There are at least two issues on which I agree with President Museveni. One is his eloquent description of the unfairness of the global trading regime where, often using Nestlé and the coffee industry as an example, he shows how Africa is a net donor to the West, not the other way round.
The second, and related matter, arose a decade or so again when Mr Museveni expressed indignation over donors seeking to humiliate and lord it over recipients of their aid. This incident, which I write about in my book on Besigye, was prompted by a British diplomat dismissively noting that the beggar, in this case Uganda, had not done enough to earn her next meal.
The common thread here is one of dignity and justice. That people should get what is due to them and should be treated with dignity. Which is rather disappointing that President Museveni often fails to apply these eloquent and intelligent arguments in his dealings with his own citizens.
The President last week reminded journalists at a State House press conference that I had opposed his offer of Shs150 million to their “Sacco” or savings and credit cooperative.
A few of my fellow journalists have since accused me of “stepping in their things” and, I imagine, denying them economic lift-off. To clarify, there were three main reasons for my opposition. First, we had been invited to a working dinner to interact with the President and raise issues of concern, not to a fundraiser. To ignore the urgent and important issues of media freedom and remind the President of an offer he made a decade and a half earlier was rather disingenuous.
Secondly, and as I pointed out as I looked at the gift horse in the mouth, any fundraising should have started amongst us before going to donors and to the President. So we were outsourcing our own agency and that would, I believed, undermine our ability to rally around common causes.
Finally, and as a result of the two concerns above, I worried that a large sum of money without a clear pre-defined purpose and safeguards would divide and destroy the association (which, by the way, wasn’t a Sacco, as far as I know).
Well, guess what? The money was given (in cash, in small bank notes no less) with a photographer on hand to capture the moment. Why not wire it to a bank account? Those who received the money said they bought a plot of land somewhere on the outskirts of the city. Many, untrusting, accused them of pilfering the money and tales abounded of the cash being divvied up from a car trunk. The Inspector General of Government, the last I heard, had been invited to investigate.
Like a starving man who suddenly gorges at a feast, the Uganda Journalists Association (UJA) suffered serious indigestion, started throwing up members, and has not been the same since.
Yet UJA is no exception. From hairdressers to cab drivers to villagers, the country is awash with tales of people or groups that broke up over these handouts from the President. Rather than empower people, they dehumanise and strip them of their dignity, turning grown men and women into beggars.
Many donor countries, including many whose wealth was accumulated from enslaving and plundering their colonies, try to perpetuate a patron-client relationship in which the clients have to supplicate for their suppers. Sadly, these relationships continue long after many countries declare independence.
Nestlé buys our raw coffee, processes it, and sells it back to us at much higher prices. The solution to that is to roast and process our coffee ourselves. A good place to start is to invest taxpayer’s money in social goods, not handing it out to the few groups lucky to gain access, in exchange for goodwill and support. Fortunately that’s something the President knows; he just has to put our money where his mouth is.
Mr Kalinaki is a Ugandan journalist based in Nairobi. email@example.com Twitter: @Kalinaki