Dear friends in extremist radical wing of the FDC led by opposition presidential candidate for life, Dr. Kizza Besigye. I was away on holiday in Dubai during this Easter and was unable to send you a frank festive message as has become custom in our increasingly hot and steamy relationship.
You are jobless, poor, miserable and angry. That is understandable. What is disagreeable, however, is that you are always looking for a villain, some external force or person, to blame for your circumstances. I want to let you know that the real problem is internal to you – your social attitudes and beliefs about the way to shape your future.
For example, the fact that you are jobless and poor has little or nothing to do with Museveni and/or the state. It has a lot (if not everything) to do with the fact that you lack job-skills and social connections (human capital) to get a well paying job or to identify a profitable trading or investment opportunity. You spend hours on social media complaining and hurling insults on others. These skills you have in plenty do not generate income for you.
It might sound plausible or even inspiring to you that your bad circumstances are caused by Museveni, the government or some other rich person. This attitude has led you to rally behind opposition politicians in the naive hope that regime change will bring economic prosperity falling down from heaven like manna. But this is a delusion as other Africans in Kenya, Zambia, Mali, Senegal, Ghana, Malawi, Benin, Nigeria etc where governments have changed hands from one party to another, have not performed those miracles you expect. At best if your cult leader, Besigye, came to power, he would inherit the same privileges as Museveni. Only a tiny fraction of you would find salaried employment in his government (as corrupt wheeler dealers) while the vast majority of you would continue to wallow in poverty and misery.
Therefore if you want to get ahead, stop blaming others for your circumstances. You should also avoid looking to politics for answers. Focus on building yourself through education, job-skills and social networks with those who have succeeded. I know the harsh tone I employ here cannot change your attitude due to cognitive dissonance. But those who are smart will. Governments do not create wealth. Often they plunder it. It is private enterprises that create wealth. At best the state can only distribute welfare. While that may improve one’s wellbeing (this itself is contested as many studies show welfare creates pathologies) that does not make anyone rich.
You may realize that people with job skills and social networks (human capital) find jobs and are quick to identify and seize profitable trading or investment opportunities. Many succeed and that explains the fancy cars on our streets, nice homes in our suburbs, the expensive restaurants and bars in Kampala. Many others may not yet have succeeded but they are on the right path. You are not in the race to succeed because you have been convinced by your cult leaders that you should wait for change of government for your circumstances to change. That is a false. If government changed it will benefit those cult leaders, not you. So your attitude (that your poverty and misery is caused by Museveni and/or the state and that when he leaves power, opportunities and money will come falling on your lap like manna) is absolute rubbish!
Of the myriad people I have met and engaged, those who get jobs or begin successful businesses never blame Museveni or government for their circumstances. There are many young people whom I have helped to study here and abroad (getting them scholarships) or to find jobs. They have since become successful professionals or businesspersons. The one thing common in all of them was that they took responsibility for their future. They felt their future was in their hands. So they didn’t waste time looking for an external villain to blame for their circumstances. Instead they were busy looking for opportunities to work or trade or invest.
Most of you blame your circumstances on corruption by public officials. As you should know, I don’t believe corruption is the cause of Uganda’s poverty neither is it the reason our public goods and services are poor. Uganda was a backward and poor society when the British arrived here. But there had been no corruption in our traditional society, leave alone a system of taxation and state revenues for public officials to steal, that had kept us poor. Instead corruption was rampant in Britain which colonized us. So what had held us back?
More still, contrary to your misguided beliefs that corrupt officials steal “our money/taxes”, actually they steal other people’s money. You are very poor and therefore pay minuscule or no taxes at all. Uganda has 40m people of whom about 20m are above 15 years ie in the working age group. Of these only 700,000 are registered for taxes. In fact over 80% of all Uganda’s taxes are collected from about 200,000 people. The people who pay most taxes – the Sudhirs and Mukwanos, the Bitatures, Kiwanukas etc of this country complain the least. You mourn more than the bereaved. That is why you are poor and miserable and they are rich and comfortable. As you are complaining and blaming everyone for your circumstances, they are working hard and progressing.
Moral condemnation of corruption is not a causal explanation for our poverty, despite how often the two have been combined in a politically attractive package. Despite the tendency of political explanations to combine moral and causal factors, the reason poor countries are poor is not because of corruption. If corruption was a cause of poverty, no country would ever have developed because all the rich nations of today were very corrupt when they were going through their intense period of industrial transformation.
The main cause of poverty outside of geographical and ideological factors is social attitudes like the ones you have – that you need the state to help make you rich. You suffer a chronic sense of entitlement which has been cultivated in you by Uganda’s misguided journalism in alliance with demagogic politicians and self righteous “intellectuals”. Consequently you are always on social media asking government to do for you this and that, never thinking of what you should be doing for your country or self.
Ask yourself, you all live in the same environment as Hamis of Ham Towers. If opportunities are closed, how come he was a multi millionaire in dollars at 29 years and has no political connections and you are grassing on the streets and complaining on social media. There are very many successful Ugandan businesspersons, especially in Kikuubo. Most of them did not go to school or study as far as you did. They can hardly speak English but own the best real estate in Kampala. Why are they succeeding when you are grassing? It is because they spend most of their time building themselves not blaming others – the government, the rich or Museveni.
Why are the most successful Ugandans in business in Kikuubo equally the less or least educated? It is because they have not internalized the entitlement mentality you have – that you education guarantees you a living and that the state owes you a duty of care. They see their future as their responsibility.
Change your attitudes toward your future and the results will be bountiful. The one lesson you should take from this post is that there is no one responsible for your future – not the state, not Museveni not even Besigye – but you. All the time you spend insulting others on social media can be productively spent on improving your work skills and building social networks with those who are successful. The rewards from social media insults are going to be more stress and misery. But rewards from improved skills and social networks are going to be a happy and fulfilling life. Happy belated Easter.
Andrew Mwenda is a Ugandan Journalist, and a close ally of President Yoweri Museveni