Monday, May 23, 2011


Two years ago I “reported” that the “Revolution is here” following the man handling of then Wakiso district boss Ian Kyeyune by an irate mob.

The mob was venting its frustration for the poor state of Busabala Road by making Kyeyune seat on the road and covering him with murram from the same road.

I argued in that article that because of corruption government service delivery was badly flawed and as a result the poor in society have no hope of improving their station in life either because they cannot get affordable quality education or health care and cannot get their goods to market for lack of roads or transport networks.

I warned that the pent up frustration with the seeming hopelessness of their lives is not targeted at the richest of the rich in our society but to everybody they perceive as better off than them regardless of tribe or religion.

This week the issue of encroachers at the Lubigi wetland came into focus when the police evicted them forcefully.

It is convenient to suggest that these encroachers are doing the bidding of their richer patrons but that would be to gloss over the fact that there is a growing underclass in Uganda cut off from the opportunities that have come with the last 25 years of economic growth and trying to get by anyway they can.

Projecting into the future today’s encroachers on public land will spawn tomorrows grabbers of private property a la Zimbabwe.

“The revolution is here and we best heed its warning and nip it in the bud, while we can,” I wrote in August 2009.

If we needed any more proof that this not an intellectual exercise the latest chaos on our streets triggered by the walk-to-work protests was it.

Who are this mass of people who can have us living in terror on Mondays and Wednesdays? Where did they come from?

You might dismiss them as drunks and drug addicts but they are the most manifest symptom of a system gone wrong. There is a reason after all why the middle class stayed at their desks and were not out protesting, not because they have any particular love for the system but because for them grumble as they might, they can see a light at the end of the tunnel.
And that is the crux of the matter. Beyond the rhetoric people, need to feel a sense of hope, to believe that if they work hard enough, long enough, smart enough their lot and that of their families will be improved. A population without hope is a population with nothing to lose.

Averting the revolution – because I don’t think it has assumed an irreversible momentum yet, is simple but not easy. It has been done before.

Since colonial times a mix of minimum education and health services, adequate transport infrastructure and a ready market for rural produce has lifted millions of Ugandans from their agrarian backgrounds into the middle class.

Somewhere along the way we lost it.

This time tested social climbing ladder has lost a few rungs preventing those at the bottom any chance of ascendance. In their frustration those at the bottom will decide to shake the ladder or worse still light a fire. Because after all, if they cannot have what you on the upper rungs are having let us all miss out.

I understate the case of course.

Our government’s commitment must be to replacing the rungs in the ladder, but first root out the evil – corruption, that is causing the rungs to go missing.

Annually billions of shillings are pilfered by government officials and their allies. This ill-gotten wealth is fuelling Kampala’s construction boom, sustaining ostentatious consumption and doing very little in the way of investment in agriculture.

We do not want the government back in business. But government needs to see how to direct more resources into rural transport networks, agricultural research and extension services, facilitate marketing and provide greater incentives for agro-industries.

Throwing money at the problem is the easy part,the hard part will be planning and executing plans that show results and judging by recent events, uncharted territory for us.

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