By Norbert Mao
Last week, a picture was circulated on the internet showing a vehicle parked on the pedestrian walkway of a street in Gulu. The vehicle had been clamped for violating parking regulations of the town. The registration number showed that it was a government vehicle belonging to the Office of the President. When I posted the picture on Twitter and saluted the Gulu local authorities, some of those who responded expressed fear for the fate of whoever had the temerity to clamp the vehicle.
This mentality shows the creeping normalcy of citizens acquiescing in the sense of entitlement that government officials and other privileged members of our society show. Examples are many. A few years back, the late wife of Foreign minister Sam Kutesa was late for a flight. She was told to rebook and take the next available flight. She could not take that and proceeded to bully her way up to the tarmac. She proceeded to climb the boarding stairs leading to the plane. Unfortunately, the doors had closed. She then sat on the steps of the stair truck raging at the bewildered staff who tried in vain to persuade her to climb down. Eventually the driver of the mobile passenger stair truck was ordered to push back so the plane could depart.
Kampala must be having the highest concentration of VIPs per capita. It has become a city of sirens. Everyday road users in Kampala are tormented by dignitaries and wannabe dignitaries who are always busy looking busy. With police vehicles pushing everybody out of the way, these dignitaries have no regard for traffic rules or even the rights of other road users. Obviously the children riding those convoys to school will never stop at a red light!
Most of them have no right of way under the law but to no avail. We can understand ambulances and police vehicles on emergency response. We can understand the few top government officials who have a right of way.
But we cannot understand back bench MPs and even local celebrities who take advantage of a legal loophole to violate traffic rules and harass other citizens going about their business on public roads.
How do societies get to this? The answer is simple and straightforward. Lack of vigilance by citizens. Legend has it that on his way out after the final day of the US Constitutional Convention, elder statesman Benjamin Franklin was waylaid by anxious citizens who asked him what kind of government the delegates had come up with. The old man’s answer was short and emphatic: “A Republic, if you can keep it”.
Freedom does not defend itself. It must be advanced and defended vigorously by committed citizens. Eternal vigilance is indeed the price of freedom. As John Philpot Curran said, “It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance”. If we want to get accountable leaders then we have to become active citizens.
Some say, this is politics. And they want none of it. It is dirty. That is the lamest excuse for civic cowardice incompetence. Those who shun politics should know that even if they avoid politics, politics will not avoid them.
For the people to remain sovereign, they must put a short leash on their leaders. They must check even the smallest abuse of power, overlooking nothing. Short of that we shall find ourselves in the position of Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein.
In that book, Victor Frankenstein, a young and gifted scientist creates a fearsome and intelligent creature through an unorthodox and innovative scientific experiment. Eventually the young man spends the rest of his life on the run from his creature which wreaks havoc on his family and loved ones. In one of the epic scenes the monster confronts Victor and tells him “You’re my creator but I am your master, obey!”