Uganda Is Filled With Misplaced Priorities [opinion]

Friday August 1, 2014, was an interesting day for Uganda’s image on the world stage.

At some point during the day, social media and the press across the globe erupted when it was announced that the Constitutional court in Uganda had annulled the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act. Later that day, Ugandan long- distance runner Moses Kipsiro won gold in the 10,000-metre competition at the Commonwealth games.

News about the Lamu Port-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor project was also released. While this project would have an impact upon the lives of Ugandans, its significance was either underestimated or simply overshadowed.

On July 31, 2014, President Museveni had met with leaders from Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia to continue discussions on the development of Lapsset. Following the meeting, Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta released a statement which read: “The seven project components of the project require an estimated budget of $24.5 billion.”

Part of the Lapsset project involves the reconstruction of the port of Lamu. The Kenyans have already announced that their ports authority signed a $480 million deal with state-run China Communication Construction Company for the building of the first three berths of the port. The same company is also the main contractor for the building of the $3.8 billion [Kenyan component of a] railway line connecting Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.

As mentioned above, Uganda, too, is seeking investors for this high-cost venture, particularly in the area of oil, gas and natural resources. And one is likely to be surprised if the majority of these projects are not given to Chinese firms. In the 24 hours after these three events made news, it was interesting to see which of them was dominating both Ugandan and global spheres of discussion.

Internationally, the nullification of the anti-homosexuality law was continuing to create waves. Newspapers worldwide were reporting on it. There seemed to be an air of victory, as people all over the world, many of whom would not even point Uganda out on a map, were championing a victory for human rights.

Meanwhile, Ugandans, both in the country and the diaspora, seemed to remain in a celebratory mood over Kipsiro’s victory. And it continued to be a major topic of discussion on Facebook, Twitter and the like. But it was not long before anger over the court verdict on the anti-homosexuality law, once again, became the debate of the day.

Many were asking such questions as: ‘Did the government bow to international pressure?’ ‘Has Uganda been feeling the pinch since the withdrawal of some foreign aid?’ Many campaign groups were ecstatic. The importance of any given issue to an individual or a community is, of course, a personal one. For many in this country, the banning of homosexuality, ‘illegally’, illustrated Uganda’s commitment to a certain code of ethics and morals.

It also, apparently, formed part of a silent statement to Western powers that this country would not bow to pressure from them. For some Ugandans, the court ruling was a moment of shame, the opportunity to revive anti-Western rhetoric and make clear that although the law may say one thing, certain sectors of this society’s views were not going to change.

As some tweeted, talked and wrote about the disgust they felt at homosexuality no longer being illegal, one wondered why so few people were asking what the real cost of the Lapsset project would be to Uganda. No, not just money, but those costs which are often associated with foreign, particularly Chinese, companies.

There is always harm to the environment, land grabbing, increased competition for local businesses due to foreign presence, lack of transparency, worker exploitation and, of course, murky deals and kickbacks. Where were the questions regarding what the relevant authorities were doing to develop the talents of future Kipsiros?

Why was everyone not focusing on how the talented athlete had got to where he was and how this could be used to inspire younger generations, and how the future of Ugandan athletics looked like?

August 1, 2014 remains a big day for Uganda on the global front. But it was, perhaps, bigger on the domestic front. For some, it was about victory in the sporting arena for others, it was about defeat in court for most, however, it was about lost priorities.


The author is a friend of Uganda.

Source : The Observer


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