2017 was a raw deal, now citizens must wake up

When a year comes to an end, we tend to remember the last moments more.

Many highs, many lows; but for Uganda, the dying moments of 2017 could easily qualify as dampening. I will tell you why I think so in a moment; but first, let’s toast to the opportunities well seized as well as the challenges encountered.  

Challenges are our best friends; they teach us lessons to be better people. As we toast to a New Year, let’s celebrate life, let’s commiserate with those who lost their dear ones.

At a more professional level, it is just right and fitting that we empathize with our media friends whose resolve to keep Ugandans informed could have either landed them in jail or left them physically and emotionally bruised. 

Let’s salute the men and women in leadership positions who stood with Uganda amidst the murky political torrents. Let’s also remember to toast to the men and women in uniform, especially those who did their work dedicatedly with professionalism amidst career pressures and persuasions.

Back to my pet subject, for most of the civic groups working on governance issues, 2017 has been yet another tough year.  The year ending will be remembered as that of the “broken promise”.

Advocacy civil society groups continued to bear the brunt of a skeptical regime. Besides implementing their programmes in a highly suspicious atmosphere, civic outfits had to contend with vilification, office break-ins, technological intrusions, unclear security incidents, alongside navigating the unchartered waters of a new regulatory framework for NGOs.  

Expository works by researchers, academics, philanthropists and media that were deemed thorny towards government occasionally attracted the unkind eye of the state. There were limitations imposed on books viewed as critical to government.  

An assessment of both 2016 (which was an election year) and 2017 clearly reveals that a lot of energies have been expended on bigoted politicking rather than championing socio-economic development.

The last quarter of the year has seen a lot of attention paid to amending the Constitution to remove the age limits for presidential candidates.

Unfortunately, by giving this amendment primacy over other ‘matters of national importance’, government has only succeeded in one thing; keeping the country on a political agenda, continuing from 2016, which was an election year.

By so doing, government’s moral authority to claim that Ugandans spend a lot of time politicking rather than doing productive work may have been successfully punctured.

Ugandans are not the kind of people interested in spending too much time politicking; Ugandans want a corrupt-free society, they want good-quality education, they need accessible health care; Ugandans want jobs for their children, they want political stability; Ugandans want to feel part and parcel of Uganda; Ugandans want safeguards that will guarantee peaceful leadership transition at all levels; and, most importantly, Ugandans want a Uganda that works for each of them.  

The final bend to 2018 harbored clear testaments that the bridge between citizens and the state has either weakened or is now nonexistent.

As citizens thought they were getting over a litany of broken promises and social contracts, the linchpin between the wananchi and the state did it again; they broke the hearts of many Ugandans when they removed age limitations for presidential candidates, contrary to a majority of citizens’ wishes.

Like the saying goes, “since hunters have learned to shoot without missing, birds will have no choice but learn to fly without perching”; now, citizens have to inevitably learn to present their views and aspirations without necessarily going through the ‘middle-men/women’ who recently handed them a raw deal.

While 2017 may have explicitly demonstrated that citizens are at the periphery, 2018 offers a new opportunity for wananchi to expand frontiers and ensure they are at the center of their country’s destiny.  

It is high time citizens engaged new gears to sort the challenges that have affected the country in the previous years.  A genuine dialogic approach is worth exploring.  We need to resolve to whine and criticize less, but challenge and act more.

Happy New Year, 2018!

The author is the coordinator, Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU).

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd