Here is another way to look at political crowds

A lot has been said about the crowds attending political rallies. Indeed, it is a big discussion point because the bigger the crowd, the bigger the political impression made.

See, right now FDC’s Kizza Besigye is being applauded for refusing to join forces with Go Forward’s Amama Mbabazi – the numbers speak for themselves, it is said!

President Museveni has been accused of ‘busing’ in supporters to rallies and the same accusation has been levelled at Mbabazi to a lesser extent. However, how many supporters can be shipped to rallies; and does it matter?

It is surprising that debate is limited to just the genuineness of each candidate’s supporters! The question to ask is why these crowds are available all the time.

Whether genuine, bought or ferried, each candidate is assured of numbers; why is this possible? The answer seems obvious but not addressed and we, the electorate, are letting them get away with it. If most of the supporters were in gainful employment, perhaps it would be different.

According to Uganda Bureau of Statistics, more than 400,000 enter the labour market each year but only about 110,000 gain formal employment. Where do the rest go? The youth unemployment rate is 83% mostly in urban areas and Kampala’s alone stood at 32% in 2010! Interestingly, the rate is higher for educated youths, perhaps because many have educational qualifications that do not match available jobs.

The manifestos of all the three leading presidential contenders vaguely refer to unemployment in terms of improving vocational skills and further training. NRM further promises ‘soft skills’ and Go Forward gives figures of expected jobs. None dares to spell out how they can improve employment figures.

Dr Fred Muhumuza, an economist and columnist with Daily Monitor, argued in a recent article that all the political manifestos amount to nothing by not addressing the country’s economy.

Nothing can be achieved unless economic growth is explicitly assured. It is the same with unemployment! What do all these fancy promises mean to people who have no work? No wonder the quality of campaign speeches is mostly wanting – our level is still low!

The issue of discipline caught my eye last week. Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze was heckled by FDC youths as she made her way to the podium at a rally hosted by Besigye in Mukono. Another group of youths came across, protecting her, and lifted her onto the stage. FDC president, Gen Mugisha Muntu, was scathing about this display of indiscipline.

The very same thing happened in northern Uganda when hecklers attempted to deny speaking rights to MP Beatrice Anywar at a Besigye rally. Once again, Besigye had to chastise supporters warning them about the need to work together as opposition.

Whereas Nambooze has denied taking sides between FDC and Go Forward, Anywar’s ‘crime’ was to nominate Mbabazi for the presidential candidacy yet she is an FDC MP. Unless this infighting is halted, more valuable time might be wasted on resolving such instead of focusing on the NRM, a common ‘target’.

Coincidentally, the BBC World Service radio series Witness, featured Nigeria’s ‘War Against Indiscipline’ in March 1984 during Gen Muhammadu Buhari’s first time as president launched by his deputy Gen Tunde Idiagbon. They asserted that for the Nigerian society to change its behaviour, Idiagbon promoted self-discipline and leadership by good example.

The “little but important manifestations of indiscipline in their every day lives” or crimes he intended to tackle very harshly included rushing onto buses, littering streets, parks and homes, cheating, taking advantage of others and driving on the wrong side of the road.

Idiagbon had never been known to smile! His taskforce of soldiers would patrol bus stops, wait at government offices to see workers that turned out after 8am, and a lot more. Traffic transgressions attracted frog jumps and whipping for both drivers and passengers. Cheating in exams was punished by long jail sentences of up to 21 years. Apparently it was a very different Lagos then.

Our elders will recall that Uganda, under Idi Amin, had also fought indiscipline when people walking in the city in slippers had to ‘eat’ them; women were banned from wearing miniskirts, etc!

For sure matters of discipline might play some role in this election; even Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago is now concerned about his reputation. Now, is there a candidate promising to fight indiscipline this time round? After all it seems that 1984 Lagos’ indiscipline is synonymous with 2015 Kampala!

The author is one of the founding Kigo Thinkers.

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