Tusaba Gavumenti Etuyambe is a cynical take on the pervasive culture of dependency, entitlement and unlimited power of the state. It speaks of a symbiotic parasitic marriage between ruler and subject.
The government is the giver of everything. The citizen is the passive beneficiary. The government belongs to a small group with weapons. The citizen enjoys life at the ruler’s pleasure.
Literally translated, Tusaba Gavumenti Etuyambe means: “we ask the government to help us.” Though said in jest these days, it reflects an attitude of passive citizenship and surrender to the mighty wielders of power.
Embedded in the country’s DNA is the subconscious belief that citizens need not engage in self-help activities. For its part, the government cannot say no to any opportunity to buy political support. The ruler and subject feed off each other in a cycle that sucks the blood out of the common purse without long-term benefits for the country.
For example, the well-connected citizens, feeling entitled to longer lives than the wretched of the Earth, receive devastating news from their underpaid doctors.
They beat the beeline to the corridors of power, reminding the rulers of their historical role in the great liberation struggle. They have earned their right to be sent to India for “advanced” health care, accompanied by a retinue of aides. Too bad if other Ugandans, even those with more serious illnesses, cannot get life-saving treatment.
The rulers, relishing the opportunity to decide who lives or dies select whom to send and who must make do with the challenged health services at home. The entire thing is like Noah’s Ark. The chosen citizens genuflect in humble gratitude as though they are not taxpayers with rights.
Few dare to challenge this disparity in access to life-saving treatment, not just out of fear of the state, but in the hope that their silence may invite the government’s mercy upon their ailing loved ones. They too might be the next victims of riotous prostates or cancerous bone marrows.
This ruler-subject relationship is a vicious cycle. The rulers are free to spend public funds any which way. Parliament, very highly dependent on the executive for its material wants, is a happy enabler of wasteful use of public funds.
The citizens, who look up to their MPs for alms, do not challenge parliament’s enabler role.
Thus empowered, the government can do what it wants with public resources. Thus disempowered, the citizens are hostages in their own country, thankful for the crumbs that come their way, pitifully pleading for Gavumenti Etuyambe.
There is a learnt helplessness, watered by rulers who understand the patronage game, feeding the beast with donations to the bereaved, the newly married, church leaders and their flock and traditional dancers. Why, even repatriation of the dead is the ruler’s responsibility, which promptly turns him into the chief mourner of one he is not related to.
There is good news though. Ugandans, having jokingly turned the folly of this learnt helplessness into therapeutic self-ridicule, may have already sown the seeds for their own recovery.
All they need is encouragement and leadership to change the mantra from Tusaba Gavumenti Etuyambe to Tusaba Gavumenti Tweyambe (We ask the Government to let us help ourselves.)
No government can or should provide all the citizens’ needs. Indeed we should not encourage the growth of the state. Instead we should work towards the shrinkage of government and the rise of individual freedom and responsibility for self.
Defense and justice for the citizens, insuring domestic peace and people’s freedoms, and ensuring that basic infrastructural investments and services are provided should be the duties of the government.
When the government exercises extensive power over people’s lives, including provision of all manner of services and favours, the people lose independence. They give license to the state to play them like a game of mathree (matatu).
Tusaba Gavumenti Etuyambe becomes tusaba gavumenti etusibe (we ask the government to imprison us.) And the government happily obliges. Images of a presidential aide laden with a sack of money, or a woman on her knees receiving a large presidential cash envelope tell the story better than I can.
Ugandans must break the chains of dependency. One route towards Tusaba Gavumenti Tweyambe is for communities to organize themselves to mobilize knowledge, skills and money from among themselves to meet their own needs.
An organized international community of West Nilers, for example, would have the human and financial resources to effect meaningful transformation of their community.
If they organized themselves into a strong and cohesive body, transcending the usual national partisan politics, they would do much of what they currently look up to the central government to provide. They would have a strong voice that would not be easy to ignore.
Imagine strong organizations that bring together the people at home and Diaspora of each of the 13 districts of early post-independence Uganda. Make it 16 if you want to separate the incompatible peoples of some areas. You would have Acholi, Ankole, Buganda, Bugisu, Bukedi, Bunyoro, Busoga, Karamoja, Kigezi, Lango, Madi, Rwenzori, Sebei, Teso, Toro, West Nile regions.
Unlike the 130 plus little districts, these regions would be the foundation of a strong country, with the potential for these to evolve into formidable, semi-autonomous regional arrangements, complete with strong treasuries, that would be the basis for a workable federation of states.
Long before a federation of states, the citizens, empowered by passion for home and meaningful and sustainable unity, would stand a good chance of building their communities faster and better than the current expectation that rulers sitting in Kampala should care about what is happening in Mparo or Pakwach.
It must start with a changed mindset, one that values self-reliance as a path to personal freedom.