By Aggrey Nshekanabo
Finally, the posho and beans guys reached our home 60 days later! Our Kampala home is less than 30km from the city centre. Now I know why the ballot papers of Wakiso take longer to reach the national tally centre, which interestingly is within Wakiso itself!
But what if I had 20% access to my NSSF? Would I need the food relief from my beloved government? Definitely no. The distribution of relief items to the citizens of Uganda reminded me of the early 80s during the bush war that brought the current rulers in power. I remember my dad in Bunyaruguru was part of the Mayumba Kkumi (10 households per village cell). Our home was turned into a distribution centre for kerosene/paraffin, soap and Finland donated hoes.
I saw how demeaning the act was. I could see how old people begged my dad for a little more paraffin. Each family was I think given half a litre of paraffin measured in a beer bottle. I remember we had a crate of beer bottles and the words on the black crate were; Biya ni Bora which I never understood what they mean. Now I know they meant Beer is Good.
One incident in all this that really touched my young heart was of old Kyomutima. She didn’t have any container where she could put her half-litre of paraffin. She came with a small metallic tadooba (wick powered small lamp). The biggest it could carry are just about three scoops. Someone lent her a 300ml pepsi bottle (called akato) on condition that they would share! It was worse when it came to hoes and soap. To get a hoe or soap, the committee had to double check. It was horrible. At the end of the relief period, we had lots of soap and so Finland hoes.
And around 1987, they brought books in blue and pink colours along with HB pencils and orange pens. They were written on; “Property of the Government of Uganda, Not for Sale.” The easiest we called them at Kirugu Primary School was simply; “Property.” You got a replacement if you took the finished exercise book to the class teacher for verification and signing off. Then the head teacher would also sign the old book and you would be handed a new one. However, there were boys who stole our finished books and they would pluck off the cover and replace it with theirs to get a new book. One such boy was called Monday. He stole my book and took it to Head Teacher Kamara who happened to know my handwriting. He beat up Monday never to do it again.
So, I am not surprised that in this COVID-19 crisis, there are so many Mondays that have stolen relief items. One member of my household asked where the eggs, milk and green bananas went. We seem to know no one who has received any of these relief items. Maybe they retained by the committee; after all, the Baganda say; “Omugabi teyeseera” he who gives, gives themselves first and they give themselves enough. Don’t be surprised if the price of posho and beans go down so drastically because after the season, the givers will open food stores or will sell to retailers at give-away prices. So, a farmer waiting to cash in on maize and beans, brace yourself.
So, we are 35 years back to where Obote left us. Poor and very dependent on the state for relief! Really? A country that calls itself the Great Lakes food basket? We have lied to ourselves. But this is very good music to the ears of politicians to know that ‘their people’ are vulnerable.
Now, this brings me to the issue of National Social Security Fund (NSSF). There are jokes flying around that NSSF is no longer NSSF but MSSF. I have also seen people say, this is not the right time to access the money. My people say; “Ekibi endeeta Mugisha” which means a blessing that comes dressed shabbily. This COVID-19 crisis has revealed that actually NSSF is not for the saver but for the economy and we know who owns the economy. You can say whatever you want but we know the owner! So, if men like Richard Byarugaba, who sponges off the workers’ sweat defends the owner of the economy than the worker, the fellow knows too well where his bread is buttered. Others can go hang. We now know that NSSF is actually with no money. It is byoya bya nswa. Experts have spoken I do not need to add.
But the one area is the notion that Byarugaba put forward that the people who receive their money after clocking the mandatory 55 years, ‘squander’ the money within the first two years and they are poor again. I want to burst this notion. Imagine worker Bindeeba lived in KCCA flats in Nagguru/Nakawa (I wish they were there anymore), or in the drenches of Kifumbira for 30 years of their working life. The moment they get their 40 million savings from NSSF, they want to get their own home in Katooke in Nabweru. They will buy a plot at say 12 million and build a 25 million house (which may never be finished). And the balance? Take a few Biya ni Bora and end of the story! Such a fellow will die a happy man after 5 years. They will pick his body from his own house as a true man. It is about dignity. And in Byarugaba’s world, that is squandering. Give me a break.
But assuming Bindeeba got 60M and on top of doing the above, he also buys a Toyota Wish at 20M and joins the UBER taxi business, would we still say, he squandered the money? First of all, he can work for 4 hours. His energy levels would not manage the 8-12 hours a day. And assuming that at his home, his wife operates a small kiosk, would that be bad? And when the family wants to go out for a weekend, he takes to the wheels as wife enjoys the co-driver’s seat? What is wrong with that? Life is for eating! And if that gives gratification to Bindeeba, other things can hold on. Byarugaba can still run his Boston and London Marathons. For Bindeeba, a second hand car is okay, after all, his money has sent you to Boston and your children can be educated at Waterford Kamhlaba, one of the top schools in eSwatini (Swaziland) where children of Uganda’s rich study from (I know about 30 families whose children are at Waterford) and they pay top dollar.
But assuming Bindeeba got 50% of savings at 45 years; one’s prime is at this point really; and he bought an acre of land in Katooke, the same piece of land, 10 years later would be 100 million richer. He would partition the piece of land into 8 plots of 50x100ft, sell the 7 plots and build on one some rental units and would still have 30 million upon retirement. And we know that Real Estate is big business, after all, according to NSSF, it is its most lucrative portifolio. What the management of NSSF is doing is what is called Kigumaaza; workers to remain in a vegetative state; you are not dead and neither alive and that makes great business for people at NSSF.
Aggrey is a retired journalist and proprietor of Kyambura Safaris Ltd
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