As you know, dear reader, I am acutely obsessed about a return to the old order where Ugandans organically organised, mobilised and developed themselves. The days of cooperatives, small local banks, farmers’ banks, ‘bulungi bwa nsi’ (community service).
On this list, add direct graduated tax (not these hidden taxes), which made Ugandans active political subjects, et cetera. I know this return would be difficult, but a version of it would work wonders in remedying our plight. It was after they took these self-sustaining units away from us that the rains started beating us.
This is the message that former Finance minister Prof Ezra Suruma has advocated for throughout his adult life, and for which he was fired. I want to propose to Bobi Wine — riding on his cult following and loving crowds across the country — that he can use them more meaningfully, more powerfully, beyond the spectacle and energy that they bring to his rallies.
At the risk of being called self-seeking and appearing to be writing a manifesto for Bobi Wine, I would prefer my proposals are understood (a) as challenge, “You do not have to be in Nakasero or Entebbe to lead” and (b) as question: “What more can you get from these loving crowds?”
With the faith that Ugandans have in Bobi Wine — which I do not have to gamble with these things myself — it is my contention that they are waiting for him for leadership on actual things. (And this moment is fleeting, and ought to be exploited as it lasts).
It seems clear that if the promise is removing Museveni through mass civic action (and before that no leadership can happen), it is my worry that this will be a long wait. It seems obvious that Museveni and co. are much prepared against mass action than anything else. Not even a coup.
But my set of proposals are all entirely legal, and while government can actually become jealous and stop them, they can be implemented with committed on-ground leadership. Let me sample them directly:
Revitalising the twebereremu/ mwebereremu spirit, I propose that Bobi Wine starts with the simple things. If it was the collection of IDs and registering to vote then, it should be community service this time. Why not revitalise bulungi bwansi, especially since it does not require money, but time and labour?
One of the major problems facing communities, especially in the urban centres, is garbage disposal and clogged drainage systems. It is my proposal that on these tours, it ought to be standard messaging that alongside their hero, followers will spend about two to three hours cleaning every nook and cranny of the host town.
Bobi Wine then gears up on arrival and gets his hands dirty. I cannot imagine the power of this gesture and action. Consider Mbarara, for example: River Rwizi is suffocating with garbage and small industrial waste. It should be the target for cleaning either over a period of a day or two so that by the time Bobi Wine leaves Mbarara, the people are sufficiently served by the presence of the leader.
Consider the central markets of Iganga, Gulu or even Arua, or just the streets of these cities! They are dirty. They need leadership. This could be the beginning of a monthly People Power day for bulungi bwa nsi.
This next proposal of mine is more complex, and will require more time and meticulous planning. But the work has to be done and can be done. Across the country, poverty remains a major challenge, with Busoga perhaps being the poorest in the entire country.
As rightly identified, Basoga having turned to sugarcane growing where almost everyone became an out-grower, only for the exploitative refinery owners to drown the prices is their major challenge.
Can you imagine that oftentimes, it has been more profitable to sell the mature canes as firewood, and not as juicy canes! Yes, you could take cue from the only still standing cooperative in the country, Bugisu Cooperative Union, and start asking farmers to mobilise themselves, generate funds and unionise themselves.
If one million sugarcane farmers collected Shs 1,000 each, that is Shs 1 billion. Once they contribute this money themselves, they will have both ownership of the project and a democratic chance to organise themselves into a bottom-up union.
If they sustained the Shs 1,000 contribution for five months, making Shs 5bn, Shs 10bn after a year, and they would be on track to building themselves a refinery, and processing their sugarcanes. A couple of years down the road, they would have entered the sugar processing industry, re-empowering themselves and offering their children jobs on the refinery. I cannot stop to list the many linkages that come with this project.
PEOPLE POWER TECHNICAL SCHOOLS
Perhaps the most ignored side of our education system is technical education: professional technical skills. I once listened to an industrialist decry the quality of welders in Kampala.
These folks we have welding our windows and doors cannot handle heavy-duty welding. The businessman noted that his business steadied after he hired professional welders from Kenya. It is a common story that the best hoteliers in the region come from Kenya or South Africa.
So are chefs, mechanics, et cetera. I have no doubt in my mind that in every district, there is a person willing to donate land to a good cause. And there are contractors willing to contribute cement and sand; bricks can be locally made.
There could be local donors from other districts willing to donate to a cause of this nature. If at the end of the year, NUP/ Bobi Wine builds 50 state-of-the-art technical schools, Nakasero would move itself to Magere.
The author is a political theorist based at Makerere University