Ugandan state is divorced from its society

Ugandan state is divorced from its society


In his recent Observer article titledFear is silently killing us’, Jimmy Spire Ssentongo wrote: “Fear has been sunken into our minds through occasional bouts of violence on ‘noise-makers’ and by strategically parking scary ‘teargas-carrying trucks’ at our road junctions. These are screaming messages that the Big Brother is watching and well-equipped for action…”

Ssentongo’s well-articulated observation is somewhat reminiscent of some passage in one of 20th century path-breaking books by French political philosopher, Michel Foucault.

In his Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Foucault remarked that in the course of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, the body, as the major target of penal repression in the Western society, disappeared; a new age for penal justice dawned. It saw “a new theory of law and crime, a new moral or political justification of the right to punish.”

Indeed, the emergence of the prison, as Foucault put it, marked the institutionalization of power to punish: “The training of behaviour by a full timetable, the acquisition of habits, the constraints of the body imply a very special relation between the individual who is punished and the individual who punishes him…”

Little wonder then, as Ssentongo puts it, that “many of us are resigned to our fate and have painfully accepted to pay taxes without making any demands on the ‘almighty’ government.”

But if fear has indeed been “a great factor in shaping this state of powerlessness – and it works well for the oppressors” as Ssentongo suggests, the material basis on which our politics rests only serves to pave the way to such state of powerlessness.

Even a partial reading of the history of most of post-colonial Africa leads one to believe that very little has been improved upon in terms of institutional capacity to build viable governance structures for social service delivery – let alone conflict management.

On a balance sheet of governance and mechanisms for social service delivery, Uganda today seems to register more liabilities than assets. This is truly reflected in the disillusionment about the ways in which attempts at operationalising capacity-building for service delivery (whether through Naads, YLP, or any other soft and hard infrastructural developments) have been undertaken.

In interacting with global forces, more specifically the hegemonic structures of international political economy (IMF, World Bank, WTO, and the G-20 countries), today’s Uganda continues to administer what one can term a “ perestroika without a glasnost” – the pursuit of economic/market reforms without a concomitant process of political reform.

No wonder the direction of governmental accountability in today’s Uganda is still tilted in favour of external forces, to the detriment of the citizenry. Isn’t it high time in today’s Uganda that democracy, as James Bovard argued in his Lost Right, became something more than two wolves and one lamb voting on what to have for dinner?

Sadly, the repeated experience of both presidential and legislative elections in Uganda since 2001 have come to expose not only the extent to which Ugandan state institutions are feeble, but also the sheer lack of political will to restructure and reaffirm these state institutions already submerged by both agentification (proliferation of non-state agencies in the delivery of public goods) and donorisation (substantive flows of foreign aid to government).

As the fever of elections catches up with the citizenry, the holding of universal suffrage for presidency and the legislature is but wrong prioritization of items on the political to-do list of a country in a considerably fragile state of affairs; one in which society becomes more and more divorced from the state.

Will a continued conduct of such periodic general elections bring about a truly democratic political order in the body politic of an ill-governed citizenry still grappling with socio-economic woes at the expense of state absenteeism?

Genuine governance must be underpinned by a broader social policy that can nourish the marriage between society and state. This would counter the currently noticeable indifference of the state vis-à-vis deep-seated societal needs at the expense of the state’s love affair with capitalist markets.

Similarly, building structures for conflict management and social service delivery should not be characterised by personalities stronger than institutions. At the very basic level of expectations, the government should establish and use mechanisms that allow open communication with the citizenry to channel grievances and respond to them before they can escalate into violence. Let it not do so at its own risk and peril, for fear once overstretched would cause hell to break loose!

Source: The Observer

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