Don’t be fooled by charity from politicians

As we get closer to the 2016 elections the lukewarm out-cry against vote buying gets louder and even more superficial. Those who are allegedly forking out the cash to buy votes are crying out loud, perhaps even louder than those who are selling their votes, but nevertheless buyers and sellers are all crying foul. Some criers are more genuine than others. As way back as 2011 Winnie Byanyima, one of the more powerful women politicians that Uganda has ever had, is quoted as having implored voters not to vote for politicians who dish out money for buying votes for such politicians are corrupt. More recently Hon. Otafiire in 2014 is quoted as having said that vote buying in Uganda makes him sad.

How ironic that mass disempowerment of Ugandans has happened during President Museveni’s watch, moreover, he is credited for creating a home-grown participatory democratic system, the RC/LC system, which initially ensured genuine grassroots political participation. The unhealthy relationship between ordinary Ugandans and our politicians (local councillors, members of parliament and the president), vote buying, illustrates my point. When Ugandan politicians are electioneering – as they are actively doing in 2015 in preparation for the 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections – they give out basic food items such as salt and sugar, household materials such as cooking utensils; ‘sponsor’ community projects such as sinking boreholes; and are active in social activities such as attending burials and paying burial fees – feeding mourners.

The constituents, the voters, the majority of whom are poor, are so happy and grateful to the ‘big men’ for providing for them that they do not stop to question why in the first place they were not able themselves to purchase their own basic food items, to pay for sinking of boreholes and to feed mourners at their burial ceremonies. They do not stop to question how and where the ‘big men’ got the ‘personal’ money that they are spending on them. Often, as hinted by Byanyima, such politicians’ ‘personal’ money is but a small fraction of public funds that have been diverted and stolen. The bulk of the stolen money is often likely retained for the thieves’ personal use; in other words corruption.

When the ‘do-gooder-vote-buying-big-men’ are elected into office, they do not regard us, their constituents, as subjects with whom to engage with and to serve; for after all they have bought us, we are objects for their attention – they are our ‘helpers’. Hence, they do not feel accountable to us and instead they expect us to be grateful for whatever crumbs they dish out to us. This is perhaps one of the reasons why there isn’t mass public outcry against a violation of Uganda’s Constitution for over a decade – village and parish local council elections are supposed to be held every five years but have not been held since 2001.

Our senses are blocked by the ‘charity’ of our politicians, of all parties by the way, which acts as an anaesthetic which blocks the sensation of pain (sometimes putting one to sleep) usually in order to allow doctors to cut off or stitch up body parts. Once the anaesthetic wears off the pain normally returns. Similarly, our politicians’ ‘charity’ distracts us from the true causes of our suffering, since in the short-term, during the duration of election campaigns, they will give us ‘handouts’ to relieve our suffering, and we do not take the time to address the root causes of our suffering. Once the election is held, the ‘charity’ stops and our suffering returns and in some cases even worse than before.

Also published in Daily Monitor on 24th January 2015 http://mobile.monitor.co.ug/Oped/commentary/Don-t-be-fooled-by-charity-from-politicians/-/2471332/2600190/-/format/xhtml/-/15sthe3/-/index.html

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9 comments

  1. […] Don't be fooled by charity from politicians. […]

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  2. John Magezi · · Reply

    When one with honeyed words but evil intentions persuades the mob, great woes befall the state. This has been our situation from 1986 . Twenty nine years of deepening poverty by a single person and his cohorts coupled with our silence now call for concerted efforts to bring closure to this painful phase in bad governance masquerading as charity. Upon the conduct of each Ugandan of goodwill depends the fate of all. Sham stolen Elections won’t deliver us from this trauma. Strong words and Actions are needed

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  3. He has used the public sector not so much to deliver public goods and services to citizens as to co-opt powerful elites into his government. These elites are not punished when they steal or are incompetent because their performance is assessed on how they are able to deliver the votes of their constituents (be they co-ethnics or religious followers) to the president and his party. – See more at: http://independent.co.ug/the-last-word/the-last-word/9645?task=view#sthash.JvloWljO.qp9zTVAZ.dpuf

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  4. @Lady Owaraga. Thanks for highlighting this issue. I would like to attend to the section of the lack of mass public outcry against blatant abuse of the Uganda constitution , n other forms of injustice. My personal research has revealed that majority of the wananchi suffer and are aware of the injustices , they however lack a grassroots movement to mobilize n empower them thru good organization for them to carry out a mass uprising.
    “The weapon of the oppressed is organization.” said Afrikan freedom fighter Kwame Ture. If the elite are to help in the changing of this blood sucking status quo, they have some resources n intellectual capacity to organize the poor wananchi. There is no hope in causing change thru sham elections, it has to be mass uprising. Ugandan citizen , you are either part of the protest movement , or you are pretending.

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    1. Uganda Protests thank you for you insight full comment. An out cry can actually be expressed without physical uprising – vote out those who plunder, don’t deliver services, etc. Question is how do you get especially the elite to overcome what Karl Max likened to opium of the people – when those who plunder say they are our leaders chosen by God?

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  5. This is a wonderful piece Norah Owaraga. One word stands out of this blog “disempowerment”. I have one question though for you. Was disempowerment brought about by the distribution of some small money here, a kilo of sugar there, a piece of bar soap here and a cupfull of salt there or is it an indicator of the success of a bigger disempowerment plan? My view is that politicians, I mean the big ones who control resources have always known we like things easy and we have been conditioned through the giving of brown envelopes here, a Pajero there, UPE and now USE, creating a political district and constituency there, and payment of war claims without and proper assessment and accountability mechanisms in place. And because we are not used to accountability as our psyche have been conditioned, so our ambitions remain small and life continues. We have reached a state where we need no panadol/sedative because the pain is normal and is part of us. You can see this from the young politicians who were born and have grown up in “pain” of poor service delivery and have never known any health from the time of their birth and have learnt the art of individualism, greed, trickery and corruption. What would you expect of the people who elect them?

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    1. Max you have described the disempowerment quite well. In addition, the disempowerment is the inability to recognise that their votes are worth more and that they are actually powerful. It is also the acceptance of suspicious charity in exchange of no service delivery.

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  6. Kenneth · · Reply

    You are spot on on this one. Many Ugandans do not know that the money they use to bribe them is actually theirs. They look at those contesting especially the incumbent as a GHod sent person, yet he is riding on their ignorance to get there. If one is bribed to make the wrong choice, they suffer so much…

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    1. Yes Kenneth, Karl Max’ celebrated dictum does come to mind. And with that in mind, how do we emphasise to ourselves and others that God helps those who help themselves – how are we helping ourselves in order to end such ignorance as you describe.

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