Presidential handouts and the Galamba-Birembo trek

President Museveni during the trek

President Museveni during the trek

President Yoweri Museveni embarked on a six-day, 195km-long trek from Galamba in Wakiso district to Birembo in Kakumiro district.

Dubbed the Afrika Kwetu trek, the march was in commemoration of the heroic gun battles that Museveni’s outfit engaged in with the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA); the amassment of arms and troops; the coup that led to the end of Obote’s rule; and the eventual capture of Kampala in January of 1986.

The trek has, according to the president’s handlers, covered seven districts in memory of the fighters who took part in the war that brought Museveni and the NRA to State House. This is not the first time that the president has taken part in this trek. There was a similar trek in 1999, and another one earlier on.

It is a laudable feat, one in which younger generations are reminded of the sacrifices our forefathers made to bring about peace, stability, democracy, the rule of law, an end to abject poverty and equality, among others. They also went to the bush to liberate Uganda from dictatorship, corruption, rigged elections, impunity and to stop leaders clinging to power, forever.

It is, however, dishearting that close to 37 years after the ‘original’ Galamba - Birembo march, the area is wallowing in abject poverty, while the president is at ease handing out brown envelopes to women and men of his age, or older, on their knees, with hands stretched out.

These are the same people who bore the brunt of the UNLA in the name of protecting the NRA. Certainly, these are people who were present when the marauding UNLA was aimlessly shelling the area in attempts to eliminate Museveni and his fighters. 

Obscene amounts of taxpayers’ money have been spent on this presidential trek, not forgetting the infamous “brown envelopes.” The criteria used for the recipients of these envelopes, is not clear, the amount in the envelopes is an enigma, and how the monies will be accounted for is a joke!

These are disturbing issues that need to be addressed because they determine how best we fight corruption and also respond to some of the questions that were raised in the now rarely mentioned 10-Point-Programme, part of which the Galamba-Birembo trek is commemorating. 

While the president is at liberty to give out money to whoever he deems fit, there exists a criterion through which these decisions are arrived at; after all, it is taxpayers’ money he is distributing.

I have been told of one elderly lady who along the trek was given an envelope containing Shs 1 million. This money became the center of concern within the household as the younger members plotted to steal it from her or even do worse. That we can even plot against our elders is disturbing enough, but living in so much poverty that Shs 1 million can destabilize a household to this point is worrying and painful. 

It seems to appear that the biggest number of beneficiaries of the brown envelopes were the elderly. But are these the most vulnerable in society? Are they the neediest?

Is a handout of Shs 1 million what they need at this material time? What is this handout going to change in their lives? Is it enough to buy the medicinal and nutritional supplies for a year for just them? What of their dependants who pass off as their present caretakers? Not to mention marking them out as targets in a sea of squalor and despair.

If we are going to honor our departed, and also our elders, let us do it with the befitting dignity. Let us do it in consultation with them and also in consultation with those that take care of them.

The author is the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd