When the incumbent President, who is also the NRM flag bearer, Mr Yoweri Museveni, promised to deliver 18 million hand-hoes to ‘develop agriculture’, people laughed him off. Then he undertook to give Shs2 million per village to brewers of a local drink made out of fermented millet and sorghum called malwa. People commented that he had become desperate for votes.
You see in most villages, malwa is the loafer’s refuge. But it is socially cherished for its ability to bring together people of various backgrounds around a pot where they exchange ideas – and drown their sorrows. The jokes went into overdrive with people forming malwa groups to tap into the President’s money.
The sobering aspect of these propositions is that they are part of a deeper issue that helps to keep autocrats in power while subjugating the masses. So for the President, it is business as usual. He is just jumping into a vicious cycle to help it moving without breaking.
This malwa business is about the power relation that keeps people so poor that they are grateful for the most basic of interventions that come to them as part of ‘fighting poverty’ and transformation, year in year out.
Many studies on poverty have shown that people born into poverty are likely to grow up in poverty and pass on the poverty curse to their offspring.
Poverty, besides leading to physical deprivation of the basic necessities of life, has a great psychological effect on those it affects. They suffer low esteem, have to beg most of the time and these breed uncertainty and insecurity.
The saddest part of it is that autocrats design systems where the majority barely survive. They offer them the very basics to keep them alive but not to prosper and be independent. The money budgeted and intended for their general wellbeing ie (for schools, hospitals, development of agriculture and trade) is often stolen by fat cats allied to the regime.
The corrupt are beholden to the autocrats for their wealth and most times appear on the campaign trail for the autocrats asking the people to vote for ‘continuity’. The people are so badly off that they are willing to take anything that comes their way irrespective of who is giving it to them lest they die.
So the ‘schools’ under trees are an opportunity for the wealthy ruling class to show their ‘generosity’ in exchange for patronage, which patronage they give because they have nothing else to do.
The sinister side of this game is that the money for the malwa brewers will be just enough to keep them going in the short run before illness eats into their savings because the healthcare system does not exist in so many places.
When illness strikes or a need to pay for school uniform, one has to dig into the little that has come from the malwa brewing and then it is back to zero. That is when the politician comes in once again to help the people to ‘fight poverty’.
But the whole joke does not stop there. The moderately well off relative in the city is also at risk. He is the last resort for the bills of the poor people back home. Most of the town rats, besides struggling with school fees, rent, fuel and mortgages, have to shoulder burden of the drugs and school dues of those in the provinces. So most times, they are preoccupied with survival and do not want to take any risks lest their lives fall apart.
That is why many of the so-called middle class claim to be ‘apolitical’ or make every effort to ally with the rulers of the day. They know that losing a job, contract, etc., can lead to poverty and a collapse of one’s life, including that of the extended family. That is how the autocrat controls both the village rat and the town rat.
So laugh at the malwa group strategy with caution, the one proposing might have the last laugh. The villagers view the hoe and the malwa loan as a Godsend. They don’t ask themselves why they cannot buy themselves a cheap hand-hoe after 30 years of peace, stability and prosperity. It is the secret of the ruler.
Nicholas Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. firstname.lastname@example.org
SOURCE: DAILY MONITOR