A debate has been raging about the role of government in improving the lives of Ugandans. Many Ugandans complain that the government is weak, dysfunctional and corrupt and therefore cannot work for them. For many years I also used to believe this vision. But with time I have outgrown it.
Today I want to put this argument on its head. The government of Uganda cannot fix the people of Uganda. Only the people of Uganda can fix their government. Most Ugandans online insist that the poverty and misery of fellow citizens is caused by the government and can only be fixed by government.
This is a counterproductive attitude that we must fight. Government is a reflection of the collective competencies and values of our society because it is staffed by us. If it is incompetent it is because we are not skilled to manage it better. If it is corrupt, that is because our values are wrong. If we want to change how it works, we must change our values and attitudes first.
It is wrong to expect government to build successful businesses when Ugandans privately have not built successful brands like Samsung or Apple. It is wrong to expect government to run large scale and efficient education or healthcare systems when privately Ugandans haven’t built highly efficient education and healthcare systems. The South Korean state owns POSCO, one of the most successful steel companies in the world, because South Koreans privately could produce such successful companies as LG, Hyundai and KIA.
Yet most Ugandans keep complaining that “government etuyaambe”. This attitude of resignation can be found in President Museveni himself. He speaks as if he is a leader of the opposition, complaining about government failure instead of recognizing that it is his responsibility to fix things, not to complain. But Museveni is mirroring the attitude of Ugandans who refuse to take personal responsibility for their failures and blame government instead.
Slain USA president, John F. Kennedy, once said, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” We must also ask ourselves what we can do for our country. Yet most of the time we just want our government to do things for us. We want to milk a cow we don’t feed.
We have developed a whole generation of people who live by complaining online that government is responsible for their bad circumstances. No society in history has ever thrived because it produced an entire generation whose major preoccupation was complaining.
So today I ask you to get off your seat, stop complaining about government and begin doing something to make it better. Wherever you do something great – in politics or in the private sector – its net effect will be to make our country better. Sitting and complaining is not a formula for success.
If our values as a people, our skills as professionals, our attitudes as a society as right, then they will automatically be poured into the state and make it function better and serve our needs. But if our skills, values and attitudes are wrong, like spending all our time complaining instead of acting, then our government will reflect this dysfunctional behavior.