The crisis of ‘big man’ leadership in Uganda

The acrimonious relationships among leaders of Uganda’s political parties – intra and inter – has reinforced my view of the fallacy in the idea that there is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ democratic system for the whole world. The so-called multiparty ‘democratic’ elections system now practised in Uganda is based on a mistaken ideological belief in the superiority of that system in ensuring participatory governance. In reality, among the worst injustices on Ugandans are the billions of shillings that we spend on holding elections – some of which is borrowed money. We spend money on elections knowing full well that if the election results do not turn out the way ‘the world’ expected them to turn out there will be mayhem. In preparation for the next election due in 2016, it seems the mayhem has already begun.

Those who lose elections do not normally concede defeat. And they reject the election results with support from ‘the world’ and in blatant disregard of Ugandan laws. We must be the country with the highest number of post-election battles – legal and otherwise. Leaders in all parties rarely voluntarily accept to step aside so that more able leaders within their respective parties emerge and take leadership. Individual opposition leaders compete amongst themselves on who can best disrupt the running of the state, get prominent media coverage and create the illusion that they are the ‘big man’. The conduct of all our political leaders is of the ‘big man’ as opposed to that of a party representative or people’s representative.  The views expressed by our political leaders are their own views and sometimes are the views of ‘the world’. They are certainly not the views and the will of the people of Uganda they proclaim to represent.

So, for example, when the media and ‘the world’ equated the so-called ‘walk-to-work’ camping of our opposition leaders with the freedom movements in Egypt and in South Africa, I listened in disbelief. If one considers that ‘walk-to-work’ had allegedly been sparked off by raising fuel prices which in turn sparked off high food prices, who was the oppressor in this case? Who is in charge of determining fuel prices? What are the reasons that the fuel prices went up? Realistically, what can the Uganda government do about the prices? Even if the Government of Uganda had the will to do something about fuel prices, it does not really have the geopolitical and economic clout to do so.

Were the leaders of ‘walk-to-work’ among the oppressed as was the case with Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela (black South African fighting against the oppression of blacks by the whites), Ghandi (Indian fighting against oppression of Indians by the British), Martin Luther King (Black American fighting against oppression of blacks by whites)? I think not. The activities of walk-to-walk, particularly those that were staged to specifically disrupt work, were intended to provoke a certain kind of ‘photogenic’ aggression from the state, so that the ‘walk-to-work’ leaders would look like the good ‘big-man’. Unlike Ghandi, Biko, Mandela, the personal wealth of those who championed ‘walk-to-work’ is obscene – they are the oil barons of Uganda who own fuelling stations, they own prime properties of land and commercial buildings – such as hotels and office blocks and they drive very powerful vehicles.

‘Walk-to-work’ is an example of the saddening extent of Uganda’s elite-mass gap. It was both immoral and an insult to the majority of Ugandans whose way of life is walking to work – over 80 percent of Ugandans live in rural areas and get their earnings from farming. Instead of establishing policies that enhance our lives, our political leaders on both sides waste resources (time, energy, equipment and money) on the shenanigans of a few egoistical, selfish and deluded ‘big men’.

Might it be better for us to emulate the governance system of Switzerland and to adapt a multi-party federal parliamentary democratic republic system? A system that incorporates a council of elders that ensures that power is not vested in one individual, and that provides for rotational leadership. I dare say that the Swiss system is much more compatible with traditional African systems, such as the one of my kin. Within Teso culture, authority is vested within a council of elders within each clan.

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10 comments

  1. […] It is as bright as sunshine, for which Uganda is gifted to enjoy daily – you cannot miss it. Among the worst injustices on Ugandans are the billions of shillings that we spend on holding elections – some of which is borrowed money. Read more on this from my post on this blog titled: “The crisis of ‘big man’ leadership in Uganda” https://nowaraga.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/the-crisis-of-big-man-leadership-in-uganda/ […]

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  2. Stan Burkey · · Reply

    How about another article on the advantages and disadvantages of the original “Movement” system – the RC/LCs. This could be topped with the Swiss Federal Council system eliminating the Big Man at the top.

    Stan

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    1. Good suggestion. Interestingly apparently the RC/LC system was an adaptation of the Buganda chief system as applied to the territories it had captured, such as in Teso, where the King decentralised management of his Kingdom to his chiefs … Will read up on it and do a follow-up article. I think it would be interesting to compare also with the original intent of the now botched decentralised district local government system.

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  3. wow Norah, the big man syndrome absolutely explains the dilema and catch twenty two situation in the polical arena in our nation uganda.

    If all parties fighting for governance opportunities, ever stopped in their tracks and asked why they are seeking power, they would soon find different options of making a livehood. Service for pubc good should be the main objective in every politicians mind. Those described in the post are egocentrics, who thrive on personal gratification and glorification.

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  4. Ojilong Patrick · · Reply

    Multi party democracy should be assessed from the principles point of view than the system and structure. Resources in the ideal sense should be invested to meet the cardinal principles not the structures and systems for these merely become a small part of the principles. Obviously the Global economic forces fanned the local volatile situation at that time but hold on for a while…..what was our preamble to the budget framework paper ….To tame this very volatilites, economic stability etcccccccc. The Election period was one of throwing cash to loose useless activities here there completely through unconventional means likened to money laundering. If money begins to be carried in sacks just to secure a few handful votes then we deserve not to hold any periodic elections in this country. I know currently….they are hoarding money for 2016 then literally swash money to an economy ill-prepared to adsorb and put it to it’s rightful use. The walk-to-work solely aimed at highlighting the social economic difficulties faced by wanaichi principally laid by political decisions and perhaps tilt the political balance in itself a constitutional means of governance reform.

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  5. For more contex, this youtube video organized a triumphant welcome home.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NF6QDafu88” It is in one of the Ugandan languages, Luganda, but you can still deduce the amount of resources that were spent to welcome the big man back from his visit to the USA?

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