I had waited for rather too long for positive news about the construction of Kabuusu – Bunamwaya – Lweza road. It had been one false promise after another for years. So, it was not really new that KCCA was making another announcement last week - that road works were to start this July.
Nevertheless, for the hell that this busy road has been for years, the usual ‘news’ with no news still got me excited. So, at a drink, I shared the ‘news’ with a friend that has always mocked me about what he calls ‘a ditch exhibition in a road’. He sarcastically congratulated me, laughing noisily into his glass of Guinness.
Aware of the uncomfortable position it has already driven itself into, this was one of those days when I was not in the mood of wasting emotions on government. And with this friend of mine around, conversation gets boring when I also start criticising government. He is at the extreme of it, where nothing positive can be seen.
So, I chose to play the devil’s advocate, arguing that at least this government has tried on the issue of roads. Little did I know that this made me appear like the ‘devil’ itself. He started getting louder and angry: “what good is left to come from this greedy government? For every penny they spend on the public good, they steal two. And then they come back to spoil what they did with the one”.
Our conversation had caught the attention of the guys on the next table, and they must have been burning for an opportunity to jump in.
They invited themselves in and started contributing before they could even sit. The stranger who had sat on my left said, with a straight face: ‘Just by looking at you and listening to you, I know where you come from. And, because of your comfort, you people will never understand the suffering others are going through’.
Wherever he thought I was coming from, the anger was quite dramatic – even taking licence to point at my face! Now that I had withdrawn into silence, they went on to bash and curse government and everything that looked like it.
I relate this to many other observations I have made in connection to public reception of government ‘achievements’ lately. Much of it is akin to what transpires in a relationship that has gone sour. When love and trust die, they are very difficult to resurrect. And where there is little or no trust, even otherwise good gestures can very easily be misinterpreted in a negative direction.
When I lived in a shanty neighbourhood in Kireka, there was a neighbouring couple that fought at every opportunity. One Valentine’s day evening, the man returned earlier than his wife with a bouquet of flowers and hid behind our common bathroom outside the house, waiting to surprise her. On return, she was going about her business and landed on him squatting with his flowers.
It was a bloody night! One tooth and trousers were lost in the fight as the wife asked him to explain who the flowers were for. She never could believe he could do something romantic for her.
I don’t know if it baffles those in power that now, even when they do apparently good things, the reception is generally that of scorn, cynicism and dismissal.
When Uganda Airlines was brought back from the cemetery, it became a subject of rebuke and accusations. Whereas normally one would have expected this development to be automatically received with patriotic euphoria and pride, I saw some state sympathisers urging people to at least appreciate for once.
Is it that Ugandans are ungrateful people with no patriotic sentiment? Not at all. At least the response to wins by Uganda Cranes and other Ugandan athletes have proved the opposite. Then what explains the fact that when news of reviving Uganda Airlines breaks, the first suspicion is that there must be someone stealing behind the official curtains? Why is the state beaten for and with its flowers?
This is an unusual relationship where government has to beg people to appreciate what it has done for them! It is indicative of something gone terribly wrong. Even if there was a talented liar misleading the spouse, it would take extraordinary talent to make her completely blind to all the supposed good deeds – if there wasn’t some flaw within the relationship to provide easy material for the liar.
When the new Jinja bridge was launched and photos of its splendid night beauty started circulating, pessimistic comments all over Facebook quickly became more breath-taking than its lights. The wildfire narrative was that it had come at a cost far higher than other more sophisticated bridges elsewhere, and was built on loan. The response has largely been the same on the new roads, dams, Kiira EV, Mulago hospital expansion, etc.
A dented image is not easy to reclaim with random gestures of care, especially where violence is involved. The pervasive scandals of this government and its impaired priorities are ever so loudly alive in the public psyche that they make it hard to see counter gestures. Herein also lies one of the arguments against longevity in power, even by a supposedly good leader.
Together with the natural fatigue and boredom that ensue, there is often a likelihood of a baggage of cumulative wrongs and a feeling of injustice on observing the accumulated wealth of the ruling class (both in reality and speculation) at public expense. With all this pain, even a dimple on the face of government will start looking like a misplaced pit latrine.
Even in the president’s own implied acknowledgement by agreeing with his contested election results, there is reducing support over the years. Why does he think that is the case?
The author is a teacher of philosophy.