Politics and Government

Things to do when Mr Museveni goes (Part 3)

Following the first parts of this series, many readers have been volunteering suggestions on other things to be done.

From all their suggestions, you clearly read desperation and untold urgency. Such huge urgent expectations in returning to normalcy will be a very high toll on the next government.

It will be like walking into a house where the utensils are dirty, cobwebs everywhere, dogs with fleas in bedrooms playing, and water pipes leaking. Yet your children want everything immediately in order.

I started with the core parts of our national governance systems, because I am convinced that is where it all starts. But I understand why what some people want to see first are working hospitals, reduced economic inequalities, a functional education system, and employment for youths. All they need are better services, a sense that there is value for their taxes.

Yet we must remember that if we focus on those specific problems and lose sight of the broader systems that produce all the incompetency we see, we shall not yield sustainable results. You do not fix a leaking house by changing chairs and beds within. In a presidentialist system, once the top gets infected, the rest of the parts will surely develop a skin rash.

Our main problems gravitate around systems, integrity, and knowhow. One could argue that integrity should come first and then the rest will be sorted. However, when you are building from a broken society, it is unrealistic to expect integrity to come first. By what means?

Second, one of the primary justifications for the existence of government is, unfortunately, the fact that human beings have some selfish trait within their making that has to be controlled for the general good.

Thus, as I argued before, whereas goodwill is helpful where it may be, its possibility should not always be assumed. The building of strong systems is meant not to take any chances should the dark side of human inclinations emerge.

But this is not to underrate the significance of integrity, for without it, all crumbles. It is true that integrity can be habituated in the Aristotelian sense by socialising people into virtuous behaviour which eventually becomes their way of life.

But how do you do that at national level when you are inheriting a country where theft, mischievous deals, influence peddling, quick money, and cold dishonesty have become norms? By conducting sensitisation campaigns as the Directorate of Ethics and Integrity is doing? Do people do wrong because they do not know what is right?

No, that can only be a small part of it. Under such circumstances, you do not make one do the right thing by appealing to their moral sensibility. That is like trying to convince a madman to bathe by telling him about its values.

Our society now is such that, even if a parent did their job by instilling values into their children, the outer spaces are so corrupt that it will be very difficult for that child not to drift into the vices killing this country.

In this situation, integrity at a national scale will be best instilled through painful consequences that produce fear among the populace. Again, this can only be the case where systems work.

Even currently, such punitive measures exist, but one can manoeuvre around them by knowing which political or financial card to toss. This is bound to happen when there is a strong power center to which once attached, one can always be fully insulated against accountability.

That is why I earlier argued for cutting the power of the presidency, where with such a spread of powers, a person may not be able to run away from all accountability gates. If they are close to the president, parliament can still deal with them; if they are well connected in the judiciary, the executive and parliament can still rein in on them – and vice versa. We should create a system where no connection is protective enough for any public servant or other citizen in wrong.

I know that the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche would call this ‘slave morality’, because it emerges out of fear, and not conviction. But it is what the times demand. Gradually, acting through such fear, the good ways will become habitual.

One may play smart not to get caught, but once caught, there should be an audible bang in the public ear. The world is moving into increased surveillance for these very reasons. In some countries, many public spaces (including offices) are on fulltime camera watch. Like George Orwell predicted in the novel 1984, Big Brother is watching, and private space is shrinking – for good and bad.

Catching some wrongdoers and making it public that it was by means of such cameras would go a long way in instilling fear and influencing public behaviour. Hence people police themselves not to litter the streets, not to shoplift, not to mistreat others, not to vandalise and steal public property…

I do not need to be reminded that such cameras have been installed in some public places in Kampala but not helping much.

As I said earlier, random measures like these are failing to work because they are operating within a defective system. Can a violent state be friendly to cameras? Where a system is unduly filled with tribemates, in-laws, plus sons and daughters of friends/village-mates, how do you handle one that sleeps on the job? Can you punish them?

Here we get to another of Uganda’s perennial problems, inherited from colonial politics and that we have failed to address 57 years later – tribalism! Given the social structure and psyche of our society, it is almost obvious that, over time, the next president will simply tilt the balance to their tribal homeland as well. How shall we handle this after Museveni?

(To be continued next week).

Originally published on observer.ug

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Jimmy Spire Ssentongo
The author is a teacher of philosophy

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