Monday, January 30, 2017


Yesterday we commemorated 31 years of life under the National Resistance Movement (NRM).
In 1986 after five years in the bush the NRA took over Kampala bringing to an end more than a quarter century of confusion and hopelessness.

Of course the NRM’s critics are legion and those not willing to give them the benefit of doubt even more.

The critics say this government is not delivering services well, is heavy handed and uncompromising and is presiding over the most corrupt period of this country’s history.

It would hard to argue with them on any of those fronts. Ironically this criticism of the NRM is due to their own success over the last three decades in power.

"A sign of progress is when people take for granted things they previously did not have but now do...

So when the NRM spin doctors talk about peace in the country they are brushed off with a dismissive wave of the hand, “Peace is supposed to be there, with or with you.”

 When they point out that now sugar, bread and biscuits are no longer luxuries as an indication of how production has been jumpstarted, “Is that the measure of success?” they get asked.

And when they point out that for the first time in a long time people can go out to work with the knowledge that if they apply themselves diligently and intelligently, they can get ahead and keep the proceeds of their hard earned sweat. Again such protestations are brushed away with disdain.

In 1986 I will never forget, seeing a cow come plodding down Bombo road and stop off at a porthole, opposite what is now Shell-Capital, to quench its thirst. What a god forsaken country this is, I thought at the time.

I am sure there are tourists who come and wonder at our unlit, dusty streets, our lack of efficient public transport, our expensive MBs and wonder how we live in such a place.

The truth is though that the size of the economy has grown more than sevenfold, social indicators like infant mortality, school enrolments and access to social services have improved markedly and the country is mostly secure.

So why the discontent?

"First off, because all the improvements are statistical averages. There are extremes that colour the picture more than an average score will do. So while on average we are ok there are people, a tiny minority enjoying first world standards of living while the larger population is suffering under third world conditions...

Widening inequalities, because of the structure of the economy – agriculture which provides a livelihood for 80 percent of the people only accounts for 30 percent of economic output for starters, means the majority of us have not benefitted much from the economic progress of the last three decades.

Secondly most of the grumbling is done by the urban elite, who through their access to media and having travelled know better. They are impatient for us to catch up with the rest of the world and see the government as the one holding them back.

But the biggest cause of grievance must come from the progress that has been made. It is true that when you give them an inch they will want a mile.

When I am used to flicking the switch and there is power, but on this day I flick on the switch and there is no power, my annoyance does not compare to a man who doesn’t expect power when he turns on the switch.

Lately KCCA has been paving roads in the city suburbs. We have been spared the chocking dust and rough rides. And we are grateful. For now.  But God help KCCA if a porthole develops. We shall curse them for incompetence, corruption and any number of things, the hard days of last year long forgotten.

"Those are the hazards of the job. When you raise the people’s expectations be prepared to meet them and when you do, you need to keeping meeting newer and higher expectations. There is no time to rest on your laurels...

So in the next 30 years the NRM – and any government, can expect gratitude will be in short supply, while the whining and gripping will get louder and angrier with time.

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