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Ugandans in Diaspora are critical

By Morris Komakech

Many feel disenfranchised through being denied the opportunity to vote from our missions abroad and to get MPs

The debate on the role of Ugandans in diaspora in shaping the sociopolitical discourses in Uganda is a superficial one. During election time, we were reminded – always by adversaries- that those living abroad have fled the frontiers of politics and should first return home to be counted. It is increasingly absurd that when convenient, some Ugandans decide to put non-existent differences between those at home and those in the diaspora. Those at home claim that Ugandans in diaspora are disconnected from their degradation and pitiful conditions due to their distance.

Many cite the relative progression of the exploiters through foreign investment as a sign of development to be proud of. According to them, telecommunications and entertainment industries are booming, their roads are being worked on (never mind the shoddy and cheap work), and their UMEME is shining bright – never mind the load shedding. Their children are now going to private schools that have become a supermarket for knowledge. Traditional institutions – schools and hospitals – are facing steady decay and for them, they are no longer engrossed with infrastructural, but moral decay. The proliferation of private clinics and the development of the private sector under the NRM had answered all their problems, even if affordability is an issue – never mind that they depend on their relatives abroad. These “stead developments”, they claim, have eluded Ugandans who live abroad.

These kinds of argument are pedestrian and uninformed. First, most countries in Africa have a significant proportion of their citizens living abroad or in neighboring countries. There are various reasons that drive these Africans out of their countries – better schools, fleeing persecution, bad governance, economic reasons e.g. work, and so forth.

In the case of Uganda, the main reasons that Ugandans flee their country are associated with the legacy of insecurity, persecution, discrimination, and other forms of structured injustices such as sectarianism. Moreover, each regime comes with its own brand. Uganda has been at war since independence, and faced various forms of sectarian, ethnic, and trivial conflicts that forced many to leave. In fact, more and more studies on brain drain show that nearly 67% of Ugandan nursing students express the desire to leave Uganda immediately upon graduation. Nearly 70% of professionals, including doctors, lawyers etc expressed a wish to seek greener pastures where their professions are honored (77% of Liberia trained doctors work in the USA). With nearly 83% of the youths unemployed, you find a situation where a large percentage of the population expressing their desires to leave the country. But that alone, is half the story.

The real reason that forces Ugandans out is the violence of the NRM regime in all its manifestations. By violence, we view corruption, sectarianism and inequities in jobs and opportunities as forms of societal violence through which the regime expresses its dominance.

As a result of this interstitial violence that this regime wages on society, there has emerged a narrow clique of survivors. Most of whom have stayed afloat by pandering to the regime. The just concluded 2016 election has exposed and isolated some of them adequately. These are fake professionals who deal in fake goods and perpetuate fake ideologies that are mostly self-gratifying. We have a coterie of fake lawyers dealing with fake cases manufactured by the fake state police, who are, by composition and characteristic, the appendage of the military. There civil police in Uganda is dead.

In other words, those who have managed to do well under such a circumstance have had to evolve through a complex evolutionary process that has transformed then into believing and honoring fake ideology. Uganda needs redemption from and for those.

This so-called progressive Uganda is not productive economically. The real irony is that, the very victims of the regime’s violence who manage to flee for a better life abroad and the ones the regime sells to slavery in places like Saudi Arabia, Thailand etc., are the ones who sustain the regime and its repressive machinery through their remittances. The remittances are the monies that Ugandans who live abroad send back home to sustain Ugandans and their crooked government. It has been growing in the last decade by nearly 14% annually according to Revenue Authority estimates. In the FY2014/15 Ugandans in diaspora remittances were in excess of US$1, 392million, accounting for 4.6% of the GDP. We are talking of 250% increase of revenue from US$646millions in FY2011/2012.

The UN estimates over 630,000 Ugandans to be living abroad and another 42,000 were already recruited by licensed employment agencies to work in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia etc.

The message for those who think Ugandans in the diaspora have no role in shaping Uganda’s sociopolitical discourse and economic development is that they should think again. Our roles are immense and we feel increasingly as disenfranchised through being denied the opportunity to vote from our missions abroad and to get a representation in Parliament.

This is the issue that we must advance and it is an issue that I intend to pursue relentlessly.

Nearly two-thirds of districts in Uganda cannot generate local taxes to fund their own annual budgets and yet they are represented in Parliament.

Further, this regime has pursued foreign investment and lavished foreign investors with tax holidays as a vote of no confidence in indigenous Ugandans. The government is no longer investing in innovations, schools, and in those critical areas to inspire local production.

Finally, the issue of Ugandans living abroad should not be about class, competition, or distance. It should be contextualised within the global nexus of information technology, foreign exchange (money), and complementarity. We now live in the global village made very tenable by the advent of social media. Nothing happens in my village in Pajule or Dure, and never reaches me within 30 minutes. The Hansard is online and the local media are all accessible via internet. To assume that Ugandans who live abroad have lost touch with what is happening at home in this era sounds ridiculous. Such clumsy thought should be obliterated from an industrious mind and left for the indolent.

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