Mauritius Story: Why Black Monday, Political Activism Fails In Uganda


web geneva; font-size: small; line-height: 200%;”>The main argument of Albert Hirschman is really that members of an organization, whether a business, a nation or any other form of human grouping, have essentially two possible responses when they perceive that the organization is demonstrating a decrease in quality or benefit to the member: they can exit (withdraw from the relationship); or, they can voice (attempt to repair or improve the relationship through communication of the complaint, grievance or proposal for change.

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In Uganda’s case where the state has provided options for middle class in the private sector, the voice of middleclass has exited the public sector and largely become illegitimate even when there are some normative public voices, that can just pass as ‘mere concern’.

Take example of education and healthcare. It is very much likely that children of for example Black Monday activists and other political activists in political parties and other groups in Uganda are in private schools like Kampala Parents primary school, Green hill, Mbarara Modern or even in schools abroad etc. and not in Public Schools like Rwabihurwa Primary school, Kinyansano Primary school, Muntuyera Primary school etc.

There is therefore a limited incentive for them to practically voice out dysfunctions in e.g. mentioned public schools. Parents and children in public schools cannot trust these activists because they operate in a different silo.

It is largely the same with for example public officials in Ministry of Education and most likely from Ministers, Permanent secretaries, head teachers to teachers’ etc.- their Children are most likely in private schools and not the public schools they run! The situation is identical with public health workers who cannot dare go to public health facilities for medical attention but rather go to IHK and other private facilities.

In effect, they have no trust in facilities they superintend. Instead of voicing out dysfunctions, providing concrete alternatives or perhaps working with government to generate practical and effective models to run public services, they quietly retreat to particularistic options in the private sector.

Albert Hirschman and Dr. Jonathan di’John of London School of Economics argue that this has negative implications for governance as it exits influential and critical voice of middle class from public service.

This is not a new argument- but it is an important argument. I think when former Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) President Dr. Warren Kiiza Besigye was accusing elite and middle class in 2013 of indifference to his cause, he didn’t understand this.

He didn’t realize that himself like most elite and members of middleclass in Uganda are disarticulated from real people. Indeed millions of Ugandans could not trust his message because like many of us, his children are not in Rwabihurwa Primary school, Kinyasano primary school etc. nor do we /him seek medical attention in Kebisoni Health Center 3 etc.

Of course, there are some cases where public services work efficiently but with practical involvement of the elite, the public good can work more effectively and universally.

Can we engage with this situation and find practical answers? Can middle –class pursue egalitarian principles, abandon private sector to make public sector work? Are those who are intermittently voicing out public concerns when they are at the same time servicing and being serviced by private sector doing it for selfish political reasons? Can they be trusted?

Can both public and private sector work efficiently and spread unfettered choice? Are we all paying taxes to fulfill our responsibility side of social contract with government?

Or rather the elite are operating offshore accounts to evade taxes? There are also unconfirmed rumors that elite are running to London, Johannesburg etc. to buy flats and Mansions?

Now Africans are biggest creditors of the world due to this capital flight! Can there be an elite bargain on these issues? We continue this discussion.

The author is CEO- Agency for Transformation


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