Friday, October 23, 2015

The Lost and the Hopeless or Means and The Ultimate End

"Dissent is the highest form of patriotism"
About a week ago I was involved in one of those arguments about the state of the nation that typically end with Kalinaki's exasperated sentiment earlier this year when an Anti Corruption Court judge threw out the Shs 165 billion pension scam case because the government had failed to produce any witness in court for two years. Kalinaki, in a perplexed and disappointed tone, listed a few things he considered doing on hearing of the collapse of the case but inevitably arrived at the nagging question; "But to what end?"

The argument I was involved in was sparked off by this video, posted by Bukedde TV on 03 October 2015, about a raid on the Romi Wines factory in Kitebi by uniformed soldiers allegedly because the proprietor was/is providing funds for Mbabazi's presidential bid. This was followed by the events that occurred on Mbarara highway on Saturday, 10th October, when police stopped a convoy of members of the opposition FDC party and press as they attempted to make their way to Rukungiri. In the ensuing scuffle, Zainab Fatuma Naigaga, a member of the FDC entourage was manhandled and dragged by police officers to a waiting police truck. One officer tore off her blouse while others pulling her by the jeans, brought them down to her knees. All this was filmed and photographed by the press present at the scene. The following day the police released a statement, and video footage, claiming she had undressed herself in a bid to seek attention and sympathy from the public. Police further claimed that FDC had hired 'goons' who were ready to undress to create the impression that they were being harassed by security operatives. The IGP, Gen. Kale Kayihura then went ahead to warn journalists not to travel with opposition politicians.

Three distinct sides emerged as the argument wore on; one that believed the narrative proffered by the police, claiming that their (the FDC entourage and the press) being on the road was illegal and thus they deserved to be arrested; the opposing side which maintained that the police had been brutal and has consistently shown itself to be partial to the ruling party; and a third side that was indifferent and increasingly irritated by the argument.

This is the anatomy of most, if not all arguments concerning governance and leadership in Uganda I've observed or been involved in. In fact, most of the time I'm reluctant to engage in them because it seems pointless. I am guilty of being an armchair critic. It's been intimated by several commentators that Uganda's 'social media activists' are useless toothless individuals whose only significant contribution is keeping the mobile phone companies in business.

Earlier last month, MPs were each paid a disturbance allowance of 10 million shillings by The Office of the President to pass the bill creating an additional 23 districts, an act that adds several billion shillings to the tax payers' burden. Barely a month later, the same office then dished out 5 million shillings to each member of parliament as 'disturbance allowance' for passing the presidential and parliamentary elections bills. The Parliamentary Commission which is responsible for payment of MPs salaries and allowances denied having anything to do with the payments.

So what does a discontent like me do about that? Here I am railing about it but other than shouting into cyberspace, what effective steps can I take to make my displeasure heard and heeded? According to the executive director of the Anti Corruption Coalition Uganda, Cissy Kagaba, I should file a 'public interest' case against parliament in the courts to stop this behaviour but I'll be damned if I even know how to start that process let alone whether I have the funds to support such a venture. The one thing I do know is that I can talk about it, I can voice my displeasure and even pick up a placard and take my displeasure to the gates of parliament, perhaps even throw a few rotten eggs. This will however not end well for me because Kayihura and his boys will 'beat the shit out of me.' So I ask myself; to what end?

Dissent is a costly undertaking; more so in this economy where you've got to scrap and hustle for every little crumb you can, therefore if you've got mouths to feed you can barely afford to take to the streets. Walk to work? What's that? You ask. I walk to work day in and day out and I haven't seen my MP stop to ask why I don't commute let alone offer me a lift. I haven't seen his opponents either. No one gives a damn.

The harsh truth is that this government thinks you're all idiots; noisy but powerless idiots. Over time it has blocked off most avenues for you to exercise real power. It has paid off parliament to pass laws curtailing your ability to express your displeasure, others to consolidate power in one branch of government while effectively undermining its own. It has squandered hundreds of billions of your money all in the name of your security but you can't even hold anyone accountable for buying a bunch of 'junk' military hardware. It has turned what is meant to be an august house into a forest of vociferous bumbling baboons whose sole aim seems to be to cling onto the branches of power and amass as much fruit as the tree can bear. Your government has no ideals. In fact it has made you believe that to have ideals is at best foolish and at worst dangerous. Words like democracy are considered dirty imports allegedly incompatible with our 'African culture'. 'It's okay when people steal', they say, 'as long as they share the spoils with you, invest in the economy, wealth creation, trickle down effect.' If you happen to find yourself on the receiving end of a trickle or two, you can finally kick-start your dreams because you're now 'in the thing'.  

