By Dr Ian Clarke
SK Mbuga was welcomed back to Uganda like a returning hero, or as Pastor Martin Sempa said ‘like a medal winner’, but he had not won any medals.
In fact he had spent a year and nine months in jail in Dubai and Sweden on charges of fraud, so what did he do to deserve a hero’s welcome? When Nasser Sebagala was released from an American prison having served time for washing cheques he also received a hero’s welcome.
In this case he was able to position himself as a kind of Robin Hood robbing the rich (the Americans) and giving to the poor (the Ugandans). He was so popular that he went on to be elected Mayor of Kampala, and although he may have robbed the rich there was no evidence that he actually gave any money to the poor.
Another person who has actually won a gold medal for her country at the World Athletics Championships is Halima Nakaayi who came first in the eight hundred metres. Let us hope that she gets a real hero’s welcome when she returns. Nakaayi won $60,000 prize money: a reward for all the hard work and dedication she put in to becoming a world-class athlete.
SK Mbuga and his wife Vivienne ‘earned’ millions of dollars through a dubious business deal, which involved conning Vivienne’s Swedish boyfriend. However, even though Ugandans know how this money was acquired it does not matter, because they do not value such honesty and hard work. The only thing they value is money itself. In Mbuga’s case he was welcomed as a hero is because he had got away with the scam.
Money is the reason that politics in our country has been completely devalued and is no longer about loyalty to a party, or belief in the system. It is certainly not about patriotism or trying to make a difference. This is a side effect of the huge salaries and benefits that Members of Parliament are paid. It makes good business sense to become an M.P. and the electorate knows this, which is why elections have become very expensive. The voters that matter are the poor because they make up the majority, so elections have become transactional.
The aspiring MP makes promises about all the good things he will do when elected, but the voters come back to him with the question ‘But what are we getting now?’ They mean hard cash, or any immediate tangible benefit, even as small as a T-shirt. So the politician who does not go into a campaign with a large war chest has no chance, even though these kinds of incentives are technically illegal.
In the business world there are guidelines for good practice and there are many businesses in Uganda, which practice good corporate governance. But many other ‘businessmen’ see business as crooked practices such as changing land titles, selling air, forging signatures, conniving with officials and stealing from legitimate businesses.
I hear some of these dubious businessmen being described as ‘tycoons’ and I wonder how they deserve such a title, because I know how much money they have swindled, how many dirty deals and fraud they are involved in. But when such people walk into the room others bow down because they don’t care how the money was obtained, only that they might ingratiate themselves and get a piece of the action.
Of course we all know that in order to get things moving among bureaucrats there will be some ‘facilitation’, or if one has dealings with the police money talks, and we have come to accept this, but there are now so many areas of life in Uganda that are also about money.
A Ugandan girl who had lived in the UK asked the question ‘Why can you not have a relationship with a boyfriend simply because you like him, why does it have to be about money?’ Perhaps she was being naïve, but when she was in the UK, money was not the first qualification for a man. There are also an increasing number of cases of men targeting girls whom they believe have money. If the girl is foolish enough to marry, the marriage ends badly with the man leaving with his wife’s assets.
Even socializing is now about money. Someone can be described as a ‘socialite’ in the media if they throw lavish parties and spread around free drinks, or better still just give out dollar bills.
Everything has been reduced to money, it is not about working hard to achieve something great like Nakaayi, it is simply extracting money from the system as quickly as possible and by any means: political, bribing, crooked business, fraud. It is all acceptable in our society, especially if you can spread some of it around to your supporters and general hangers on, who are already devising ways to relieve you of your new found cash.
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