May 22, 2008
Poverty bites us for lack of ideas

On May 3, 2008, Makerere University Muslim Students Association (MUMSA) hosted a get-together party at the mosque gardens for all the university Muslim alumni.

I missed the party because I was in Nairobi attending the Eastern Africa editors’ conference.
When I returned, one of MUMSA’s officials gave me a small booklet containing names of MUMSA leaders since 1976 and a key-holder with MUMSA inscription.

By the way, I was MUMSA leader (1997/98).
Both items were sold to me at Shs 3,000 each.
Selling such items to me was probably the best thing that ever happened to students’ associations of this kind.
Many of us sustained these associations through aggressive begging and annual subscription.

Thinking of money generating ideas is alien to many university students’ associations. It’s begging, begging and begging!
Uganda has remained poor largely because of lack of innovation.

Sometime back I asked the FDC Secretary General, Alice Alaso, and acting DP Secretary General, Dr. Lulume Bayiga, whether their parties run any shops in Kampala. I don’t think there is a shop in this town where a supporter can buy an FDC, DP or NRM flag, key-holder, cap or T-shirt.
We are poor because we were brought up begging from our parents. This begging culture transcends family units and goes to institutions of higher learning and later into public service.

Save for a few of us who grew up in a village environment under strict parents, who insisted on us working for ourselves!

A Yoweri Museveni or Eriya Kategaya who begged at Ntare School all the way to the university will continue begging even when he becomes a minister. In fact, Museveni who used to despise African leaders for endless begging is now a chief beggar and consumer of donor aid himself.

I am perturbed by the failure of our leaders to exploit and harness the potential our country has. The tourism sector, which I am told has seen earnings increase from $10 million in 1990 to $375 million in 2006, is devoid of innovations.

Kenya gets about $810 million from tourism which employs about half a million Kenyans.
There are simple things we have failed to do.
I keep wondering, for example, why we don’t have a museum or an exhibition hall where tourists, including local ones, can find items and information associated with Idi Amin, Milton Obote, Sir Edward Muteesa, Tito Okello, and now Yoweri Museveni. Bad or good!

I was in Tehran, Iran, sometime back and was amazed by their museums. One is a collection of green snakes and some shrubs. It is called Life Museum. There is [also] a preserved hill in Tehran city covered by about eight beautiful houses of former Iran despot, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. This man ruled his country with an iron fist and served as an agent of the United States and Israel. He was toppled in the Iran revolution of 1979.

Every high profile Tehran visitor goes to this hill.
In Germany, the gas chambers in which Adolf Hitler gassed the Jews; the Gestapo cells where the Nazi tortured people, still exist and are thronged by thousands of tourists every year. But in Uganda history begins in 1986 - even that is not preserved!

Why are we obsessed with destroying our history? Instead of jailing and killing former Amin and Obote henchmen, as was done with former Luwero district UPC chairman, Hajj Musa Ssebirumbi, we should have harnessed that history for our own use.

For example, State House Nakasero, which is adjacent to the former State Research Bureau torture chambers, should be turned into a political museum. Imagine if this was turned into a display centre of Museveni’s ill-fitting short-sleeved Kaunda suits, wide brimmed kofia (hat), his best shoes, the beds he and his family used, etc!
How about looking at Amin’s famous accordion! Tourists would have loved to see the cutlery, guns, pyjamas, pens and other memorabilia that our past leaders used.

That is the innovation I would like to see.
If Museveni had harnessed the tourism potential of this country, he would not be the chief beggar he has become.
Rwanda, with less than a quarter of our potential, is slowly overtaking us in promoting itself as a major tourist destination in the region.

Remember the embarrassment we endured in Berlin, Germany, early this year during the tourism festival when we failed to show anything meaningful at our stall! We ended up overshadowed by Rwanda and Kenya with their spectacular performances.

Museveni keeps talking about markets, but what are these markets for? The wise thing to do is to invest in production and then look for markets later. The government will invest a mere Shs 7 billion in tourism development next financial year; a mere Shs 7 billion in a sector that generates $375 million!

His State House [built at $58 million] has a bigger budget than Tourism and Trade combined. What a country!

Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda, The author is political editor of The Weekly Observer, semugs@ugandaobserver.com