But what can you do? You've got to eat. Baby's gotta have some milk. You don't have the time and energy to go against your government to make it better, so you give in and take your share of the spoils too or keep your head down and say it's okay as long as I can live my life, 'in peace.' But to what end?

How did we get here? How is it that we live in a society where our MPs can sit down and agree to increase their salaries and benefits while hospitals rot and people starve to death. How did we become the kind of people that celebrate theft and the perversion of justice? That one is a long history but I'll wager it started when we allowed the fear of insecurity to be used as a weapon to control us. The generation tasked with heralding a truly 'fundamental change' in this nation has spent the summers of its youth cowering in the shadow of fear; fear of rocking the boat and shattering a fragile 'peace'. It has surrendered its rights, neglected its duty and willingly become an accomplice to the rape of our great land. 

But it is not the end. This nation will prevail and the ideals we held at the start will once again light our way. It must begin with us. We must not cower and hide our heads but stand tall and have our say. Today. It has to be today, for when we get to the end, we must pass all this on to those who will go on ahead.

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, will make violent revolution inevitable.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A game of rock, paper and a blade

I think I'll kill myself today. The weather's quite nice. Blue skies, warm sunshine, gentle breeze, aroma of rain soaked earth, chirping of birds; it's a good day for it. A curious thing it is to die: it's everyone's destiny, each of us making our way steadily towards it from the first breath and yet we live in such fear of it that we're driven to madness by the prospect of the end so much that we invent elaborate fantasies in a bid to deny its power over us and end up not living at all. But what is it that I truly fear about the end?

I once fancied myself in possession of the samurai spirit of the East and told myself that if I ever did choose to end it, I would do so with the courage and determination of the 'warrior'. I pictured a man, robed in white, grey and black, seated on a coloured reed mat. Before him on a snow covered patch of mountainside, a scroll, a quill and a katana. A Wakizashi in the right hand. One slow and resolute cut at the end. The picture is still in my head.

I am afraid of the pain that I will leave and that which I will take. I am afraid that in the end I will fail and be condemned to a life of regret. I cannot abide that and so I will prepare well, weave the mat and sharpen the blade. I fear too, like all men, a life of broken dreams, meaninglessness and pretense; a lie of a life lived in the skin of shame, striving to be what I am not for another's sake. So, today is the end.

The chief problem with killing yourself of course, is how to go about it. I've never understood people who jump off buildings and bridges or step in front of speeding vehicles. If you're looking for spectacle, nothing beats self immolation in a public place, obviously a good distance from any fire extinguisher. If you're stoic enough to sit still while the flames consume you, then bravo! I however don't have the desire to make a big deal of it, at least not for anyone else but myself, so I won't be jumping, rushing into oncoming traffic or setting myself ablaze. I'm going to go for a more subtle exit but one that allows me to feel every heartbeat. This rules out drug overdoses and a bullet to the head. I once choked on water and it was one of the more terrifying life experiences, along with waking up in the middle of the night unable to draw breath so that's a no to drowning and suffocation. I could go for the drawn out option like alcoholism and drug abuse but that's expensive and involves collateral damage, I'm bound to leave some scarred friends, broken hearts and an offspring or two and I can't have that on my head. There's the rope but that lacks the dignified repose of the stoic, which leaves me with the trusty blade. Besides, there's a bit of poetry to the cutting of a thread.

Now that I've dealt with the how, it's time to consider the where. It has to be somewhere private and peaceful. I don't want to be disturbed while I am unraveling. Who knows how long it will take to muster the resolve to cut? It also has to be somewhere I'll slowly and gently return to the earth. A cabin in the woods perhaps or a small shack on a lonely island or a cave high up in the mountains, facing the rising sun. Yes, that's it! A cave in the mountains where the truth lives. I'll live out the rest of my days, a hermit at the end.

Why? Why? Why, you ask. It's simple really. The only choice you ever make in life, is how you die, or, to put it in familiar language, how you live your life. To end one's own life is the ultimate expression of free will; so I choose to.

I think I'll go for a walk now.