September 9, 2011
“Hell, there are no rules here — we’re trying to accomplish something.” — Thomas Edison
The ruling NRM, which came to power 26 years ago through the barrel of a gun, are fond of claiming they brought peace and stability to Uganda after taking over a quarter century ago. Whatever the case may be, in 2011, with the economy in shambles, delivery service nearly non-existent, and youth unemployment and inflation among the highest in Africa, it’s no longer true.
Credit instead belongs to everyday Ugandans.
Fresh evidence of their decisive role comes via the country’s current electricity crisis. About two months ago, Ugandans were told their already unreliable power supply would be on one night, off the next – until November! There were some grumbles but no major incident that I know of; we, myself included, just kind of sucked it up, chicken scratching our walls like prison cells in anticipation of next month. But then on Thursday we were told that power outages would start doubling over the weekend…for the foreseeable future! Prepare to be off for 24-hour runs, a manager with the main electricity distributor told me, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. (Rainfall has actually increased, which should mean more generating capacity.)
But all around me Ugandans appear unbothered, the bounce in their step, their sense of humor intact. My loud-American attempts to incite a little outrage from their placid dispositions (which would make me feel, erm, a little less alone and insane) have mustered little more than a gentle, “sorry,” or laid-back trickles of laughter.
To them it’s not a crisis. It’s life.
That frame of mind has helped the country peel itself away from a tumultuous past. But 25 years into Museveni’s rule – 25 years with which he and the NRM have had to improve health, education, infrastructure, and power delivery – that tolerance has been instrumental in why those government responsibilities have so been neglected.
Ugandans are quick to conveniently remind me that they’ve tried everything and nothing can be done.
All around, though, is evidence of what Ugandans could achieve if they stood up to the neglect and misappropriation. Just look north of the Sahara at Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya.
Ugandans who say Uganda’s leadership is more “deaf” or “bullet proof” are trying to abscond from hard work in favor of cowardice and laziness. In fact one can find plenty of proof closer to home for what action can achieve. As one example, last year the country’s top university, Makerere, went without power for three days straight, leaving students unable to study in the evenings. On the third day, a mob of students marched up to university officials to demand service, or else. Electricity was reportedly turned back on a few hours later.
Calm is a virtue, up to a point. After which it is anathema to enlightenment and well-being and strips away the very quality it is intended to preserve – dignity.
It’s time that Ugandans start seriously reflecting on what their prolonged detachment is earning them these days, and realize that whether their country sinks or swims – at a time when leaders are getting away with more and more, in what is essentially a direct challenge to public resolve – is really up to them.