Uganda | An Economy of Per Diem By Timothy Kalyegira
By Timothy Kalyegira — In the late 1980s, Rakai District in southern Uganda became the epicentre of the Aids pandemic. At the height of the crisis, the entire young adult population of homes and villages was wiped out.
Children as young as 10 or 12 were left to fend for their siblings as young as three or five. Both parents as well as uncles, aunts and neighbours had all died. For those more fortunate, grandparents came in to act as parent. It was one of the saddest tragedies to ever afflict Uganda.
As I travel around Uganda and monitor the news and national mood, I feel that Uganda as a country has become in political terms what Rakai was in the late 1980s. Something about Uganda feels like a bereaved society without an adult presence.
Uganda is a society that strikes me as being like an orphanage. It is a country of nearly 40 million children but who don’t have parents, leaders, mentors and guardians. We were neglected by our parents and left to fend for ourselves as street children.
The comforting, protective shield we had until the time of independence in October 1962 has long been torn away from us. There is very little conviction among the leadership, from the ruling NRM to the Opposition, from civil servants to the business community, from the media to civil society.
Everyone seems to be going through the motions, their main motivation limited to finding any avenue to earn that extra Shs100,000. The monthly salaries for most people, from Member of Parliament to journalist, Cabinet minister to LC5 chairperson, no longer feels enough to meet their needs.
So a supplementary salary comes through allowances — out-of-station per diem, transport refunds for attending press conferences or workshops, acting as MCs at events and in general hustling.
When per diem becomes more important as a source of income than one’s monthly salary, you know a country is in serious and structural economic crisis.
It means an officer or employee cannot, by virtue of that, put in his or her full eight hours of dedicated work at the desk. Extra income has to be sought in activities and places outside of the workplace.
That’s why Cabinet ministers, MPs, senior civil servants, academics, journalists and others cannot dare pass up an opportunity to travel upcountry or abroad for a workshop or conference, no matter how irrelevant or boring the conference is.
They need that per diem which is essential as additional income. The amount of productive work time Uganda loses every year to these redundant workshops and foreign trips is enormous, but there is no choice available for most workers.
Basically, the Ugandan workforce, both government and private, is like businessmen pretending to be civil servants and corporate employees. Uganda on the face of it is peaceful and stable but at a deeper level very little works, except for parts of the capital city Kampala.
The way President Museveni spoke as he addressed mourners at Andrew Felix Kaweesi’s home last week, lent further proof to my view of Uganda as an orphaned country.
His tone was very much like that of a layman, even though he was trained in his youth as an intelligence officer. He talked off-cuff and in very general terms. He did not seem to have much to say. His solution to the rampant crime today was the installation of surveillance cameras along the streets and other parts of Kampala.
For any violent criminal listening to the President speak, his remarks were reassuring. There was nothing about his warnings and threats to bring Kaweesi’s killers to book that would have worried any criminal.
The lowest point, a clear indication that he had reached the stage of layman helplessness, was when he advised high-ranking government and security officials that if they suspect that a boda boda trailing them might be suspicious, to stop, get out, and engage the boda boda man.
For a former intelligence officer, former minister of Defence, former guerrilla leader and for the last 31 years Head of State to not understand the implications of such a reckless statement on public order and security, simply reinforces my argument.
By spending most of the last 31 years consolidating his personal grip on power, Museveni has managed out of his self-interest to give Uganda its longest stretch of internal stability since independence.
In some way, that can be given as credit to the NRM government for those who remember what life felt like from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s.
But stabilising a country mainly because all effort, time and resources are invested in making sure a government is not toppled, is not the same thing as developing that country and now we are starting to see the full fruits of this erroneous approach to affairs of state.
Apart from the senior layer of the officer corps of the Special Forces Command, I don’t see any other section of Ugandan society that is fully motivated in the work they do. By motivated, I mean people who when push comes to shove, when we hit critical time and the government is starting to fall apart, who will put in the extra effort to prevent that happening.
The way the Iraqi army simply surrendered en masse when the American forces entered Iraq in March 2003 or, recently, when the hard line militant group ISIS approached the outskirts of the city of Mosul, is the way I see the Ugandan establishment, from the army, police, intelligence, civil service and business community melting away should any sustained pressure be applied to the Ugandan State.
The Ugandan State now hangs on the person of President Museveni, a person whom as we saw last week, is increasingly sounding as much a layman as the rest of the public.
And so I don’t see the Uganda police investigating Kaweesi’s murder and arriving at a factual conclusion. I could be wrong, but I don’t know if we still have a police officer corps with anything like inner conviction about what they are doing and the need to do it.
Suspects (or purported suspects) will be arrested, some perhaps presented to the public to give the impression of the police doing its work. But I don’t see circumstances under which our police will arrive at a crucial conclusion.
I don’t see a single police officer who, three years from now (or even six months from now) will still be reading through Kaweesi’s file, piecing together the evidence and puzzling over who his killers might be. That Uganda ended in 1962.
Source — Daily Monitor.