The news has been dominated recently by large fundraising drives. Two stand out: one by Buganda Kingdom led by Katikkiro (prime minister)harles Peter Mayiga, the one for Rosemary Nankabirwa, a former television personality.
These and other similar initiatives show the best and worst of us. At the very best, the outpouring of money and support show that we are still capable of empathy towards those in need, like Rosemary, and those we feel have made us proud, like Olympic marathon gold medallist Stephen Kiprotich.
At the very worst, it shows that we have accepted the fate of disenfranchisement. Rather than demand the much that we don’t have, we choose to give the little that we own, replacing citizen agency with mobile money agency.
I do not know what, if anything, could have saved Rosemary’s life. What I know, however, is that Rosemary was just the beautiful face of an ugly truth: that thousands of Ugandans die every year from diseases that could have been prevented or treated.
Every second person you speak to has a friend or family member who died because there was no blood, no oxygen, no doctor, no ambulance, no bed, no catheter, no gloves, no electricity, no hospital, or just no medicine.
Proud, honest families that pay their taxes and play by the rules forced into the humiliation of public begging to try and save the lives of their children or their parents. Is this the contract of citizenship in Uganda?
Yet government, by its own admission, says it spends about $150 million every year on treating its officials and their cronies, relatives, friends and in-laws abroad. That money is more than enough to build and equip a state-of-the-art hospital with medicines and well-paid doctors and medical staff.
For a long time, I saw this as a problem of those in power and their allocative inefficiencies, either by design or sheer incompetence. Now, slightly older, and better placed to see the world the way it is rather than the way I’d like it to be, I see it as a problem of we, the citizens.
How many of those who contribute to these fundraisers would turn up for a peaceful march or rally to ask the government to spend their taxes on improving schools and hospitals? How many would take a day off work to sit in and occupy the Ministry of Health and refuse to leave until they are told why a new cancer ward remains unused two years later due to a lack of equipment?
The avoidable death of Ugandans every day is a shame. The bigger tragedy is that they die in vain. We learn nothing. We achieve nothing. We cry ourselves to sleep, change our social media profile pictures to the flavour of the month, then wait for the next cause we can join in, from the relative comfort of our smart phones. The leaders are not bad people it is us 34 million Ugandans who are.
If public protests or peaceful demos present high risk and uncertain reward, the Ettofaali initiative offers an example of combining our empathy and philanthropy with citizen agency that offers long-term rewards.
Instead of waiting for the government to come and help, and instead of sporadic fundraising initiatives for individual cases, maybe we should fundraise for wider causes and build our own schools and hospitals.
We might have, in the short-term, the financial space to contribute to such initiatives while also paying taxes to send officials abroad for treatment. Soon, however, we will have to choose between paying tax and building our own schools and hospitals.
Ultimately, no level of fundraising will cover up for the shame of our collective silence over the injustice of sending our young people to early graves while we allow those in power to gorge themselves on our taxes. May the spirits of those who have gone before us return to haunt our national conscience.
Mr Kalinaki is a Ugandan journalist based in Nairobi. firstname.lastname@example.org andTwitter: @Kalinaki
SOURCE: Daily Monitor