Some things just creep upon you with an uncanny stealth.You never get to know how they started in the first place. If you have lived long enough in an urban setting then you know decent people never used to ask for a straw with their bottle of beer. It just wasn’t the done thing. But somewhere during the early to mid eighties, Kampala was invaded by a ‘strange’ disease. This disease made people suffer from diarrhoea, lose their hair, get horrible skin lesions and – you guessed it, become ‘slim’, So the disease was named ‘slim’. It was rumoured that if you shared glasses, toilets and the like, you got ‘slim’. And so, shunning the beer glass, bar patrons opted for straws. Today, any bar patron asking for a straw with their beer doesn’t look strange. Probably the bartender will offer you one before you ask. Nobody asked what caused the disease in the first place.
Many other habits and worldviews have prevailed upon us courtesy of the fourth estate. Today, you will come across a new socialite in town who literally dropped from the sky. A host of ‘celebs’ has been thrust upon us and become the news.The supposedly critical media never asks the whys and hows of these people came to be. Instead, it fetters them, giving them incredible column space as they party and spend monies they probably can ill afford to.The press is a reflection of the absence of a more cerebral national ethos. Seeing these people party becomes our own aspiration. The country’s major newspapers will lead with a story about how these ‘celebs’ lead the high life but say nothing about how they got the wealth to binge. Nobody asks what the ‘celebs’ do for a living and how they got by their ‘wealth’.
Because we do not associate those we aspire to emulate with work, we assume that we can become like them through some trick of fate. And that leads me to the more shaming national problem – begging. It is now almost unheard off to interact with somebody who perceives you as better off without them asking you for something. ‘Are you not going to give me something?’ they will ask. ‘For what?’ you may answer back. ‘Just to help me’, they will answer. Probably out of guilt, or pity, you will dip into your pocket and, depending on your generosity, give a few alms. But there are mightier ones higher up who go around giving brown envelopes. When we see the local leaders take these envelopes without question, then I guess we also believe we are entitled to beg for ‘something’.
How did we as a nation sink to such depths? You can blame it on colonialism since it is the root of all evil. But the colonialists did not leave Uganda a nation of beggars when they‘left’ in 1962. Today, our leaders will travel all over the world with begging bowl in hand. Did I say they travel first class or in private jets? They will attend ‘donors’ conferences with ‘development partners’ and after a few days a ‘communiqué’ will be issued announcing the ‘donations’ that we shall receive in the next period. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. And so parliament will discuss the results of the begging and programmes will be made for the building of roads, hospitals and ‘technical assistance’ using the alms. And the people, seeing that their leaders have no shame in begging, will also proceed to ask for ‘something’. After all, they voted for the leaders, and they owe them ‘something’.
Begging is the new national ethos. Because we see ‘celebs’ who don’t work, we assume it is not good or honest to do so. Because we see our leaders begging, we assume it is the done thing. As people, we have lost our pride to work and live within our means. The lack of appetite for work comes from seeing others enjoying a disproportionate share of the national cake without doing any meaningful work. So why should the rest of us, who are also rational beings, want to work? We are now a nation of beggars, and let us take pride in that – it is the national pastime. By the way, ‘may I have something for this article?’