Monday, July 25, 2016


If the democratic ideal is that people have a say in how their society’s are managed, events of the last few days suggest that the actualisation of this ideal is not very far down the road.

Last week opposition leader Kizza Besigye was released on bail and as he wound his way from the Nakawa court to his Kasangati home, police escorting him were recorded swinging at will at bystanders on the roadside.

The recording went viral prompting a global (?) outcry against the Uganda police. Initial attempts to brush off the incident fell flat and the police were forced to engage in the PR exercise of reading the riot act to its own in the controlled environment of their disciplinary committee.

"It can be argued that if there was no video evidence of the act the police would have not gone through the motions to placate an angry public...

Earlier this week US republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s wife, Melania addressed the party’s congress. Unfortunately parts of her speech had been lifted from Michelle Obama’s speech to the Democratic Party eight years ago when her husband Barack was first running for the presidency.

Social media was ablaze with the transgression. In more developed economies infringements on intellectual property are taken more serious than we do here, so apart from the political undertones there was real cause to bring a powerful individual to book. Unfortunately social media has a long memory and now everything the prospective first lady of the US says in future will be picked over with a microscope.

And finally the government’s evacuation of the thousands of Ugandans caught in the renewed fighting in South Sudan between rival government factions. Government this time unlike in 2013 sent a joint military police force to help Ugandans out. Initially it seemed as if they were going to let events sort themselves out even vowing not to deploy troops in the area. However one has to be believe that distressed communications from relatives and friends on social media got to the right ears and a wait-and-see posture was not an option.

These are just a few of the incidents in recent times. The powers that be all over the world, where previously they could assume a pointed indifference to the plight of citizens, are being forced to respond by public outcry generated on social media.

"And these campaigns will only get more determined and frequent with the proliferation of smart phones and greater connectivity...

Are we seeing the end of coups, massacres and genocides? Maybe not, there will always be the odd government which, or official who thinks they can beat the trend and get away with murder, but one has to think that the powers that be wherever they are being forced to behave with less impunity.

Which is a good thing because that is what accountability – the cornerstone of democracy, demands.
It is easy to be sceptical because these are still early days in the trend but the momentum is gathering to the point of irreversibility.

It raises very interesting issues that include but are not limited to how the powers that be choose to respond, with knee jerk attempt at clamping down on these new information technologies or learning how to leverage them for their own benefit. And us the newly empowered individuals with the capacity to move public opinion as we wolf down a rollex at the corner of our street, how do we intend to use, abuse or ignore this new found power?

"Democracy evolved in the western world over centuries, directed by powerful interest groups who controlled the means of production and the mass media, to become what it is today. Given the new circumstances our home grown democracy may be more diffused and even chaotic, as our ability to mobilise goes the same way...

One hopes that our leaders will be more accountable as a result but the possibility too is that the era of the mass party is over, with more interest groups than capital and labour, maybe environmentalists, gender activists, hedonists and other “minorities” leverage these technologies to muscle their way onto the political high table.

Futurist Alvin Toffler charted the evolution of power in his book “The Third Wave”. In the beginning the biggest strongest man became held the power. With the introduction of money you could not only hire armies but also pay for consent rather than forcing it but finally he said the people who not only generate information but control its distribution and process it will hold power.

The book, published almost four decades ago, did not forsee a situation where the ability to generate and distribute information was not concentrated in a few hands.

We are living in interesting times.

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