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Asking tough questions in sorrow

Uganda is bereaving. Tragedy struck last week on the mighty Lake Victoria, an incredible resource and invaluable treasure turned into a source of sorrow. A boat capsized and claimed a yet to be definitely determined number of Ugandans. Sad. Very sad.

When death that is unnatural strikes, we naturally pose to ponder why and how it may have happened. In this instance there are more questions and fewer answers. There will likely be more finger-pointing and condemnations than deep reflections and concrete solutions for the future.

Such tragedies that cause painful losses have become too numerous as to shock many Ugandans: on roads, on the streets by armed personnel, in health facilities that are supposed to save lives, on the waters, in schools; practically everywhere.

Ugandans are highly religious people. That is all fine. But it is misleading and unacceptable to always evoke the name of God – it was God’s plan, we are told. I seldom agree with General Museveni on anything, but on this I have never agreed enough with him: God does not selectively kill Africans early when elsewhere people live very long and happy lives.

In times of sorrow we have to respect the dead and be sensitive to those who have lost their loved ones. That’s why it is utterly reprehensive that some Ugandans, with no sense of moral judgement and no regard for decorum, post images of the dead on social media platforms like Facebook.

The freedom to post anything and the rush to serve one’s ‘followers’ is eroding any form of social responsibility and etiquette. In the wake of the boat tragedy, I had an interminable exchange with a journalist, one of those who increasingly see themselves as the source of breaking news, about posting pictures of the departed: what do you hope to achieve? What is the rationale? Why?

In this case, bodies are crudely lined-up after retrieval from the waters, someone photographs them and once they reach the ‘breaking news’ journalist there are no qualms and no shame splashing them on Facebook! No sense of decency and total disregard of the emotions of those mourning their loved ones.

When people die in ways they shouldn’t, we step back to ask how this could have been avoided and what needs to be done going forward. We also have to ask who should have made sure everything was right such that in the event it’s an unavoidable accident it is what it is – no one to blame.

Someone has to be held responsible and punished in one way or the other. Unfortunately, the norm and culture of demanding and getting accountability is nearly absent in our public discourse and political culture.

The raison d’tre of a government and the state it presides over is to provide security of person and property, to produce and supply critical public goods and services. Providing security and assuring safety are the core mandate of any government.

The vast bureaucracy and huge public sector enterprise that forms the basis of government machinery are there to set and enforce standards, to determine and implement policies and laws for the wellbeing of the public. That is why civilian government officials and personnel of the armed forces live off the taxpayer – because they serve the public.

When standards are weak or not well-enforced, and when deaths happen because certain measures have not been adhered to, the blame and responsibility has to lie squarely with the government.

This is by no means to suggest that private individuals and members of the public are not to blame or that society as a whole bears no responsibility; in some ways when things go so awry and when there is calamity it may well be down to the misdeeds of specific individuals or because of collective social decay. This is granted.

But the reason there has to be a government to define and enforce standards, and to lay down the rules for everyone is precisely because left to their devices, individuals can engage in actions and activities that may not just hurt them but also harm society at large. And the reason why modern states have to operate with certain legal provisions and requirements is precisely because social decay can consume and endanger the survivability of society as a whole.

So, this is not just taking a cheap jab at the government (which I don’t support anyway); that’s not the issue. Having safety standards for road use, in aviation travel and on waters, in recreational facilities and public spaces is a basic international practice.

If, as has been variously alluded to, the fateful boat did not meet safety standards then government failed on its regulatory role and someone has to take responsibility. This is unlikely to happen though.

We can hope that at a minimum this tragedy compels government agencies to embark on a rigorous process to regulate private business activities and enforce basic standards.

And this has to happen in all sorts of places, not just with water transport. It’s in schools, in bars and restaurants, on the streets and highways, in markets and shops. If, for example, there was a stampede in Nakasero market…


The author is an assistant professor of political science at North Carolina State University.


