In Joseph Heller’s World War II classic Catch 22, a puzzled US fighter pilot asks, “Why do they shoot at me when I go to drop my bombs on them?”
In Uganda’s electoral campaigns that peaks every five years and brings out the worst in the players and their agents.
Such a question would sound quite natural for our politicians who tenaciously cling onto their ‘right’ to abuse and do nasty things to their opponents. In fact, the video circulating of Kenya’s biggest four political leaders tendering their mea culpa for whatever has gone wrong and accepting their role in it leaves many a Ugandan wondering what is wrong with those Kenyans.
But there is a saving grace in every bad situation. In our lethal electoral campaigns, the grace comes packaged in 24-year-old John Katumba, one of the 11 presidential candidates.
Katumba is from a humble, disadvantaged background who has made it through college courtesy of well-wishers who liked his good character and they kept giving him odd jobs. He almost failed to get nominated because he had no tax identification number (TIN) for paying the official nomination fee. You won’t have a TIN if you never made a transaction involving the Revenue Authority like buying titled property or at the very least, acquiring a driving permit.
Anyway, Katumba got nominated seconds to the deadline, having jumped from the rickety jalopy that broke down as his team approached the nomination centre. Panting after the sprint, he was formally declared a candidate in the 2021 presidential election. Then he hit the ground running, literally.
For he did not have a reliable car to drive around the country, though his government-provided security detail had theirs. He would ride on buses, get carried on bicycles or walked. Soon enough, he started getting offers of vehicles and fuel, so more regions of the country got to see Katumba in action.
Soon he evolved his campaign slogan: “Katumba Oyee!”
But if everyone was amused, the keepers of law weren’t.
As candidate Katumba rapidly became the darling of the public, many were moved to near tears when police blocked his attempt to stop in Jinja town for lunch.
In the now easily recognised voice, Mr presidential-to-be cried out to the cops that he was hungry and just wanted to get a bite in Jinja. But the officers were aware that the young man was already a crowd puller. So they firmly shooed him back to the highway as he cried out in hunger.
His first setback with the public came when a bevy of fleshy damsels in Western Uganda cornered him to take selfies. Young Katumba started enjoying it until the selfies hit social media. Then a wag posted that they had all along thought Katumba was looking for votes around the country; but now they knew what he was looking for! Katumba spent two days strenuously explaining away the selfies, saying he can’t refuse to pose with his voters.
Then came the physical setback he met in the western town of Fort Portal. In a scuffle with security, an officer ruthlessly smashed his manhood, or boyhood in this case. That one got the public worried, being used to seeing real men like Kizza Besigye and Robert Kyagulanyi who have already procreated being brutalised. But why would one smash little Katumba’s boyhood? The outpouring of sympathies almost choked the social media platforms. A wag reminded Katumba that as a public figure, nothing of his is private anymore.
But because the campaigns bring out the worst in everybody, they have also exposed Katumba’s poor understanding of economic development. His most consistent message is a desire to make boda bodas readily available for every young man who wants one. Everywhere he goes, he promises to slash the price of a motorbike by half, and then use public funds to give soft loans to whoever wants to buy one.
Maybe poor Katumba is dreaming of owning his own bike, and hasn’t noticed the approaching world of minimal ownership of private transport.
It is said that babies being born now in the developed countries may never learn to drive, as there may be no vehicles to own. The driverless car is soon coming and will transport whoever calls in from their mobile to where they want to go. And for general commuting, mass transportation is inevitably poised to take over.
Katumba’s cherished boda boda was a stop gap necessary evil in a country that had poor public transport and horrible or no roads. But not for much longer, as paved roads are being built all over the place.
But young people are malleable and when or if Katumba wins the elections on January 14 there is room and time enough for him to get schooled to overcome his worst handicap – reading economic trends. By the way his degree is in logistics!
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:[email protected]