From citizens to idiotic, indifferent subjects

There is a video that recently went viral on social media where a bus driver, with more than 60 passengers on board, is seen eating his meal—not snacking, but enjoying a normal meal of boiled chicken and rice— behind the steering wheel on a major highway.

It is not clear when this video was recorded but the events in it are rather chilling, mindboggling. Throughout the entire clip, no passenger protested this clear act of dangerous driving. The most that one of them could do was video-recording this man.

In truth, by the time a man gathers the audacity to pick and eat his home-made meal while he drives a bus (not a small vehicle, with only his family and himself ) with 60 paid-up clients on board, he knows he shares something with these passengers.

It is not simply an act of recklessness, but a statement of shared discourse with his clients. He is confident that while this could be daring and risky behaviour, those on board are either too dumb to notice, cowardly to challenge him, or have gotten used to even worse abuse and violation. And his is a smaller violation.

Or, and more importantly, they are used to no one taking responsibility of clearly dangerous behaviour—after calamity happens. They see this all the time.

Convinced that being called out is only a thing for security/traffic police—and these could be easily bribed—and convinced that neither of the people on board is a police or traffic officer, he is confident his recklessness is in a safe place.

“Well, if no one notices, or calls him out, and if no calamity happens, nothing will happen. I can dare the devil,” he convinces himself.

If calamity strikes (and if he emerges on the other end alive), surely there is a way of getting himself off the hook with very little inconvenience. It happens all the time. Even if he died in the process, his bosses will not account to anyone. It is all good.

As you can imagine, dear reader, when we normally talk about “becoming used to the impunity and no one taking responsibility,” we never ask the question, “how did this all happened?” How did we get cowed into silence, intimidated, indifferent, senile, docile, extremely emasculated to the point that even in the face of absolute abuse, clear-cut danger to our lives, we never call out the perpetrators—even at the smallest level? This is not a natural condition.

I know the abundance of good climate and good food (even as entire parts of the country starve) and beautiful damsels contribute to our complacence and indifference; we need to understand how this turning of entire populations into mass idiotic subjects has taken some planning.

Three projects—all of them executed to perfection under Museveni—have contributed to this state of affairs: (a) the removal of graduated tax, (b) the criminalisation of dissent of all forms, and (c) removal of all political-civic education platforms both in schools and in the public domain.

I have written about the removal of graduated tax before where I noted that while it makes it easier for governments to collect taxes indirectly (little resistance and avoidance), the unintended result, which is worse than failure to collect taxes, is that you produce a docile, indifferent and ignorant public.

A public which cannot easily make the connection between their taxes, and the ways in which that tax is spent is a stupid public. Among mostly an illiterate public like ours, graduated tax made the public conscious of their money and thus sought to know how every dime was spent.

Presently, many Ugandans—and those who spend their taxes—do not fully comprehend the fact that the money stolen or misspent by politicians is actually their money. Because also, subjects such as Political Education, and Civics in schools, things such as bimeeza and barazzas, bulungi bwa nsi, and others like this were made illegal.

While watching the video of the driver enjoying his home-made meal while driving a bus with over 60 lives on board, I could not stop thinking about how we became so numb, passive, laidback, and indifferent even when our lives are being directly compromised. Yes, this is the Museveni legacy in its fullest: dissent has been criminalised.

Over the years, things such as activism, standing up, protesting, speaking out, civil disobedience, etc. have been likened to hooliganism, and violent behaviour. By likening them to hooliganism, they are brutally quashed and participants arrested.

When vendors in Kampala are protesting their landlords who force them to pay rent in dollars—a genuine and constitutional protest because the shilling is the legal tender in Uganda—the government of Mr Museveni moves in with teargas and bullets.

When university students are protesting poor meals, or tax operators protesting extortionist levies, instead of being guided on how to engage in peaceful demonstrations of discontent, they are violently quashed with bullets and teargas.

Have we not seen activists such as Joseph Kabuleta, Stella Nyanzi, Jimmy Spire Ssentongo, Isaac Ssemakadde, Andrew Karamagi, Bishop Dr Zac Niringiye and several others, being threatened with arrest, or sabotage of their source of livelihood for simply speaking out against the ills in the country.

To this end, protesting and publicly demonstrating discontent, have been removed from the Ugandan public consciousness. Thus, even when a violation requires that would-be victims stand up for own safety, the fear of having their bones being broken (even with no enforcers in sight) has been internalised—on a national scale.

The author is a political theorist based at Makerere University

Source: The Observer

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