Uganda, get a marriage counsellor


The Government of Uganda and the media need a marriage counsellor.

The media is called the Fourth Estate, a term dating back to the old regime of monarchical France where the King took advice and public opinion from a periodical gathering of the three ‘estates’: the First Estate the Clergy, the Second the Nobility, and the Third Estate the tradesmen and commoners.

These estates met principally to discuss taxation – which was how the monarchy was funded at the time.

The seating arrangement in the House had each Estate sitting distinctly for obvious reasons. The journalists, who reported on the discussions during those meetings, were allocated a special area from which to observe and note proceedings to report to the masses outside.

They were the Fourth Estate.

And they were considered by many to be most important because whereas the Third represented the majority of the people, it was the Fourth Estate that told the people what exactly their representatives, lords, religious leaders and monarchs had negotiated in taxes to be levied.

The same format generally existed across Europe and, eventually, the democratic world.

To this day, the media forms part of the democratic government process – which I always call the management of society.

And the Democratic Government is not a distant thing that belongs to individuals sitting in an office, or driving large vehicles or toting guns. There should be no “they” when we talk of the government.

The government is you and I. Those are Our Members of Parliament, Our Judges, Our Ministers, Our Soldiers, Our Policemen, that is Our President, and those are Our Journalists.

And if the relationship between the journalists, collectively called the media, and the Government, is like that between a man and his wife, then perhaps we, the people, are the children being looked after by our government.Image

Banish immediately the backward, retrogressive and stupid stance that a woman is less than a man – this is 2013 and equality is no longer a catch phrase, unless your stance is justification for your mother bringing forth you, the individual.

Yes: the man is the head of the home; the bread-winner or, most likely, earns more; the accounting officer; the chief; the boss; physically stronger and therefore the protector; most likely the disciplinarian; the one who lays down the law for the kids and relatives in general; the one who makes the final decision on domestic affairs; and lots more.

But the woman: she maintains domestic harmony in various ways; she manages the ‘soft’ side of things without which chaos would reign – maids, menus, the children and whatnot; she keeps the man sane and in line; she nags him on occasion, and makes it uncomfortable for him to stay out partying with his friends all night, or stops him spending on toys before paying the school fees bill.

But women make different types of wives: there is the wife who insists on squeezing into the type of micro-mini skirt that would make Fr. Simon Lokodo frown (or otherwise) and then going out to the nightclub with her friends for a night of vodka and giggling; the wife who indulges in the salacious and cannot be trusted to spend unsupervised time with the mother-in-law or the children without making them draw breath as if they swallowed an unexpected pepper.

There is also the wife who dresses up nice and decent and likes to engage in that incessant conspiracy-theory type of gossip with her friends, constantly exchanging suspicions about their respective husbands being involved in all sorts of wrong-doing, never trusting the poor, well-meaning chaps for a minute and always monitoring their movements.

And there are different types of husbands: the well-developed, mature one with wealth and means, and health, who travels first class and maintains a pristine, modern home that everybody admires; and the drunken, confused, unkempt one who takes the few pitiful earnings of the household and buys trinkets and alcohol instead of investing in the kids’ future or health for all…

But men are powerful regardless of what type of husband they make, and of that there is no question. They are the stronger gender, the assertive, outstanding, loud, boisterous bosses that head the home.

Women, on the other hand, are powerful in their subtlety, which is why when we come across a woman speaking strongly or loudly we frown a little bit, whereas a man foaming in anger is simply in his element. The Roman Catholics know the power of a woman – which is why they pray through Mother Mary as their intercessor.

It’s the same way many children will place difficult requests to their fathers by asking their mothers. And that’s one of the ways we, ordinary people, use the media to get messages across to the State – by stating our opinions through comments in stories or letters to the editors or straight-up opinion pieces.

We expect that the government people are buying up newspapers to keep their fingers on the pulse of the nation – our pulse. Just as in the home, all men know that they pay keen attention to what their wives say or think, and spend all their time circumnavigating a mine field of nuances in order to avoid the discomfort of a displeased wife, as one William Congreve wrote as far back as 1697 and many a husband knows, “Heav’n has no rage, like love to hatred turn’d, nor hell a fury, like a woman scorn’d”.

And all women know how far to push their husbands without crossing that ugly line. It’s a distance well practiced, I believe, but I am no marriage counsellor.

The counsellor to sort out this relationship, which can teeter but not be cast asunder, might quote Bible verses re: “Wives, submit to your husbands…” such that one side is placated where needs be – for I know that if the problem at hand is the photocopy of the letter, it can be provided without itts source being named; and others for the husband re: “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them” or “…husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you…”.

The relationship can be salvaged. It must be salvaged, for the sake of the children, the property, and our family name as a nation. And this is the hour to do so for, you see, the man has thrown his wife out of the house, but he hasn’t began beating her.