0 #11 Akot 2018-12-01 19:19
Quoting mungu:

How many did his Tutsi dominated militia send to their early graves in the Luwero triangle? some estimates put it at 300,000.

How many has his occupation forces put to early graves since 1986? Did Kyagulanyi's driver deserve that death recently in Arua?


It's time Ugandans stop Museveni & his people grabbing our country!

Why are Ugandans letting Museveni & his grab their country & where will our people go when these demons will finally have control of Uganda?

Whether it will be Reformed Republic or Independent Tribal States, Ugandans will ALL be at home & non will fight another or grab anothers tribal land, right?

So, why are tribal leaders still in posts helping Museveni own our country formed by tribal lands?
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0 #12 Akot 2018-12-01 19:29
mungu, agreed!

Musevnei has divided, seperated Ugandans from reality & feelings for one another: he can kill those he wants to get rid of while Ugandans watch, as if they are in a cinema hall & all the tragedies watched will end the moment the film is over!

Even tribal leaders are no aware they too, will end up landless finally, especially as they are in a world apart, don't know one another, non helps & won't help another!

If tribal leaders think they are safe because they are quiet just going along, then they are more naive than poor Ugandans - Museveni didn't come for poor Ugandans & not for tribal leaders he uses to finally own the country!

Ugandans helping Museveni grab will also be throw out in the end: rwandese don't share with others & believe every one owes them everything!
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0 #13 Treva 2018-12-01 20:23
Akot - If the goverent changed tomorrow, you will discover that the rot in the system is in all of us, the citizens.

Lakwena- What kind of stupid remnant of human civilization would conclude, from the outskirts of sanity, that an accident on a leisure cruise amounts to Uganda being 'hell on earth'?

The cruise is evidence of affluence, of some good measure of freedom, and of people all over Uganda, rich and poor, young and old, really enjoying life.

In fact, perhaps they took pleasure seeking too far on this tragic occasion.

No one said Uganda has no serious difficulties. But, what hell is it that people can 'Tera friend to Tera friend' that there is a 'prot' to go cruising and boozing, dancing and jiving, from dusk to dawn, on an island? Sounds like paradise to me!!!

If you want people to take you seriously, start having something useful to say, not just your usual hatred, and your senseless anger!
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-1 #14 Lakwena 2018-12-03 09:54
Quoting Treva:
Akot - If the goverent changed tomorrow, you will discover that the rot in the system is in all of us, the citizens.

Lakwena- What kind of stupid remnant of human civilization would conclude, from the outskirts of sanity, that an accident on a leisure cruise amounts to Uganda being 'hell on earth'?

The cruise is evidence of affluence, of some good measure of freedom, and of people all over Uganda, rich and poor, young and old, really enjoying life.

In other words for Treva, a rusty, rickety fishing boat is a Cruise Ship and symbol of prosperity and/or affluence.

What a Cargo Cult mentality, where Treva sees and imagines a rusty and leaky fishing boat as one of the Caribbean Cruise ships.
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0 #15 Lakwena 2018-12-03 10:17
And for Treva, organize crime and hedonism that goes with, Sodom and Gomorrah lifestyle is heaven on earth in Uganda.
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0 #16 Treva 2018-12-07 00:44
Lakwena - I did not refer to a 'cruise ship'. I did refer to a 'leisure cruise'. You can 'cruise' in a leisurely manner, inside a canoe.

The important detail, is that the party goers were enjoying themselves. You choose to call their activity hedonistic. Perhaps you are right. But it is difficult to engage in hedonistic activity in a country that is 'hell on earth'.

The point you have missed, is that freedom, which Ugandans have plenty of, is best enjoyed where there is the exercise of responsibility. Ugandans, across the board are struggling today, because they want freedom without responsibility.

That is a very different problem, to 'hell on earth'. But it is true, that if freedom without responsibility continues to expand, then soon we will create 'hell on earth'.

The difference between you and me, is that I do not expect someone else to be responsible on my behalf. Whereas you, are like a toddler who needs govt to change its nappies.
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