Uganda enters 2019 seemingly unsure whether to remain an angry dwarf or an admirer of giants.
We spend a colossal amount of time admiring English football clubs and sparing none for our own local league. While English soccer is loved worldwide, in Uganda it runs deeper than religion.
The national league final in Kampala is played to an empty stadium, while every bar is packed by fans watching preliminary English Premier League matches.
But this is the same country where half of us get really angry at news of infrastructural development in the neighbourhood.
In fact, if we went to war with Kenya or Rwanda, all they would need to do is keep sending exaggerated stories of their development and without firing a shot, they would kill us with jealousy-induced blood pressure.
Paradoxically, whenever one admires neighbours’ development efforts, they are told not compare themselves with fellow dwarfs.
So we get stampeded into watching Man City vs Liverpool half a year before their finals.
Try to talk of Kenya and Rwanda’s national health insurance schemes and you are told how small and weak they are.
No wonder big Ugandans prefer to fly to South Africa and Europe for treatment, rather than create a “dwarf” national health scheme.
While Kenya’s big men and women could be more corrupt than Uganda’s, the Kenyan population never tires of demanding accountability.
Avowed Kenyan rivals are pushed into reconciliation by national demand, but dare you suggest such a reconciliation in Kampala and you will be rudely shut up.
Senior appointments in Kenya are made after rigorous open competition with interviews televised live.
In Uganda, appointments are mysterious and where they have to go before parliament’s appointments committee for vetting, proceedings are held in secret.
No wonder even Kenya’s corrupt managers cannot kill giant national corporations like banks and airlines.
If you want to send the blood pressure of the Ugandan elite soaring, mention the exploits of Kenya Airways and RwandAir. They will rush to accuse you of comparing us with fellow dwarfs.
Then come the Tanzanians. Those ones annoy us even more because we are reminded how their soldiers who kicked out our military regime in 1979 had never seen a TV and would even use a machinegun to grab a wristwatch.
But now even their country is flourishing, and Dar es Salaam city has undergone amazing physical transformation.
Their peaceful change of government with clockwork regularity is another source of annoyance. We have even lost count of how many living former presidents they now have.
But we remain defiant and would rather continue admiring incomparable overseas powers than acknowledge neighbours’ efforts.
We even claim the dubious honour of Kampala being the “entertainment city of the region.” This is bound to happen when neighbours turn your house into their playground because you have no restrictions, possibly because you don’t value your space that much.
It is like the Philippines or Thailand claiming to do better than the USA because Americans like to go playing you-know-what in Manila and Bangkok. Uganda needs to define itself soon.
Joachim Buwembo is a political and social commentator based in Kampala. E-mail: [email protected]