Why Ugandans don’t trust government programmes

In our case, the polite and patient enumerator arrived on Thursday morning when everyone was either out or on the way out. He was courteously asked to return on Saturday morning, which he did and in less than 20 minutes the whole census exercise was done –at our convenience.

I recall my first census in 1980. Then as a little boy, our eldest brother Norman David Sengoba was an enumerator. I followed Norman to a few homes and saw him do his thing.

Let me add that Norman, nearing the end of his teens, smoked once or twice on the way – something that was forbidden at home. But because he had helped me unravel this census mystery, I did not report him!

In all the places we visited, there was always a glass of juice and biscuits for the enumerator. The families gathered quietly and reverentially, some in their ‘Sunday best’ and responded to the exercise like their lives depended solely on it.

That was a Uganda that had just seen the back of a destructive war against Idi Amin and the end of the so-called ‘reign of terror’. Ugandans yearned for anything that would help them move on with their lives. The census was then and as is done now, marketed as the tool to help the government plan for the people. There was a quest for hope.

What is shocking today more than three decades later with more people having been through school, a relatively peaceful environment, etc., is that there are many people, including the ‘sophisticated’ type in the urban areas, who claim they were not counted.

The tale of the uncounted Ugandans is just a part of the issue of apathy and government fatigue that has developed over the last 28 years of the reign of NRM.

Many people in Uganda view government in a negative sense in about three ways.

First, that government is a cabal of thieves. Like-minded people have gathered to steal from the taxpayer using the privilege of political and military power. The stories of corruption which goes unpunished with impunity are simply too many.

Second, there are many who see government as an abuser of rights. The police will be very alive and present when quelling a demonstration, during evictions, beating people. They will have adequate stocks of tear gas and anti-riot gear but fall short on ambulances and fire tenders which rescue lives and property of citizens.

There is very little help for people pursuing justice in the courts of law, especially when battling government institutions or agents with connections to the rulers of the day.
Third, the government is viewed as a negligent entity that does not care about its citizens.

The hospitals are run down while the rulers and fat cats take their wives and children for medical treatment abroad at the expense of taxpayers. The same story applies to the schools, roads, etc.

Because what we know as government is associated with negative things, when there is a proposal by the government to do something beneficial for the people, it is viewed with cynicism and suspicion.
The question in the minds of the people is why are they good to us this time? Where is the catch? Is this not a scheme to rob us even further? If it is immunisation, haven’t they taken money from foreigners to use our children as guinea pigs? Have they used taxpayers’ money to buy mosquito nets from one of their own, which they are now distributing freely? Are they counting us to enable them use the numbers and the population spread in their scheme to rig the next election or to tax us more so that they have more money to steal?

This mindset is what stops many people from taking an initiative to ensure that they are counted. People think this government can no longer plan for them -whether they are counted or not. They think the people in high places can only plan for themselves by crudely taking from the citizen, so they do not bother to be counted or to respond positively to government programmes. It is a pity!

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. nicholassengoba@yahoo.com

SOURCE: Daily Monitor


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