They say laughter is the best medicine. But an older saying teaches that prevention is better than cure. To tell which of these two prescriptions Ugandans prefer for a solution to the general malaise, you need to listen to their contemporary speech; language is a society’s expression of its culture, and its mood.
We have many languages in Uganda including English and Kiswahili. In all of them, you can sense that the mood of trying to soften the brunt, the pain from the knocks inflicted on the people by the stunting of an import dominated economy, the coronavirus pandemic and the divisive politics.
In the language most spoken around Kampala, there is this rampantly used expression, said amidst laughter that “ki Uganda kinyuma” which directly translates as “fattish Uganda is fun”! To a Swahili ear, it sounds like “the Ugandan way is the backward one”. But is it? Here are examples of how the phrase used:
A story breaks of a conman fleecing jobseekers of a billion shillings in a recruitment scam, the reaction is “ki Uganda kinyuma!”
On the evening national news broadcast, when the Finance minister is chased away by angry MPs after he fails to explain his budgetary proposals, you pick the phone and call a friend to ask if s/he has seen. The answer is “ki Uganda kinyuma!” and the two of you have a hearty laugh, your sound night’s sleep secured. Or if key players on the national football team resign protesting the (mis)management of the game, the fans say, “ki Uganda kinyuma” and laugh it off.
This attitude is good for emotional health, for laughter, doctors say, boosts the body’s immunity; and if prolonged, can help you shed a kilo and half in a year.
But as we secure body immunity and emotional health by laughing at crime and incompetence, we neglect tackling their causes and thus fail to build capacity for tackling the effects when the breaking point comes one day, sooner or later.
In the coming week, the country will open a new leaf as it starts the next leadership cycle of a new government. But will the new parliament also be fresh in terms of approach and ideas? Or will the new faces in parliament also lack new ideas? There are now 529 MPs, before the president adds a dozen or more non-elected members whom he will appoint as ministers.
Even before the new members take oath, the same old spirit is already pervasive — pre-occupation with privileges. The biggest (ruling) party at its weeks-long retreat for new members did the important things of orienting them to the party manifesto and so on. But the matter of restoring the expensive foreign trips that were luckily suspended due to the covid-19 pandemic came up and was poised to become so divisive that its discussion was deferred.
Sometimes you wonder if the MPs have access to the internet. Didn’t they too laugh at a Malawi minister reportedly flying overseas to attend a zoom conference? They should be better than us, who ride on nasty public transport to the city to look for an item yet we could have used our phone to order it.
Meanwhile, the old style of expenditure continues as the new financial year’s budget has been finalised featuring a top priority of providing $80,000 to each of the almost 550 incoming MPs to buy a car of their choice. Several weeks back, a furious Chief Justice Alphonse Owiny Dollo lashed out at President Yoweri Museveni over government’s failure to provide even the understaffed Judiciary with enough vehicles to take judges around the country to hold court sessions, President Museveni hit back reminding Justice Owiny-Dollo that he was a member of the constituent assembly that empowered parliament to set its remuneration.
So emotive is the matter of cars. But if the MPs used the internet a little more, they would by now be aware about vehicle trends and at least attach a condition on the fuel efficiency of the vehicles that the taxpayer is going to fund so exorbitantly. The MPs would be aware that other societies are already planning for efficient disposal by recycling the electric car batteries that will start to massively reach their end of life in 20 years. We are talking of 30 million such cars in Europe alone. Do our MPs think of where they need Uganda to be in 30 or even 15 years?
Last week, in what could be mistaken for a comedy show, MPs who lost the last election were taken through training on survival in the tough world outside Parliament. But some of them are still calling for a stipend. And what do you think was the commonest reaction to the training? Fattish Uganda is fun
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:[email protected]