A friend asked me two days ago why Ugandans are so passive. Millions of this country’s citizens drift through life in a semi-daze, the body language showing the lethargy.
Barbara Musoke, daughter of the former prime minister Kintu Musoke, noted several months ago on her Facebook wall that every time she returns home from overseas, she notices the sluggishness about Ugandans, the lack of drive and energy in the way they walk and act.
A worker at Entebbe airport noted last week that even Congolese seems to walk with more purpose than Ugandans, despite their country’s many endemic problems.
The reasons are many and complex. We would have to trace this attitude to the structure of Ugandan society, the economy and current politics.
First, how many of us can say honestly that we hold fulfilling jobs, jobs that utilise our educational qualifications and skills?
Exercises through motions
Most of what passes for Ugandan careers and jobs are really exercises in going through the motions, the main incentive being that at the end of the month these meaningless jobs pay the bills some of the bills anyway.
A handful of jobs require some measure of technical, specific skill, such as accounting, Internet and computer technology, air traffic control, parts of the military, police and intelligence and certain aspects of banking, medicine and logistics.
Most of the rest are general duties we call careers. It is difficult to put one’s heart into that kind of job that demands little of one mentally or physically, which is part of the reason a good number of Ugandan workers spend much of the working hours on social media sites.
Two, what is the structure of Ugandan industry and commerce? How many companies among the top 200-largest Uganda-based businesses can we name, that were founded and ran by Ugandans? Very few, is the answer.
The average Ugandan employee and manager is a faceless bureaucrat in a regional or international company, whose board-level decisions are made in South Africa, the Middle East, China or Europe, with the Ugandan left mainly to implement what does down from the top.
Third, how many Ugandans can say they have ever witnessed a free and fair election in their lifetime and by that, feel their vote and view counted? Once again, there are very few.
All general elections, starting with the 1980 election, have been bitterly disputed and not just because Ugandans are sour losers but because there have usually been enough inconsistencies and incidents to raise legitimate questions about the conduct and outcome of the elections.
Weariness with the political process and outcome, resignation at their inability to make their vote count, have also contributed to the passivity among Ugandans.
The last 20 or so years of a media reporting constantly on massive corruption, embezzlement and nepotism scandals have added to this feeling of despondency and resignation.
Someday, somebody should write a full-length paper on this, on how the air of corruption has poisoned the spirit of the younger generation of Ugandans growing up knowing nothing but official corruption as a way of life.
The strange thing is that this same passivity is discernible even among those Ugandans considered successful or financially comfortable. Once again, it comes down to what we do to attain “success”.
For the most part, there is little merit that goes into our success stories. Either it is a case of outright criminal activity or a more subtle white collar crime or omission of the truth.
One evades taxes, underpays employees, or inflates invoices and tender bids. Where one does not engage in the criminal or unlawful, one has to lie very low in order not to come face to face with the government.
One’s political views are kept secret and a dishonest political face is presented to the public.
Since the 1979 war when a war-ravaged Uganda started becoming dependent on donor aid and has remained so ever since, the passive attitude has become more noticeable.
Budgets are drawn up in Uganda and approved by financiers and benefactors in Europe and North America.
Workshops are held in various towns in Uganda more to account for the money received in donations than that there is much conviction in the themes of the workshops and seminars.
Very little initiative arises from within the society to pursue idealistic issues like human rights, women’s equality and the protection of vulnerable children.
These seem more pet interests to the Western world than Africa, where people are more or less resigned to their fate.
Many fortunate enough to win government tenders, contracts, jobs and other favours do not get them on the strength of their merit.
Orders from powerful political players in the government often direct who is to be awarded what contract or scholarship.
When one secures favours or jobs this way, he is affected with the same lethargy as the unemployed.
There was no personal effort put into getting the job. There was no fiercely competitive job interview or tendering process through which one came out successfully.
“Uganda twagivaako”, it the way the political analyst Charles Rwomushana summarised the apathy on Radio Simba on August 22, meaning Ugandans gave up on their country as a concept and a collective entity and now concentrate on trying to eke out a personal existence.
The public spirit has died, there is not much hope in the government as a force for good or concern in its citizens’ lives and so few bother to look up to the government.
All these factors have played their part in creating the palpable lethargy and passivity we see all around us in Uganda.
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