All development workers know (different versions of) the story of an ambitious consultant who was angry at African natives who spent the whole day basking on the beach and only catching the few of fish they needed for their family table.
He gave them a long lecture how they could become rich by embracing sophisticated fishing methods, make lots of money to employ other people so they could just relax by the seaside the whole day. The natives assured him that they were already living the ultimate lifestyle he was describing — relaxing by the seaside.
Now Uganda’s good old president is becoming like the disappointed consultant. The other day, he was launching a new steel processing plant for Uganda, heralding a new era of processing the country’s abundant iron ore, and he said all the right things about how this is better than merely smelting scrap, which hitherto defined the country’s steel industry.
Of course the development is of fundamental importance, but how many Ugandans care? The president, who has spent the past 27 years castigating, criticising and ridiculing our drunken and promiscuous lifestyle, was this time conciliatory, apologising for being critical, pleading with his countrymen to drink and womanise less and emulate the Indians who pour their heart and soul into work so as to become more productive and make profits while enhancing development. The founder of the new steel industry is an Indian.
But that is where the president is missing the shortcut that his countrymen have taken. Ugandans already know that working hard with creativity leads to profits and development. But after making all those profits, the ultimate goal is to get the good things in life. And to a Ugandan man, those good things in life are booze and women. And he already has them. So why take the long, boring Indian route?
Even without the coming of colonialists and the Indian railway builders who later became entrepreneurs, Ugandans had their booze, and of course women. Men didn’t need money to buy the booze since they made it from the produce of their gardens. And they had the women who, on attaining the “ripe” age of 14, were under pressure to get married to a man, regardless how many wives he already had. Then came the colonialists who made these “rights” and ultimate joys harder to enjoy for someone who did not have money.
Finally, following the peace ushered in by the NRM led by Museveni, Ugandan men can enjoy them again without too much sweat. The most problematic duty men were under pressure to fulfil was paying children’s school fees. Then NRM declared universal free primary education in 1997, following it up with universal secondary education in 2006. In the same era, NRM abolished the graduated tax that every male aged 18 and above was required to pay, meaning they had to get a job or grow a cash crop to get money to pay or else go to prison.
So, under Museveni’s NRM, even if not all men can manufacture their own booze, they have all the time to search for it and for women. Why should they take the long, laborious route of working hard, saving and investing to get what they already have? Moreover, India is already supplying Uganda with new, cheaper intoxicants like kubar chewing gum, which even a kid of five years can buy in Kampala for a few coins without restriction.