The just concluded east African Legislative Assembly (EALA) final campaigns made for interesting television but on a much broader level suggested there is still hope for Uganda yet.
On Tuesday the EALA nominees made their last pitch to an animated parliament. MPs caught up in the occasion were chanting, cheering and heckling in equal measure and one couldn’t help feeling they were glad, gleeful even relieved to be on the giving rather than of the receiving end of the attentions they endure during their own campaigns.
It begun with the NRM nominations. As is now normal with NRM contests they were spirited and just only managing not to tip over in to nastiness and chaos.
For we on the sidelines we wondered what was all the fuss about. The East African parliament seats hundreds of kilometres in Arusha, Tanzania and while their deliberations have far reaching consequences for the rest of us mere mortals, they get so little coverage as to be literally ignored.
Of course the chief benefit is financial.
On the one hand members of EALA do not have to suffer the unwanted demands of their constituents and on the other hand by whatever measure you use these members can look forward to fat paychecks.
"According to reports the legislators can expect about $15,000 monthly (sh54m) in basic salary and allowances...
This is a lot of money.
But interestingly our brightest minds or most prominent businessmen showed little interest in putting themselves up for election to EALA.
In the late 1980s some really quality people put themselves up for election, suffering the ignominy of people lining up or not behind them up the levels of the political process to get a chance to get to the legislature.
One can argue after many years of being shut of the political process by shrewder operators and eventually the army, the elite of Uganda saw this as a chance to contribute to the country’s progress through politics.
However one has to remember that paychecks all around were wanting, while the consistent pay and easy living of government officials were there for all to see. In a depressed economy where the civil servant was the biggest working class and the parliamentarians were not grappling with consistent payouts one can see how politics was a credible enough meal ticket.
Fast forward to the present and the employment options are such that the best and brightest would rather take less pay than join the rough and tumble of politics.
Looking down the list of nominees to EALA it was safe to say the productive sectors of Uganda will not miss any of them.
This is good.
"If a society’s incentives are slanted towards public administration and not the productive sectors – agriculture, manufacturing and services; If the brightest minds highest ambitions are to work in the public service; if our brightest and sharpest are forgoing the meritocracy of the private sector for less in the public sector, then as an economy you know you are in trouble...
This can happen if the private sector is on its knees and therefore the economy is in dire straits or if the government is the only game in town, as in the days of communism, which means the economy is in the toilet anyway.
To everyone their own.
It therefore makes sense that for politicians to protect their tough they need to keep the economy ticking along so business can flourish and employ more and more people and even if MPs increase their pay the attraction will be limited for other potential, but otherwise gainfully employed people.
The Uganda economy has a long way to go – we are still not a middle income economy, but as an indicator of how far we have come, the EALA campaigns showed that there is still hope for this country.