Yet.

marie antoinette on a boda-boda!


STAND UP Comedy has become a big thing in Uganda over the last couple of years; so big that even the people charged with the most serious of matters are encroaching on the space of Pablo (Yagayo!), Salvadore and the deceptively diminutive Anne Kansiime.

Shop attendants, mechanics such as George Nigo of Ntinda, office messengers too numerous to name, Chief Financial Officers holding up legitimate payments, and most of all, politicians…the list is long. Last year, in exasperation, I started a series of blog posts titled, ‘Office Clowns’ with the intention of recounting every instance of clowning my employees and colleagues provided.

I realised I wouldn’t be left with much time to do regular work. Also, I had competition: the daily news.

Admit it: you laugh every time you read, watch or listen to the news here, don’t you?

Both the content and how it is presented, most times: A Karimojong priest talks about short dressing being immoral; a lawyer of many years’ experience conjures up an imbroglio a continent away over minerals on the extreme end of his home in Uganda, whose very ownership is in question; Generals warn each other through newspaper articles; a French passport holder gets arrested in Japan over drug charges decides to be a Ugandan national for this event, and Ugandan interpol happily accepts responsibility for helping her French-passport-carrying self.

This last one still has me riled. I like Iryn’s music and have danced with her once (and lived to tell) but I hate the way she spells her name and I am extremely irate at her holding a French passport for when times are good then choosing to be a Ugandan in trouble. The global statistics of Ugandans arrested over drugs have gone up a little bit instead of the French suffering!

Back to the comedy channel that is life in UG, like many of you out there, I refused to believe that Public Service State Minister Sezi Mbaguta had said teachers who were unhappy with their pay should go and operate boda-bodas.

You see, I suffer greatly from an ailment that makes me believe in the power of logic. This inhibits my understanding and appreciation of the politics and management of society around me.

For instance: how does a politician who relies on an electorate in a country like Uganda respond to the plea, “We want our pay increased!” by saying, “Go to hell!”?

Moreover when it involves teachers, who number 160,000 countrywide (remember, we can’t be sure because we don’t do census counts here…so just allow), of whom there must be a significant number in Rukungiri whose women Mrs. Mbaguta represents. Plus, teachers are influential people who talk to children and parents – almost everybody!

By week‘s end, the Uganda National Teachers Union had issued a statement calling for Mrs. Mbaguta to cancel her Comedy Tour – (title: “Marie Antoinette on a Boda-Boda“) or face the wrath of the people at the helm of education.

Was she really unaware that she was messing with people who can create the examination question: “What is the name of the woman you shouldn’t vote as your MP?” with the answers as: a) Sezi Mbaguta b) Mrs. Mbaguta c) Marie Antoinette Sezi d) Any of the above; <–and give this ’82 marks’ at all levels from Primary One to Tertiary Level?

To be a fair to her, what she actually said was, “..they want to invest in boda-boda or buy a car. If I say the salary is small – and I’ve said it for many, many, many years – that the salary is small, if I am a public officer and I think that the current salary does not live to my expectation, then you leave that particular job and get another one which will pay you well. But to be absent based on that you pay me little, it can’t be acceptable. It’s unacceptable and we want to appeal to teachers to do their job.”

This after MPs had grilled her over low pay for teachers and reports that some teachers had abandoned classes to run boda-bodas (riding them or owning them as investments).

Of course, MPs themselves are in no danger of facing this ignominy:

Their monthly salaries and pay includes a subsistence allowance of Ushs4.5million (enough to pay ten Graduate Level secondary school teachers), Mileage, Extra Constituency mileage of Ushs2.5m per month (the salaries of about ten entry level primary school teachers), Town running Ushs1million, Ushs200,000 medical allowance (about the salary of one entry level primary school teacher). I have also heard of a sitting allowance, Gratuity of Ushs3.5million and a Constituency Development Fund (CDF).

This CDF, according to The Observer of May 2012, was turned into a “secret pay rise” when MPs abolished it “because it was too little to have an impact”. It was Ushs2.9 billion being shared out among 375 MPs to use in their Constituencies.

Due to their great prowess in mathematics, thanks to teachers at different levels, the MPs worked out that the same money shared out among 375 MPs would have greater impact, and turned the CDF into allowances of sorts at around Ushs7.7million per MP per month (I asked the Parliament Public Relations people to refute The Observer story but they haven’t gotten back to me yet so…)

So Sezi Mbaguta earns about Ushs19million per month and is not about to go ride a boda-boda, while an entry-level primary teacher earns Ushs267,300, a secondary teacher (Diploma) Ushs350,000 and (Graduate) Ushs450,000.

