“The man with the key has gone” – cost of doing business in Uganda

It has been 30+ years since Dr. Ian Clarke wrote his book, “The man with the key has gone” and the mentality sustains in Uganda – read more in the the first part, Man With The Key Has Gone. The mentality has gotten worse.

Apparently, for the sole purpose of individual primitive wealth accumulation, it has become more common for Ugandans to nonchalantly cause damage as they do business; albeit in some cases they are oblivious of the damage that they cause. In order to appreciate how the mentality manifests in modern day Uganda, read Jorg Wiegratz’s book: “Neoliberal Moral Economy – Capitalism Socio-Cultural Change and Fraud in Uganda”

Sadly, testimonies such as this one that was shared by a Ugandan young adult are the norm in all sectors, including, the not-for-profit sector as well, some say:

“When I joined the insurance industry, I used to go for bids and I was very careful to make sure I fulfilled all that was asked for in the bid documents to the dot, but I never won any. This is until someone whispered in my ear that I had to meet with the people who make the decisions before.

My first attempt was some government owned company. I got connections and the guy accepted to meet me. He came with three other giants. They ordered for pork and beer, which they devoured as we discussed what they wanted in order for me to win the tender.

I swear, the first time the waiter brought the bill to the hugest guy and the guy pushed the bill towards me, I had only had a bottle of coke, I almost fainted. The bill was on me, 3 hours later, a hefty 500 plus k. The hugest guy told me confidently that it was my bill. I had to call a friend to send me mobile money to top up what I had.

And they were demanding for sitting allowance as well. They told me to learn and make sure I brought them a sitting allowance next time. After three meetings with hefty bills I won the bid. Now am a pro.

The man with the keys just needs some facilitation.”

In this case, we assume that the man with the key got facilitation from a qualified and knowledgeable person who just needed access in order that they do for the greater good. However, in reality we cannot expect that this is always the case. In fact, it is likely that in most cases it is those without competence, but who know how to facilitate the man with the key that get the tender. It certainly explains some of the corruption scandals.

Deepening corruption and the weakening of African socialism in Uganda are a resounding indictment of President Museveni’s reign. In the early days of his presidency, he identified as a socialist, and who boasted that he has no friends, but he only has comrades.

His usage of “comrade” is obvious for he is a military man who came into power in 1986 after a protracted war, which he and his National Resistance Army successfully fought against President Obote’s reign. He also claimed himself, however, a substantial change of guard, whose leadership would promote egalitarianism for the benefit of Ugandans, in the sense that Ugandans should own and benefit fully from the Ugandan economy.  

President Museveni has since abandoned his socialist roots. Uganda’s economy today is operating on free-market neo-liberalism and with all the impurities and absurdities that come with it. No wonder, another Ugandan astutely noticed that: “Many years after the book was published, Clarke is now a multimillionaire (here in Uganda); while Kawoko, the home of his book, is still a backward village.” Food for thought indeed!

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