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If you want action here, cause a crisis

Perhaps it is how we humans are prewired that without systems to consciously regulate our behaviour, we can mainly be drawn to action by either an actual or possibility of occurrence of a shock that threatens our lives and desires.

Thus, our responses are often in proportion to the level of threat or shock posed by an event. But this only goes as far as our memory/reason can remind us of the possibility of the threat/shock happening.

Accordingly, in his attempt to analytically trace the origin of government, British philosopher Thomas Hobbes says that without government, everyone lived in constant fear of a violent death. It was ‘each against all’, meaning there was no space for industry or any form of creativity – for anyone could lay claims over products of your labour. In short, life was ‘nasty, brutish, solitary, poor, and short’.

Coming up with government, to which individuals would have to surrender some of their liberties in exchange for protection, was, thus, a response to the threats posed by absolute natural freedom. Social psychology has also helped us understand circumstances under which people may respond to a threat, and when they may not.

One of such explanations is what is referred to as the ‘boiled frog syndrome’ according to which, when you put a frog in lukewarm water and gradually boil it, it might boil to death unless someone rescues it. But if you throw it into boiling water, it will immediately jump out. The point is that people tend to respond to sudden shocks than to those that build up over time.

Relating this to many of the uncomfortable issues we face in Uganda and the times we come out in rage to talk about them, one notices that often none of them is new to us. They are things we live and interact with on almost a daily basis, and which we somehow get used to until crisis or shock points. This is not only at government level; it starts with individual and family levels.

When HIV/Aids ravaged the country in the 1980s and 1990s, people swore to their sexual lives at the sight of a victim in his/her last stages. It was just a matter of time and ARVs for HIV/Aids to be feared less than pregnancy. Humanity’s ability to forget is of both negative and positive values.

That is how we are able to whistle while cleaning our parents’ tombs a few years after their death. Yet forgetting also sends us into repeating things that put us in trouble; worse if the memory is too short.

In Uganda, when does traffic police find it important to put up strict operations on highways? Operations like ‘fika salama’ often follow shocking accidents, especially where those ‘who matter’ are among the casualties. Then they will stage roadblocks every few kilometres checking for driving permits, third party insurance, seatbelt fastening, car mechanical conditions, and speed.

But soon, all is forgotten and it’s business as usual. There was a time when all taxis were required to install seatbelts and speed governors, and adherence was strictly monitored.

That became history. After the recent horrible Gaagaa bus accident, the police, like termites, again poured on roads with speed-monitoring gadgets. Just give them time; they will retreat until another gruesome accident.

The same is with our public hospitals. Their state only becomes an issue when some ‘big’ person gets hospitalised or dies there (which is quite rare, except when they suddenly collapse).

Having one radiotherapy machine (donated) in a country of 40 million people did not really matter. The state of cancer healthcare only picked attention when even that one machine broke down amidst so much noise. Being so used to disservice, only extreme disservice can bother us now.

Increasingly then, many are getting to learn that here you are hardly listened to until you cause a crisis. If there is one working old x-ray machine in a huge hospital, you may only see action if you break that one too. Then they could buy two, if there is adequate noise.

There is a certain huge faculty at Makerere University with only one functional toilet room for students; the rest have been dysfunctional for over a year. It may not be until the functional one is broken, too, that they see need for fixing them! Bad doesn’t prompt us; only the worst can touch our hearts and hands.

Why is it that it is only when lecturers, primary and secondary teachers, doctors, and medical interns strike that they can get some assurances on pay increments and better working conditions?

Why is it that in some institutions, student issues are only heard when they resort to strikes – even when their reasons are unreasonable! They have learnt the most effective negotiation tool in this land, just as institutions have learnt to wait until the tipping point.

As I noted earlier, it starts with our tendencies at individual level. Without functional institutional frameworks, it is these tendencies that are often projected onto the institutions we work with.

Even where resources are available, many of us often find need to visit the hospital only when ‘badly off’, at times when it is rather late. Maybe, it is a habit we have been raised into from backgrounds of deprivation. At times we may not repair our cars until they can’t move or fix leaking taps until the flow is overwhelming.

In such a context, and where we know that changing the mindsets behind our fire-brigade approach to things might be a long-term thing, in the meantime perhaps we should adaptively learn to create crises. Like making someone panic about the possibility of losing an election, they pump back our money into us, and we honestly speak back through the box.


The author heads the Centre for African Studies at Uganda Martyrs University.


+4 #1 Phalanch 2018-06-06 22:16
Surely for those us still around, we are only here b'se of good luck but not good management .

