This may be a bit long. TL;DR – Vote Dr. Kizza Besigye
10 years ago, I had my first encounter with the Police as a citizen seeking their services. A washing bay worker had helped himself to my spare tyre and car tools and had duly delivered them to Kisekka Market to have them sold off. Luckily enough, a colleague of mine who passed by the washing bay shortly thereafter spotted a wheel spanner lying on the rear bumper. This led him to take a quick look under the bumper (the car in question was a company issued Ford Ranger pickup truck – the spare tyre is stored at the back under the bed for such). Upon noticing the missing part and realizing it wasn’t anywhere nearby, he called both me and one of our then security personnel. The washing bay was about 200 metres from my workplace and so we got to the scene within a few minutes. It didn’t take long before the culprit was outed by his colleagues and was confessing in a rather hysterical manner (read bleating). He offered to take us to his Kisekka accomplices to recover the items. Unfortunately, our security guy had different ideas. He called for transport and we took the thief to CPS (Central Police Station).
What ensued left a bitter taste in my mouth. The simple process of recording a statement was so sluggish that I spent 3 hours at the station. And when I left, I still had no spare tyre. The police didn’t have the slightest interest in recovering it despite the fact that they (or we) could have done that easily. The culprit was thrown into a cell and I was assured all would be well. That was the last time I heard from them. The company later filed a claim with the insurers and I eventually got a replacement tyre after a couple of weeks (but no tools).
Approximately one week later, as I was driving past the washing bay, I was shocked to see the thief busy at work washing someone’s car. I actually slowed down to make sure I wasn’t dreaming (no, I wasn’t).
In early 2006, I was 25 years old. I had landed my dream job and I was about to wed the lady of my dreams. Basically, life was good. My personal life couldn’t have been better. However, certain things about my beloved country had already started bothering me. I had registered to vote in 2001 and I had recently discovered my name was no longer on the register. I was puzzled at the time since I thought only the deceased are deleted from the electoral roll. Still, a guy who’s just about to wed doesn’t really care about such mundane things as the right to vote. Then this encounter with the police happened later in the year and I started thinking more and more critically about this country, its public service bodies and governance issues.
10 years later, I have sadly come to the conclusion that the majority of these bodies are highly dysfunctional and as a country we are in deep trouble. Consider my experience with police as narrated above. Since then, I have had the misfortune of requiring police services on another 2 occasions. Once in 2011 when a washing bay worker (what is it with me and these guys?) who was showing off in a customer’s car – a Toyota Harrier – got flagged down by a mobile police unit and refused to stop. The ensuing chase along the Bweyogerere – Naalya section of the Northern Bypass ended when the guy slammed into us as we were, blissfully unaware, going round the Naalya roundabout on our way to attend a niece’s christening. As luck would have it, my whole family – wife and single kid then – were in the car. The resulting impact shoved us over roundabout kerbs and we came to a stop in the middle of the roundabout. Did I mention the guy was being chased by a 999 Police Patrol truck? Thank God we all survived with nary a scratch. But the culprit somehow jumped out of the Harrier and vanished. Guess what? It took me 4 weeks to get the police paper work for an insurance claim completed. Why? Because it was simply impossible to get certain forms or get certain officers. It was hard to swallow when I had to give a police lady attached to Kireka Police Post UGX. 2000 to get a poorly written letter printed (from a private stationary shop). However, the biggest insult was when we went to pick the damaged vehicle from Kira Police Station. Much as the insurance company had decided to write it off, it was still pretty repairable and so I had to deliver it to their premises for eventual auctioning off. When we got to the station, imagine our shock to discover the car had been vandalized. Completely. The interior had basically been pulled apart! Meanwhile, the guy who had almost erased my family from the face of the earth got away scot-free. His employer offered to take us to his residence and gave us contacts (at the scene of the accident) but the police were not in the least interested. To this day, I wonder what would happen if I met him…
The other time was in mid 2012 and I suffered the theft of a pretty dear laptop. A MacBook Pro for those that understand these things and wish to commiserate with me :-). The less said about my experience when I reported the theft, the better.
Dear reader – if you’ve ever had to visit the Police – tell me the truth in the comments below: what was your experience like? To those that have never, tell me: If something happened to you today for which you needed Police, what level of confidence do you have that they would actually eventually give you a satisfactory solution?
Some of you may already be wondering where my choice of candidate for President comes in all this. I beg you please to stay with me. You see, Police is not the only government body that is this dysfunctional. Nearly all of them are. How can it be that we have medical interns going without any compensation and we then expect them to treat the nation later? How can it be that I can’t get a passport within a reasonable timeframe? How can it be that an ID project has to be rebooted several times before we the citizens actually get the things? Note that even as we speak, quite a number of people haven’t received theirs. How can people be erased from voter registers without explanation? How can we be proud of the free education system we have that produces such half-baked products? How can we have such lousy healthcare facilities (forget Abim – many facilities are in the same state)? How can we be comfortable with a system that spends millions of dollars on healthcare in foreign facilities for party faithful? How can we be proudly talking about laying 1000km of new tarmac over 5 years despite the sector swallowing up enough cash to have done far, far more? How can we ever hope to make progress in terms of industrialization if stable electricity is still a dream today? How can a 3km stretch of single carriageway tarmac be so significant that the President has to launch it? Talking of roads, how can we simply nod as we see the Northern Bypass belatedly getting its missing dual carriageway segments years after they should have been done and as a result paying a lot more to get the work done. How can we look on as new neighborhoods further and further away from urban centres spring up and not a single local government authority cares to do some actual planning and regulations enforcement? And how can we be so quick to forget the fiscal indiscipline and reckless NRM spending in 2011 that led to double digit inflation and double digit increases in interest rates for those of us that were servicing loans then?
