the matter to the police, the chap swung into action and embarked on conducting his own parallel investigation.
Whatever he established remains hidden from the public. And in a strange twist to the story, he ended up contacting the alleged culprit and urging him to go talk to him.
A much-publicised voice recording has the honourable minister pleading with the accused to come and meet him.
In return, he promises, he will stop the police investigation and also clear the accused’s name. The accused refuses to go. The minister, his voice betraying a certain regret, gives up.
That was before news broke that the same minister had been arrested trying to receive a bribe from the same accused who earlier on had refused to go and meet him.
There are many theories flying around as to what actually happened. In the meantime, the minister has been arraigned before court and may, if convicted, spend years in jail. All for trying to do someone else’s job.
Frederick Golooba-Mutebi is a Kampala- and Kigali-based researcher and writer on politics and public affairs. E-mail: [email protected]