Her colleagues in Parliament on the Social Services Committee who ditched teaching for Ushs19million a month include Judith Franca Akello (Agago Women), Alice Asianut Alaso (Serere Women), Victoria Rusoke Businge (Kabarole Women), Yahaya Gudoi (Mbale), John Nizeyimana Kamara (Kisoro), Aboud Kitatta (Bukoto West), Capt. Susan Lakot (UPDF), Betty Ahimbisibwe Mbabazi (Rubirizi), Connie Galiwango Nakayenza (Mbale Women), Gilbert Olanyo (Kilak), Joseph Gonzaga Ssewungu (Kalungu West) and Sylvia Namabidde Ssinabulya (Mityana Women).

But let’s be realistic – teachers earn less than most other professions the world over. And they do so out of sacrifice and a love for what they do. When they see their students doing well, they feel proud of their achievements.

Which is why Sezi Mbaguta is facing their wrath. Surely, after all her education, holder of degrees to Masters Level, she should have worded her “Go to hell!” message more politely like we always do.

Offer them SACCOs (not Sacks!), some NAADS and other opportunities. Sympathetically point out the other categories of people suffering all across the country – like Kasese flood victims and what not.

At her rate of public service management, to paraphrase some witty World Bank fellow of many years ago, we are soon going to have very many ill-educated people riding around on boda-bodas to attend some very low level stand-up comedy shows.

Musumba neither wants nor warrants our intervention


THIS week I focussed on news from the rest of the world in order to dilute my despair over some of our usual shenanigans. This especially after reading a report suggesting that the government of Uganda was going to send lawyers to India to defend Isaac Musumba, Michael Mawanda and, presumably, Musumba’s client, against charges of extortion and whatnot.

I know for a fact that the government of Uganda will not engage in such a foolhardy intervention without consulting the people of Uganda through our representatives, the Members of Parliament we elected to do our bidding.

These MPs have already quizzed the Foreign Affairs State Minister, Henry Oryem Okello, about why their colleagues-turned-suspects-in-a-foreign-land carried diplomatic passports yet they do not qualify to hold them. This, I am sure, was not driven by the phenomenon we call nugu (for the non-Ugandans, this is akin to envy, or a feeling of ill-will at somebody else’s good fortune) because these MPs are straight-thinking people who want things to be done properly, for God and their Country.

Oryem Okello’s response was neither blindingly intelligent, unfortunately, nor clear and I personally got the feeling that he was manifesting as another government official volunteering Uganda for disrepute and trouble. Perhaps this “bringing Uganda into disrepute” is in the job description of government ministers due to some careless stenography in the appointment letters? (Somebody, please check and fix it!)

Reading the newspaper reports of his appearance before the relevant committee of parliament, it was easy to assume that the good minister was not accompanied by the professionals in the ministry of foreign affairs, who must be well-schooled in the art of diplo-speak, where he clearly isn’t.

So if our venerable representatives were asked to clear the government to spend money on this venture, I trust that they would approach the matter with their usual logic and wisdom.

They would, first of all, cite all the reports made public by Musumba himself regarding his India mission being personal in nature and therefore not the business of the general public through the media.

They would also point out the fact that Musumba’s mission was likely to result in his enrichment of a percentage of the Ushs96billion his client was purportedly meant to receive. They would then link that to the possible cost to the government of Uganda of sending legal teams to India to represent the man who had gone there to represent a private citizen who stood to gain from the exploitation of a natural resource under the control of the government of Uganda.

Mind-boggling?

I can hear some sharp member of Parliament even piping up with, “Surely, shouldn’t that money be spent, instead, on health services or education or promoting trade in this country…?”

But I can’t imagine the response to that because it is hard for me to envisage which government official will be so mindless as to attempt to make this case before a group of intelligent, alert and sober men and women. (Note: I am not making any snide remarks in the direction of one Henry Musaasizi, whose motor vehicle is said to have crashed into a police station one night this week, sounding much like the story of the child who declares to a parent: “The cup has fallen!”)

Then, our MPs will probably whip out the news reports quoting the trustworthy Salaamu Musumba, wife of Isaac Musumba, assuring us that her husband was in no trouble with the law. They might even quote Musumba himself saying he was in control of matters.

And being men and women of the people, I can swear that this Parliament will investigate the matter painstakingly and even follow up on the report in the Observer regarding the original owner of the mine which Musumba’s client became entangled in…

In fact, they can set up a cabinet sub-committee of ministers lacking anything else to do – of which there is NO shortage – and charge them with getting to the bottom of this matter. The investigation won’t give them too much work, unfortunately, since there is a lot of evidence that can be picked up on right here, and here and elsewhere on the internet.

Musumba and his pal should have really read into the name of the company they went chasing after. Or perhaps they did and were somewhat inspired?