By Andrew Mwenda
Dear friends, allies, and comrades in Defiance and People Power. As has become custom in our bitter and quarrelsome relationship, I want to wish you a happy new year. I would also like to send you a new year message knowing that you will ignore it and instead hurl insults and abuses at me. But I owe you this responsibility even though you hate me for telling you the bitter truths.
Last year has been as frustrating and unfruitful as all the other years. Your cult leaders to wit opposition presidential candidate for life, Dr Kizza Besigye, and your new hero, Bobi Wine, made a lot of noise but little movement in their struggle to rid Uganda of President Yoweri Museveni. This year is also likely to yield the same result. It doesn’t pay for you to keep waiting for Museveni’s fall as a solution to your dilemma.
You always attribute your frustrations to factors that are politically convenient and/or emotionally satisfying to you. But I want you to know that the pursuit of accurate knowledge and the pursuit of ideological and emotional satisfaction are inherently conflicting goals. You want information that gives you emotional satisfaction, but this is not good for your individual and collective progress.
Morally important issues like government corruption and incompetence are not necessarily decisive causal factors of our nation’s poverty. Instead, they are characteristics of it. This is not to say that such moral issues are not important. Rather it is to underline the fact that confusing one with the other, or imagining that they can simply be combined into one politically or ideologically attractive package, is not a very promising way to help you deal with your personal progress.
The standard of living of a nation depends more on its output per person than on money received as income for producing that output. Otherwise, governments could make everyone rich by just printing money. The challenge you face is not that government has not created jobs for you. Rather, you lack marketable skills demanded by employers and other talents necessary for personal advancement.
In the often heated and bitter debates over Uganda’s development, we forget that progress comes as much from public policy as it does from shared mentalities. You are suffering from a legacy of indoctrination in the nanny (or welfare) state ideology. From home to school to traditional and social media you are taught that your personal advancement is dependent on the government doing things for you. Few people tell you that personal advancement comes from having the right social attitudes and marketable skills and talents, not from government babysitting you.
For example, the skills you have in plenty – hurling insults and abuses at your presumed enemies on social media – are not skills employers are looking for. Only your cult leaders need such services. However, they cannot employ you now because they don’t have political power. Instead, many companies are looking the opposite skills ie for young people who can convince clients to buy their goods and services. These are marketing and sales jobs.
Part of the problem is our education system. Go to Makerere and other universities and there u will find lectures pumping students with socially dysfunctional ideologies about government being responsible for this and that. Yet they equip these students with skills not demanded by the market. When I need a plumber, a carpenter, a mason, an electrician, a gardener or a mechanic, I can hardly find a Ugandan who speaks English; meaning these vital jobs have been left to “jua kali” who speak only Luganda, the other way of saying they didn’t go far in school.
Uganda’s education system, and indeed our country’s intellectual climate, is not conducive to your progress. Academics, journalists, intellectuals, civil society and social media activists all pump you with a sense of entitlement. They have led you to believe that a university degree entitles you to a well-paying job. Nonsense! Skills and talents demanded by the market are what gives you a well paying job, not a degree certificate.
Thus, when this entitlement is not met, it pumps you with an even more insidious sense of grievance that someone is responsible for your lack of a job. These days that someone has become Museveni and his corrupt confederates in power, the very reason you rally around Bobi Wine and Besigye in the naive and blind hope that they will bring you prosperity. You can help them get into power but very few of you, a very tiny fragment, will benefit anything. The rest of you will be forgotten. How many people fought with Museveni in the bush and are now living in misery? The vast majority!
Look, presidents across Africa have come and gone but our continent has remained poor. Museveni himself came claiming our poverty, corruption, dictatorship, incompetence, mismanagement, and tribalism were because of Milton Obote and Idi Amin. He has been in power much longer than the combined time Obote and Amin were and these problems are still manifest. Indeed across Africa, one leader replaces another but both the quality of governance and the outcomes of governance have remained almost similar.
Ugandan journalists, academics, civil society and social media activists all tow this politically correct line of government being responsible for your personal advancement because it makes them look “cool” and pro-people. Yet this non-judgmental leniency towards you while you sit idly blaming everyone else for your joblessness is the problem facing our country and continent. Bobi Wine and many of his ilk who grew up in the ghetto have become prosperous by exploiting their talents. Yet he goes around telling you that your poverty is caused by government, not your lack of marketable skills or the right social attitudes.
Let me comment on what I mean by the right social attitudes. Many times young people have approached me on Facebook, chatted with me nicely and we have struck a good and cordial relationship. For some of them with ambition, talent, motivation, curiosity and ideas, I have helped them get a scholarship, a business opportunity or a job. Many have become prosperous. Here their social attitude (not looking for enemies online whom to abuse but friends and allies with whom to share experiences) have led them to success. Social networking gives you social capital, the most important form of capital, more powerful than economic or financial capital.
Many of you here on Facebook carry a sense of victimhood that you have social enemies keeping you down. This is a dysfunctional mentality exploited by demagogues who want something for themselves. A dependent voting constituency is valuable to politicians like Besigye and Bobi Wine because it gives them a captive constituency indoctrinated with the belief that they are surrounded by social enemies who are keeping them down. Politicians do this because it positions them as your defenders in exchange for your votes
Please note that when someone wants to help you, they tell you to want you to need to hear, what you must hear. That is what I do with you on this forum. But when someone wants to help themselves, often at your expense, they tell you what you want to hear. Those politicians who want to use you as ladders to power will massage your egos and tell you all that you want to hear and that is the reason you love them. When they lead you to protests, it is you that gets beaten or shot.
For many of you, political activities such as rallies, marches demonstrations, and protests offer instant gratification and solidarity with like-minded people. You use such events to present your grievances as a righteous crusade against presumed enemies (like Museveni and his corrupt confederates in power) ostensibly responsible for your plight. You do this because it is easy to do even though not productive.
The solution to your plight would be to invest in personal development by putting all your energies into acquiring the requisite education, skills, and self-discipline vital for success. I am aware that this path to success can be a lonely process of unromantic drudgery with no immediate gratification as solidarity with others voicing opposition to presumed enemies. Moreover, this alternative to political activism can produce a painful sense of your own inadequacies many of which may be beyond your control.
Happy new year!!
Andrew Mwenda is a senior Ugandan journalist and the founder and owner of The Independent