2016: Will the NRM dance with Pope Francis or Volkswagen?

Pope Francis has this fleshly fold under his chin, and when he is smiling you are reminded of a dove.

I do not know whether he really believes in God as an independent living entity, or in the Godhead as a symbol of the creative energy of the universe and the human capacity for goodness. But that is between Pope Francis and his God.

In an age when so many sharks and wolves tend to capture the imagination of those looking for divine intervention in their lives, just reminding us of a dove is all right with me.

Volkswagen’s presence in the mass market will perhaps always be associated with the iconic people’s car, the “Beetle”, whose air-cooled rear-mounted engine made a throaty rattle over so many roads around the world.

For those of us who are much older than the Golf, it is impossible to think of the German maker, VW, without the image of the frog-eyed Beetle hovering somewhere in one’s head. Ugandans called the Beetle, “kikere” or, literally, a “frog” instead of an insect, an amphibian.

Now, when the huge Volkswagen scandal broke out this year, I instantly thought of Uganda’s Electoral Commission under its bespectacled chairman, Dr Badru Kiggundu.

The current problem at Volkswagen, of course, is not with the “kikere”, which in its classic shape is no longer in production.

The problem is with more modern VWs, which in their diesel-powered versions are putting out in the environment much higher levels of nitrogen oxide and other pollutants than claimed by the German maker. The USA was the fraud catcher.

Giving false specifications is bad enough, even criminal, but not exactly outlandish. The truly intriguing part of this story is an arrangement of computer trickery.
Thanks to German ingenuity (and sense of humour?), when the car engines are being tested in the regulator’s laboratory, the emission control gadgetry is fully operational, and the pollutants are about as specified and meet stringent US regulations.

But then, apparently, there is a price. In this environmentally friendly mode, the cars do not accelerate or run very fast, and perhaps they also consume more fuel.

Solution? Ah, those Germans! Special sensors and software were installed in the vehicles. When the cars leave the laboratory and hit the road, the electronics automatically switch to “defeat” the clean emission gadgetry!

Naturally, VW customers were not told and were not aware of this hi-tech arrangement. So they got their high performance expectations met on the road, the regulators were fooled in the lab, but the environment and the citizens got exposed to excessive emission poisons.

Some people think that more extensive computerisation of the general election would (necessarily)lean the process, but it struck me that if VW’s technicians were hired with a special brief, they could probably programme our 2016 election computer systems to return a “wise” presidential choice without any telltale signs of patriotic tinkering, which some of the detractors of our NRM leaders tend to maliciously confuse with election rigging.

On his East African trip, Pope Francis softly admonished the African minorities that cling to power. He did not elaborate. Was he alluding to ethnic, tribal or religious minorities? Was he referring to (rich) economic minorities?

Was he talking about democratic minorities who distorted national electoral processes and stole votes to win?

The Pope is a very dignified man and a very fine human being. He talks sparingly and speaks very softly. No spectacular proclamations claiming to be words from God. Usually he only underlines the voice of reason. You can take that voice or leave it.

Uganda’s ruling elite has two options to at least – as an absolute minimum – seek by fair means to secure a genuine majority with the ballot and regain some dignity, or to go down the Volkswagen path of shame led by Dr Kiggundu a journey from the basic people’s frog-eyed Beetle of way back to anti-people modern machines whose ways of cheating are too elaborate for ordinary souls to detect.

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.



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