By John W Bahana (PhD)
There is a Swahili saying that goes: “Kupotea njia nikuelewa’’. Positive inclined people or people who are incurably optimistic will subscribe to this proverb; that when you lose your way, it’s a lesson not the end of the world. Hence every year, we look forward to better times however successful the outgoing year. And so as the hit song “Another one bites the dust” by the British Band, Queen goes, the year 2018 is gone and so will 2019. We celebrate with those that jumped the huddles, those that lost their way but are back or are hoping to get back on track in 2019 and coming years.
My article is to share some of the major impressive events of the year as I saw them.
First, the death of Winifred Madikizela Mandela, in April 2018. A hero of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa but also one of its most controversial figures in the country’s history. The ex-wife of the former South African freedom fighter and president Nelson Mandela, died after she had been scheduled to receive a well deserved Makerere University Meritorious Award. She never made it to Uganda.
Born Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe, an unsophisticated girl won the heart of a highly distinguished politically conscious, urbane but divorced and older, Nelson Rohlihlala Mandela. The two had a marriage that was described as the most storied romance in South African history. The indelible mark the two made impressions on my memory was when Nelson Mandela was released from Pollsmoor Prison February, 11, 1990. He held Winnie’s hand like he would never let go. The two smiled magnetically to the cameras for the distance and time that we never wanted to end. But the romance never survived the trials and tribulations of Apartheid South Africa that ensured blacks served subservient lives and pay the price of social prejudice and its consequences.
I belong to a number of WhatsApp social media groups. On one of them we had a heated debate, call it an argument. This revolved around Christianity and existence of God as perceived by Africans. For me, and others who subscribed to the same thought, we could not resist reference to the death of one of the most prominent physicist of the 20th Century. This was Professor Stephen Hawking. The professor died at 76 following a debilitating motor neurone disease that confined him to a wheelchair for decades but never dampened his spirit to live.
Stephen Hawking was considered one of the smartest people on earth. He was a world famous theoretical physicist and cosmologist who received many honors for his work in the field of cosmology, quantum physics, black holes, and the nature of space time. Hawking’s scientific investigations have shed light on the origins of the cosmos, the nature of time and the ultimate fate of the universe. In a famous quote, Hawking told El Mundo in 2014; “Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation. What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t.”
In his book with Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design about the universe’s origin, the two posited that the big bang was inevitable. In defense of his writings, he argued that “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing,” the book states. “Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”
In appreciating world renown scientists, it is a major challenge to conjecture that a Ugandan engineer or such highly trained academic can achieve acclamation when every Sunday, he goes to church and asks the ill trained preacher to lead him to heaven.
A most valuable piece of information, a master piece of the year was sent to me by a colleague Ugandan currently resident in Germany, one of many pieces he frequently shares with me. He dug it out from Singapore National Archives. The paper was presented at a meeting of African Prominent Persons in 1993 and is as relevant today as it was then. The author is the celebrated Lee Kuan Yew who, as Prime Minister, is credited of having pulled Singapore out of dire poverty that it was at independence from Britain to a first world country all in only three decades. Here are some highlights worth sharing.
The paper presents three goals that Lee Kuan Yew considers as having been key to the Singapore amazing successes that Africa and Uganda should emulate. He even quotes our own president, Y K Museveni, as strongly arguing that lack of discipline among African leaders is a nasty entrenched problem. For even the hardest-working African has difficulty building a solid life if his country’s political leadership is corrupt.
Yew summarized his presentation into three goals that Singapore set for itself.
A strategy to shape the government into an effective instrument of policy: This required strong, fair and just leaders, who exhibited the moral strength to command the respect of the people. Unity in the core group of leaders helped to send clear signals to the people thus avoiding confusion that would have arisen if the team had bickered and split. They ensured complete accountability and open separateness between personal assets and public funds. Corruption was regarded as a cancer and had to be eradicated as soon as detected. The leaders knew and pledged responsibility for the people and undertook that under their care luxurious living whilst people were mired in poverty and backwardness was out.
And if you thought corruption exists in Uganda alone, No.
“It is not only in Africa that corruption exists. But in Africa it is dangerous because corruption is becoming ingrained culturally at all levels of society, both in government and in the private sector. As Africa glimpses the consumer society, a cleavage has arisen between desires and the ability to satisfy them locally. This provided fertile ground for corruption. Corruption must be curbed and weeded out as it is a real and serious obstacle to development and modernization.”
Goal number two, Yew posts is:
Economic policy must be pragmatic not dogmatic. Singapore set out to maintain continuity with past policies; accepting colonial heritage. This is one of our secrets to growth. All British, European, American, Japanese and Asian businesses were encouraged to stay and expand their investments. Local businessmen were encouraged to enter trade and manufacturing and services not by displacing these foreign enterprises but by working as their suppliers or competitors.
To slow down population growth. By comprehensive methods of family planning, Singapore’s total fertility rate was brought down from 6 children per woman in 1960 to 1.9 in 1990 and 1.8 in 1992 below the replacement rate of 2.1.
Population growth in Uganda is number five of the highest in the world, at 3.2.That is frightening by any standards when you think that by the year 2025, we shall be responsible for feeding 55 million mouths.
This population surge, like it or not, has been a major factor in impeding the rate of social and economic advance, characterized by low literacy rates and high maternal and infant mortality of about 100 per 1,000 births.”
According to Lee Kuan Yew, no economic growth can cope when each African woman produces 6.5 children. Unless we aim to bring it down, economic progress will be swallowed up by the new mouths to feed and educate and find jobs for.
And so as we recall the Swahili saying at the top of this article, if we got lost on our way, there is no need to worry for we have picked lessons. A prosperous 2019 of the Gregorian calendar and May religious Uganda be delivered from extreme corruption.
Writer is an Agricultural scientist