What exactly did the players think was their main aim in Cairo? Playing for one’s national team is not a regular job from which a player should expect income. It is a national duty where any monetary compensation is a reward, not a precondition for playing. To make monetary compensation the main condition for playing shows that our players have a mercenary mentality. Mercenaries are soldiers for hire. They lack an emotional commitment to the cause. In this case, our players were not in the game because of a passionate desire to win the trophy but to make money.
This reflects the culture that has come to dominate our national consciousness, most especially in politics. There is a belief that people support a cause or a candidate only if there is some personal monetary benefit. This attitude started with NRM but has grown and become even more perverse in the opposition and the wider society. For example, among opposition pundits, if anyone expresses a view contrary to theirs, and which favors President Yoweri Museveni, it means the president has paid for it. This does not reflect the character of the person they are criticising but their understanding and thus expectations of power.
This tragedy within the opposition was born within the NRM. The NRM’s climb-down from an ideologically anchored political movement to a cash and carry government has been one of the most dramatic and tragic developments in our history. Here is a movement that began with high ideals. People abandoned their families, studies, businesses and homes to join the struggle in Luwero. There was no salary for participation. There was little expectation of a quick victory. There was no housing, medical care or food. The movement was driven primarily by a commitment to its political objectives: ending corruption, promoting democracy, fighting sectarianism and developing the economy.
But once in power, NRM changed its basis of support from high ideals to crass materialism. Today, it is pale shadow of its former self. Its Members of Parliament can only vote for something because they have been paid. Its supporters are paid to attend rallies. At every meeting of every organ of the party, its officials want to be paid for attending. This behavior is no longer unique to NRM. Anyone reading commentaries and posts by our opposition activists can see – not the moral outrage over such attitudes – but the envy and jealous towards those who are in power and profiting from it.
This brings me back to the Cranes. Money is important and I defend their right to be paid as per their contracts. However, monetary compensation cannot be the main incentive for national players. Assume they were offered an option to be paid Shs100 million each but they get knocked out in the first round, or they get paid nothing but win the trophy, what would the players choose? Nationalist players would choose the trophy. By their strike, the Cranes made their choice clear: money over the trophy. Tragic.
Yet choosing the trophy over pay is not altruism. It is a self-interested decision that brings many benefits but largely in the long term. The first reward is prestige, and this is something that money finds difficult to buy. Imagine the adulation and respect they would get if they returned to the country with the trophy. The second is economic: many international clubs would begin scouting Uganda for players. Our players chose short-term gain over their long-term prospects. Sad!