Why we should stop complaining about what our country has failed to do and ask what we can do
It is very hard to get things done, even at the smallest level. But
it is very easy to sit and complain about things. Reading social media,
one gets the sense that we have increasingly become a complaining
nation, not a doing nation. Everywhere complaints abound of our failing
healthcare and education system, of corruption and abuse of office. But
one hardly reads a story of what those complaining are doing to change
the situation. Are we waiting for intervention from God?
Two caveats: First, complaining is okay if you are doing something
about the problem. As Kwame Nkrumah said, “organise, don’t agonise”.
Second, accusing our elites of turning Uganda into a complaining nation
may be an unfair indictment of our people since social media may not
represent the majority of our citizens. It is possible that those who
keep complaining on social media are idle (which is another way of
saying they are doing nothing). So they have a lot of time at their
hands to complain. By implication this means that people who are busy
doing things don’t have time to quarrel, heckle, complain, and insult
others on social media.
So it was with great inspiration that I read an article in Daily
Monitor of January 28, 2015 by Silver Mwesigwa, the speaker of Isingiro
district council. Mwesigwa, a holder of a masters’ degree was working
with an international NGO and earning good money. He is widely travelled
across Africa and the world. But each time he went to his home village,
he was saddened at how bad public services were. In 2011 the district
had produced only two students in First Grade; most pupils were failing
PLE, if they had not dropped out of school. The local health center had
little or no drugs while medical personnel were reporting for work late,
if at all. There was no clean water.
Like most Ugandans, Mwesigwa could have taken to social and other
media to complain about the sorry state of his home district. He would
have denounced President Yoweri Museveni and his NRM for their
corruption and incompetence. And at one point he did. But none of this
would have solved the problems of his community. So he asked himself:
what can I do about it? He decided to enter politics and use it as a
vehicle for progress. He joined FDC and hit the villages to mobilise
people for change.
The local community admired his public spiritedness. The elders,
church, business and other opinion leaders approached him with advice.
They said the vast majority of people in the community are NRM. If he
comes as an FDC, they may not listen to his message; progressive though
it was. This shows the irrationality of human nature. When people are
fixated with something – a religion, a political party or an individual
leader, they may find it difficult to accept change even when they are
suffering under its/his yoke. Mongo Beti’s The Poor Christ of Bomba is a
powerful statement of this fact.
A pragmatic doer, Mwesigwa joined NRM and contested to be a district
councilor for Nyamuyanja sub-county. There is no prestige or money in
the position, especially for someone of his education attainment, income
level, and professional accomplishments. Mwesigwa ran a very unorthodox
campaign. Instead of promising what he would do for voters, he
challenged them on how he can help them help themselves. It was clear to
voters that he was sacrificing to serve them because his expected
earnings were going to be Shs70,000 per month. Voters knew the private
returns to him as an individual were almost nothing; the expected public
returns to them were likely to be higher. So when he refused to bribe
them, they still voted for him.
Once elected, Mwesigwa did not complain about the government or the
ministries of health, education, water, works, etc. He asked himself:
how can we get our schools to improve their performance. He organised
teachers and parents in PTAs and together they began raising money to
supplement government grants. In 2014, the school in his village got six
pupils in First Grade. The local health center that had six staff now
has 32 professionals, including three qualified medical doctors. The
local community has clean water – the largest share of the budget having
been community labour to dig the trench where pipes passed as they
snaked to people’s homes.
I invited Mwesigwa to Kampala and he spent an entire morning with our
journalists at The Independent. What he told us was 100 times richer
than the 800 words he had written in Daily Monitor. Here, I saw a true
leader; a man who sees a problem and instead of sitting idly to
complain, folded his sleeves and went to work. He sought government
patronage, yes. But most of his success came from mobilising people in
his community to do many great things by themselves. Mwesigwa’s genius
is that he saw the greatness in his people.
This reminded me of the mayor of Fort Portal, Asaba Ruyonga. Fort
Portal does not look like a town in Uganda but Rwanda – the streets are
paved and cleaned, the lawns mowed, the flowers pruned, the drainage
system works, the trees are planted and garbage is collected etc.
Ruyonga did this while he was an FDC mayor in this NRM dominated region –
again showing that you do not need to change parties to serve your
community. It is a mark of our president’s brinkmanship that Museveni
worked hard and won Ruyonga over to NRM so that his party can take the
glory/credit – you do not want an opposition leader to set such example.
The lesson is simple but fundamental: Museveni, Kizza Besigye,
Norbert Mao, Mugisha Muntu etc. are not going to change Uganda. A
mobilised citizenry will. This is not to say that we should not hold our
leaders to account and ask them to deliver on their promises. Rather
these leaders will only succeed if citizens play their bit as well.
Don’t sit and complain. Organise your community to ensure a functioning
school, hospital, road, electricity, or water system. If each one of us
looks at him/herself as leader and leads wherever they are, our country
will be a better place for our children and their children in turn.