Now, I for one do not believe that this is the best we can be. No way! We can do so much better than this. So what exactly is the problem?
To understand the problem, we need to be brutally honest. The reason why so many things don’t work in this country especially in the public sector is simple: Lethargy and disengagement (I don’t care attitude) have set in and the longevity of the regime has allowed them to fester unchallenged to the point where we need an almighty shakeup to basically ‘reset the system’. And guess where this all starts and where the buck rightfully should stop? Yes – the President’s desk.
Many people will dismiss this as a simplistic view. But the truth is that in life, there are so many things that appear hugely complicated but are actually far simpler. Consider that police detective that doesn’t care about actually doing a thorough investigation into the robbery you suffered last night. Consider that government teacher that shows up for less than half his or her classes. Consider the Health Center IV medical personnel that pocket & sell for private profit a lot of the drugs that are supposed to be issued free of charge. Consider the consultant in the roads authority that approves inflated budgets. Consider the MP that shows up in Parliament to sign the register and then leaves for the day. Consider the many VIPs that use the oncoming traffic lane to quickly get to their destinations while you the citizen that pays for their convoys wallows in unnecessary traffic jam. Consider the Ministry of Internal Affairs staff that neglect to plan and order passport booklets in good time thus frustrating hundreds of Ugandans that actually pay for their passports. Consider the government hospital staff that can’t be bothered to change bulbs or even clear water bills on time. Why do you think they all do this? The answer is simple – because they can. Because they can and they know they’ll never be brought to book. They have no performance reviews, they basically answer to no one and they know it. And this is the culture of our present day government. If you truly want to know the scale of the impunity and lawlessness I’m talking about, simply go to the Auditor General’s website and download all the reports you can. Read them and ask yourself how many of the very many issues the office has raised have ever been looked at and the perpetrators punished accordingly. We’re talking about a country where a bar tender can be brutally beaten to death and those charged with the responsibility to serve justice even to the downtrodden simply pretend it didn’t happen. Afterall, one of them is a murder suspect and only yesterday, he was busy on duty arresting a Presidential Candidate for campaigning on the second last day of the campaign period.
Folks, we need a change at the top. A change in this case would only be good. We need to start undoing the damage that’s happening to this country as soon as possible. Another 5 years of the same means more rot setting in and more effort will be required to undo it. I have had the privilege of working in a relatively large enterprise and I know firsthand how the guy at the top influences the culture of the workplace right to the grassroots. We need established cabals and networks that enjoy undeserved privilege to be dismantled. We need to start seeing accountability for our taxes. We need someone to stand up and tell everyone that it is no longer lousy business as usual. We need fresh thinking at Presidential and Cabinet levels. We need all those indolent tax-payer funded bodies and civil servants to know that their way of working won’t be tolerated any more. We need this yesterday!
For this reason, I will be voting Dr. Kizza Besigye tomorrow. To me, he represents the best opportunity to kick start the ‘stalled revolution’. I know everyone has his or her own opinion of him. That is fine. What matters to me though is what I think of him. And I truly believe that he, more than Hon. Amama Mbabazi, is what Uganda needs right now. He is a principled man that was not afraid to stand up to the establishment and speak truth to power. Many that ridiculed him in 1999 have since come to see that he was profoundly foresighted back then. Many more will come to see that too in the fullness of time.
Of course, the good Doctor is not a miracle worker though one might think so upon hearing the stories of his feats in the bush war treating some of the people that later condoned the attempt to blind him with pepper spray. If he wins the election tomorrow, the huge number of unskilled young men and women won’t magically become skilled doctors, artisans or commercial farmers. No. I’m afraid that the structural problems that we face will take a lot longer to resolve. We’re in such a deep pit that it will take a while to pull us out. However, I believe that with him, we’ll get on the recovery path much faster. I believe we’ll sooner get to the point where, instead of using the right hand lanes, the Speaker of Parliament and senior Cabinet members will question the wisdom of having a roundabout at Oasis Mall. And do something about it. I believe we’ll have someone under whom government bodies will stand up to those people that have filled wetlands with concrete. I believe we’ll have a more accessible President that listens to his people and actually demands a high level of performance from his team that then cascade the same attitude downwards. And so on. And I know for sure that those people that sneer at us today when we demand proper services from them and casually but infuriatingly waste the country’s resources would listen to him.
But the best thing about a KB presidency is that it wouldn’t have such deep-rooted tentacles in all the institutions of coercive authority in the country. As a result, the only way they’d win a re-election would be by performing. And delivering. Otherwise, it would be far easier to dislodge them even after a single term. And that’s where we need to be. A country where the government knows it has to deliver to stay in power. Not one that stays in power simply because they were highly competent in guerrilla warfare and insist on sticking around regardless of performance simply because they consider perpetual power a just reward for their bush exploits.
So – if you’re not yet decided – join me. Vote Dr. Kizza Besigye. Tomorrow the 18th of February 2016.