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Pope showed why nations fail

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Pope showed why nations fail

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Without a ministerial committee on microphones or grass, the microphones won’t work; grass won’t germinate!

“Street lights had to be moved from the roads where the Pontiff was scheduled to pass duringday, to the roads where he would pass at night!”

Last week, Uganda was in the global focus as we hosted one of the most important human beings on the planet — the Pope. I am Muslim, but I must confess; there’s something special about Pope Francis that I, and I suspect many other fellow Muslims and other right-thinking individuals, like about him. He is a very likable man.

I haven’t seen many human beings with a smile as genuine and affectionate as that of Pope Francis. He also speaks a lot of good things. And I feel he means every single word that he says; unlike many, if not most, other human beings. And I strongly believe my judgment is right!

There are many things that happened during the Pope’s three-day visit that I think provide a good example of what our country actually is, in comparison with other countries.

First, the Pope’s visit clearly demonstrated our organisational capability and incapability as a country. The visit, and other high profile events that have taken place in this country, should also help to teach us a few things about ourselves. For example, we were superb as far as security, protocol, and a few other related things were concerned. We were simply bogus on almost everything else.

Think about our logistical preparations. Think about the quality of media coverage. Think about the state of roads and other infrastructures that facilitated the Pope’s visit. Think about the state of  the microphones that failed to work, the lights that failed to illuminate patches of the streets where the Pontiff passed at night. You keep thinking and thinking and thinking! And finally you come to understand why many simple things are not working in this country.

Potholes all over!

Often, whenever simple things such as darkness on streets or potholes and dust on our roads compound into unacceptable levels, leaders and other public sector managers point the accusing finger at structural challenges. They blame them on lack of funds or “challenges of policy nature” and corruption.

Now tell me, what does it take to fix a microphone? Is it money? Policy? Or zero corruption? I don’t think so. What about fixing potholes at the airport and on the key roads?

Secondly, when do you start to clean up in preparation for an important guest? Nine years ago, I wrote a piece in these very pages entitled, “Indeed things are being done ‘the Ugandan way’.” At the time, Uganda was preparing to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2007 here in Kampala.

In that particular piece I delineated a number of things that government was doing “the Ugandan way” — bizarrely. Four years earlier, we had bid to host CHOGM and we knew we were the hot favourites for the 2007 summit having lost out to Malta in 2005, and were given assurance that come 2007 the heads of state would meet in Kampala to chat about the issues of Commonwealth (another bizarre, because what’s actually common among the majority of the member countries was, and still is, poverty).

Indeed immediately after Malta 2005 Uganda was declared the host nation of CHOGM 2007. Our government knew the requirements for the big conference, and they knew that most (if not all) of those requisites were not in place. They knew Uganda had no roads; knew Uganda had never had lights on its streets. They knew that Uganda had ceased to have world-class hotels and conference facilities in the 1960s and ‘70s. They knew that the NRM government was not a “building government” that it did not even own a home of its own!

Where’re CHOGM road?

More importantly our leaders knew that Uganda had never appreciated nature, and that they actually had proposed that even some of the few remaining green flora be traded for sugar and oil palms.

And most importantly they knew that all these things were needed for a top-notch conference like CHOGM. And they knew all this four years in advance. Yet four years later, hardly a month to the summit, none of the items that were needed for the conference, and that we knew were not in place at the time we were confirmed hosts of CHOGM, was ready. Those with a strong memory like mine vividly remember how one month to the CHOGM everyone was running around as if the summit was an emergency.

This is typical of Uganda — doing things by crisis! It’s not uncommon to see groups of men and women watering invisible grass and tree plants along Kampala roads days to the big function. During the CHOGM preparations, in October 2007 to be precise, I found women watering the newly planted grass and trees hardly two hours after a heavy downpour. When I asked one of them the logic of watering grass during a rainy season, she averred, “This grass must be ready for CHOGM, our bosses want it green and fully-grown by November this year.”

As if trees and grass were mushrooms that germinate overnight, the fellows were running around planting and watering flora at a rate comparable to doctors performing a heart surgery. As soon as those planting grass and trees left a particular spot, the then Works Minister John Nasasira’s men immediately ascended to the same spot to fix the pavements or street lights and/or patching up potholes, and in the process they stepped on the fragile flora making the work of their grass-planting colleagues futile. It was real drama that went on our infamous “CHOGM roads.”

Eight years later, the drama continued on the same roads. The very roads that were fixed during CHOGM 2007 were impassable in 2015! The trees and grass that were planted for CHOGM were nowhere to be seen by the Pope eight years later! Street lights had to be moved from the roads where the Pontiff was scheduled to pass during day, to the roads where he would pass at night!

That is the typical Uganda way of doing things. It’s not uncommon to find homes where nice-looking curtains are removed from the bedroom windows to the living room. It is in Uganda where compounds are slashed on the eve of a major function. We are legendary at cleaning only the parts of the house where visitors will be able to see, and hide the dirt in places we deem to be beyond the reach of the visitors’ eyes! All these bad habits were at full display as we prepared for the Pope.

Institutional gap

And we wonder why our country is not working! Just watching the Pope on TV while in Kenya, here in Kampala, and in the Central African Republic (CAR) was enough to understand why some countries are successful or stupendously rich, and others are unsuccessful or horrendously poor. Putting it more clearly, why Kenya is more advanced than Uganda and the later more advanced than CAR has little to do with geography, structural rigidities, ignorance and many other things we often blame for our situations.

The main reason our country and many other African countries are locked into a cycle of dysfunction which render us more incapable of joining the rest of the world in the 21st Century, is leadership deficiency. It is this leadership problem that economists Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson technically referred to as institutional gap in their well read book, “Why Nations Fail”.

In countries where the past and present leaders built “institutions”, things tend to work out almost automatically. In countries where such institutions are lacking, such as ours, it always requires discretionary intervention of the leaders to make things work. Without a ministerial committee on microphones or grass, the microphones won’t work; grass won’t germinate!

Trust me if the President had chaired a cabinet meeting to discuss television coverage and the quality of microphones, Ugandans would have had quality television coverage and the microphones would have worked. I suspect the reason the security bit worked nearly to perfection, is because the security leaders held several meetings and rehearsals to ensure that everything would go according to plan. In short, in Uganda, due to the gaping institutional gap everything must be micromanaged to generate results.

It is the problem of institutional gap that explains many of the dysfunctions of our societies which are often blamed on our culture, attitude and mindset. There is this popular claim that Africans are poor because we lack a good work ethic, believe in witchcraft and magic, or resist modern technologies.

These are more of outcomes than causes of our dysfunctional societies. Everywhere on this planet man is born a very active animal and as a potential criminal. It is only those societies that put in place rules and institutions to enforce them, that manage to tame man and enable them to prosper.

 

 

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