True Leadership with concrete plans is like a tree trapped in a seed but not in soil, however not untill that circle of opportunity in expanded or given a chance only then we can see long lasting and meaningful changes.

Uganda has got the ability but what we so desparately in need is the mentality to over come dictatorship
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+4 #2 Stewart 2018-06-07 09:05
Its started with the statement," At least we now sleep" and went over board, the good thing is."

At least we are now waking up", that's after over 30 years though.
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+2 #3 Akot 2018-06-07 20:30
Phalanch, agreed.

Ugandans have not/don't see how other dictators-useless rulers were removed: UNITY of a people for common cause agains their common enemy!

Until Ugandans understand they alone have the power to bring change because the Republic they formed by bringing together tribal lands, yet allowed Museveni to shatter belongs to them, Museveni is at peace, is going no where, will do as he pleases & will be their chief tribal leader for ever!

Museveni will not be in place if tribal leaders stand down & bring the divisive inhuman triblistic system to crumbles!

Kadhafi-Sadam Hussein... tribally divided their people, but never had tribal leaders!

Not even Salva Kiir has tribal leaders in that tribally divided shithole suffocating other countries, including Uganda, with refugees!

Museveni will be there as long as Ugandans still need him to keep them tribally divided!
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+2 #4 Akot 2018-06-07 20:52
Stewart, agreed, but,

The waking up is not up to expectation; it should be EXPLOSIVE & eject Museveni out of State House!

This means EVERY Ugandan MUST stand up, this includes tribal leaders who MUST stand down & bring the tribalistic system to crumbles & give Ugandans chance!

More so, there is no opposition leadership to guide Ugandans!

Museveni cannot be thrown out without UNITY of Ugandans with just 1 of them as common leader so that an administration is put in place immediately, to guide the formation of the kind of governance Ugandans want, after Museveni is thrown out in UNITY!

Even if Ugandans won't accept 1 of their own as common leader after Museveni is out, they have no choise but to UNITE to throw him out, then tribal leaders will go back to being so, but without Museveni around as chief tribal leader enslaving a people who say they don't want him!...
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+2 #5 Akot 2018-06-07 20:54
...The fact there is no opposition leadership to help Ugandans get second Independence is because they have understood Ugandans won't back any of them when in trouble with Museveni & our people will remain by Museveni's sides, watching how things go!

Yet these today quiet & unconcerned opposition leaders will come out at next fake election to run against Museveni who will NEVER be defeated by a divided people of Uganda!

UNITY of Ugandans to block Museveni & force him out is overdue, especially when Ugandans say they don't want the chief tribal leader without tribal land in their country any more!

The outside world is watching, waiting for Ugandans to act, make their stand!
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+2 #6 Jama 2018-06-08 02:32
Two things i have learnt from this article: first we act when it's too late.

Secondly we prefer cure more than prevention.
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+2 #7 Lakwena 2018-06-08 11:51
Thanks Musawo Ssentongo with your clarity.

In other words , until a philosopher like you becomes the King and/or our pot-bellied and butt-headed leaders/kings, and all of us become philosophers like you; no amount of shocks, wishes and reminders about our fatal and endemic problems will suffice.
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0 #8 Akot 2018-06-08 20:20
Jama, agreed, but,

It's not too late for Ugandans because Museveni has no tribal land that will be destroyed if our people UNITE, come out in full to block & force him out!

Or, are there more Rwandese in the army/police than Ugandans?

The cure won't be deadly if Ugandans UNITE & block the dictator to make sure he just leaves. Then our people will put in place an administration that will lead them to the next step!

Have Ugandans forgotten that after Amin when there was no alternative to him, the National Executive Consultative Council helped in the next moves the moment Amin was out?

Yet today, tribal leaders MUST stand down to give chance to a start after Museveni, more so they help keep Museveni in power & are well payed for it!

Amin went with Sudanese he brought in & used & no Ugandan was involved in keeping him in power through a tribalistic system, right!
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0 #9 Wooden K. 2018-06-11 15:32
Oli otya Dokita !

You owe us a cartoon .

Now I remember one of your most famous Abirigadages:
"however far a man urinates , the last drop will fall on his feet ".
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0 #10 IIRANKUNDA RONALD 2018-06-13 10:39
About the boiling frog syndrome, I think our only man with vision really through himself in boiling water and managed to cool it until the water started boiling again.

Now given the issues of insecurity and other harder issues, the water has now boiled to a hotter temperature.

In my language there is a saying that '' a lizard one time thought that the warmth of the house had just increased and it just relaxed not knowing the house was on fire.'' Let them keep enjoying the warmth.
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