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What’s a few landslides between a politician and his voters?

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By JOACHIM BUWEMBO
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Calamity tends to bring out the best as well the worst in Ugandans. When 10 years ago a mysterious fire killed dozens of children in a primary school dormitory, a little girl summoned the courage of a lion and kept carrying other children from the fire to safety until she collapsed and died.

Before that, during our first Ebola outbreak, a young doctor worked selflessly to save people until he also died of the disease.

But calamity can also bring out the worst in us. You have heard of the perennial landslides that claim lives and cause massive damage on the slopes of Mount Elgon in eastern Uganda, particularly a district called Buduuda. Well, it was agreed a decade ago that the area is simply unsafe and billions of shillings were allocated to resettle people away from the death trap.

To date, the relocation has not taken place and people continue to die when it rains heavily. Allegation abound about the thousands of acres they were supposed to be resettled on.

These include the believable one that the money was stolen, or that powerful speculators took ownership of the earmarked land whereupon the price skyrocketed, and finally the mystical explanation that people have refused to leave the deadly slopes for fear of abandoning their ancestors’ graves.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, a group of journalists touring the area were told quite bluntly by local leaders that relocation is a bad idea as it would leave them without voters!

Calamity can also bring out those character traits that we laugh at as typical of primitives. After sobering up from mourning the unknown number of people who died when a contraption of a boat sank two hundred metres from land near Kampala, we can see those characteristics. The most glaring is our dread of records and numbers.

The boat sailed without a passenger manifest. After it sank, most eyewitness and survivors put the number of passengers at 120 or more. Three weeks later, less than half that number was accounted for – 32 dead and 25 survivors – give or take a couple of people.

Even a chicken farmer wouldn’t rest if he had 120 birds and a quarter died but he is only left with a quarter while half cannot be seen. But sixty human beings!

Besides the casual approach to human life, there is the insatiable desire to consume more of the same thing instead of investing for the future or even seeking some variety.

We laugh at primitive tribesmen who when given seed for planting cook it for immediate consumption. We talk of villagers who get money and their priority is drinking beer and marrying extra wives.

Survivors from the killer boat recounted how whichever drink they wanted was served by the full bottle, not in a glass! Just put more of the same in your stomach!

Some of the city’s richest people were on that boat, and any of them could have hired a decent, bigger vessel for them to have a safe party on. But the focus was on more booze and more girls.

Lastly, the actions of the authorities are equally funny. The sheer absence of regulation of water transport is amazing. Not holding even a preliminary inquest is surprising. But shhh… don’t criticise us aloud. We don’t like being told of our mistakes.



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