A Case For – nay, Against – Numbers

My friend Rugambwa Ivan Ninsiima has written a piece today over the recent duel between Bobi Wine and Andrew Mwenda. In it he suggests, “people are not machines conditioned to statistics and figures” and goes ahead in many words to say but one thing: people are bound to trust their gut feeling anyway, to hell with the figures!

Sadly this is a worrying trend – the distaste for facts we don’t agree with, proven truths, etc., in favour of our gut feeling – that is gaining traction not only in Uganda, but world over.

In the U.S. you now see a push back against scientific evidence on things like climate change; the anti-elite movement that has sired Trump and Banon emerged out the romanticism of a “past” in which America was great, the fight over the teaching of creationism in school, etc. Even the formerly intellectual “left” has not been spared by this anti-intellectualism wave. At University campuses students only want to listen to speakers they agree with. Soon they may even agitate to be taught only those “facts” they agree with.

Closer to home the distaste for numbers or statistics is compounded by a paucity of locally generated knowledge and facts. At universities, the few students who go out of their way to query what professors are teaching them are labelled “balugezigezi”. Majority want the professor to just hand them his notes so they can reproduce them in the exam. When they leave school and now have to face life’s hard reality, they turn to pastors to “lift the burden”. Advice on marriage, relationships, business, etc is in the custody of these anointed men of God, dispensed to their folk at a fee.

This is Uganda today.

To deliver the country to the future many – including Bobi Wine – want to see, we will need a dispassionate application of clear-minded public policies that are couched in both reality and fact, not illusions and emotion.

True, most people are not machines “conditioned to statistics and figures”. And this is precisely why we should have leaders who are above this primordial conditioning, to think with a clear head about society for posterity.

When one falls sick, they want to have the very best doctor they can get or afford. You do not ask for one who has just about the same “knowledge” as you the patient about medicine! Why is it then that in the application of public policy and leadership, we seem to want those who share the same basal instincts with us – the average citizens – yet expect them to deliver above “average”?

Righteous anger and illusions about change should not blind us to the reality before our eyes. Uganda will not transform into a first world country in the next fifty years, not because it has leaders who don’t care like Museveni, but because there are certain structural constraints that need to be soberly addressed.

The leaders to address those constraints will have to stand above this illusion that emotions and gut feeling is all that matters and adopt a disciplined application of policies…over a long time.

We can all, as members of the civil society, help them one better: by calling out elements who are anti-reason, isolating them and defending the truth however inconvenient it is.

What do you think?

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