“I am here sitting in this office as deputy speaker; it has stopped making sense to me. All I feel is absolute frustration,” said Jacob Oulanyah, speaking to NTV about the nodding syndrome.
Then he added this clincher: “A government that does not care about its young people does not deserve its future.”
Well-spoken and to the point! But there is a small problem, actually a big one, to which I return below.
Nodding syndrome is a rather mysterious condition that disables and cripples children. It has killed hundreds in northern Uganda in recent years, first reported close to ten years ago.
Although it has been around for over a decade, it was only last year that scientists came to the tentative conclusion that the syndrome is likely caused by a parasitic worm. So, why is Oulanyah so frustrated that his big office as deputy speaker no longer makes sense?
Well, the people he represents in parliament are directly affected and he has to face up to the problem of a deadly health emergency that is not treated as such by the government he serves.
The situation of children battered by nodding syndrome is heartbreaking. It’s deeply disturbing yet highly neglected by the government. One may understandably ask if the negligence is because it’s northern Uganda in the picture.
Second, Oulanyah realizes and is outraged that he presides over passing supplementary budgets for all sorts of things but none for the devastating situation in his backyard.
He references paying foreign electricity-generating companies, never mind Uganda is reportedly producing more power than we consume.
Mr Oulanyah seems to be a compassionate and well-meaning person. On a good day, he speaks his mind and sticks to his conscience. Problem is, there is bound to be a clash of his conscience with the remit handed to him in his job.
If he was honest enough, he would have stated, for example, that the real culprit in budgetary malfeasance is State House where one individual moves with a costly motorcade complete with a mobile toilet.
The job of deputy speaker was handed to Oulanyah by the real holders of power to perform their wishes. It all started in 2005 when heretofore he was a renowned and outspoken member of the opposition party, Uganda People’s Congress (UPC).
He was drafted into the scheme of entrenching the life presidency as chairman of the legal and parliamentary affairs committee that produced a report paving way for deleting presidential term limits from the constitution.
With that, Oulanyah had embarked on the treacherous path of being coopted into the system in which those who recruited him were always going to see him as a hatchet man.
In 2005, three key ‘outsiders’ were put to use in the life-presidency scheme: Oulanyah, the then vice president Gilbert Bukenya and speaker Edward Ssekandi.
In more recent years, Oulanyah has found out that those who hired him look up to him to do the dirty work, often with the connivance of current speaker Rebecca Kadaga.
With all his genuine feeling of disappointment about the appalling condition of children in Omoro county and other areas of northern Uganda, Oulanyah has to confront one sad fact: he is part of the pack that has betrayed the country by actively perpetuating one-man rule.
The supplementary budgetary requests from the ministry of Finance are prioritized by individuals who have vested interests and are well-positioned to either cash in directly or protect their positions.
Prioritizing nodding syndrome is not in their orbit because they do not make financial and budgetary decisions on the basis of national rationalization.
Decisions about what to fund and not fund largely depend on what set of actors will be in charge of managing the disbursed funds and the extent to which funding or not funding a particular need directly affects the rulers.
This is the sad reality we face; and Ndugu Oulanyah knows this all too well. He was put in that position to do a job as required, and not to complain about what is not being done right.
The children in Omoro are dying or getting crippled by a ruthless condition because the rulers have distorted the national priorities.
In fact, one can assert that the country moved from national to personal priorities, centering largely on the interests of a cabal that is bent on personalizing the state and pursuing decidedly personal agendas of material accumulation and clinging to power for life.
Mr Oulanyah appears to be a person predisposed to deep introspection and honest self-reflection. He may have to fall on his knees some day and concede his direct complicit in the decay and dysfunction eating away Uganda.
It is not just the nodding syndrome shame Oulanyah stares at even as he wallows in the big office of deputy speaker; it is the long litany of abuses, infractions, and betrayals that the Museveni regime has visited on the country. It is a regime of fraud!
The author is an assistant professor of political science at North Carolina State University.