Those who attended or followed events on broadcast media platforms at President Yoweri Museveni swearing-in fete at Kololo Independence grounds on 12th May must have observed something peculiar—Ghetto guests.
These guests received more recognition than even government ministers and foreign dignitaries.
President Museveni knows the psychology of his ghetto visitors well. They had hitherto had issues with his government when many chose to support their ghetto homeboy-Bobi Wine.
Thus the extension of an olive branch to them was an unprecedented Presidential invitation and special recognition of the members of the “Ghetto Republic” was the first of its kind.
They turned up in large hordes clad in Ghetto republican attire and other Rastafarian paraphernalia, their host quickly reminded other dignitaries around about his unique guests and saluted them in Luganda emphasizing the special bond and new found fraternal relationship.
This invitation is multi-facetted: recognizing them as any other Ugandan citizens; emphasising the special bond that now exists between his government and such citizens: and demystifying the myth that NRM had ignored them.
During the recently concluded elections, many actors were quick to bank on the plight of such persons to push their points home, including radicalization of some elements in such informal settlements to perceive government as an enemy.
Thus the new found friendship should not be cosmetic but genuine friendship aimed at alleviating conditions that some of these folks go through.
Such places are synonymous with high criminal activities, like theft, consumption of every known narcotic leaf, creating even a false hood their world is outside Uganda and that nonsmokers of such narcotics are perceived as hopeless.
In his formative days, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, as a child, too possessed such a ghetto mentality—he visualized his parents as very foolish but surprisingly, after growing up, he realised that his parents were the most brilliant persons ever.
The relationship and perception between the ghetto dwellers and government has always been lukewarm. They claim the NRM government has deliberately ignored them, while the latter also perceives them as criminals opposed to the current government, thus continuous mistrust day by night.
Ghetto life is an extremely difficult phase to go through and thus not befitting anyone. According to Uganda Bureau of Statistics, poverty is the major driver to slums development in Uganda; other factors include the ineffective land tenure system as some people in ghettos informally and formally stay on other peoples land and thus cannot build serious structures. Slums are usually categorized into notified slums and non-notified slums. Under notified slum dwelling the inhabitants here have skills, education and even food. The reverse is different with the non-notified slums dwellers with poverty making a mockery of what life should be. These are the ones in serious need of government attention and help.
There are also global efforts aimed at helping over 100 million slum dwellers live a decent life.
The visitors of the president during his swearing in ceremony should have come with project proposals on how to overcome the situation they are in.
Usually the critical involvement of those living in such dire straits is equally of immense help—models and other bench markings should be undertaken on how to develop such areas.
Museveni’s government has very strategic and benign plans in the form of the National slum upgrading strategy where very modern settlements in the form of modern houses are envisaged to be built.
This should transit from mere plans to action, as statistics currently put slum dwellers to about 60% meaning majority of the so called urban dwellers stay in Ghettos.
You don’t need a rocket scientist to fathom how they vote in elections.
Such areas are a hub for many oppositional politicians, they harvest usually over 90% in any electoral cycle.
While NRM has been harvesting over 90% from the villagers who are usually uninterested with governance, when you juxtapose the two groups, slum dwellers are politically alert.
Though gradually with access to radio stations and other media platforms, this urban influence is gradually permeating into rural areas and the situation will be dire for the NRM government.
Some of these so-called urban actors and village actors are not thoroughly knowledgeable on many issues; they appear to condemn or even support what they understand less.
With rapid rural-urban migration where the villagers end up in slums NRM will keep losing its village voters when they cross to town since they end up staying in such hard conditions. NRM must intervene quickly to address this challenge by among others provision of free seedlings and other incentives in the villages which is key or else they migrate to towns and gang with ghetto residents who already have issues with the government.
Government has both a statutory duty and constitutional mandate to plan for the welfare of its citizens. The 2016-2021 Kisanja saw massive investments in roads, health centres, education and hydro dams-this is an ideal approach to development.
Whereas such big projects are a stimulant to growth, the government should now reduce on such investments and focus on the needs of its friendly Ghetto dwellers in such areas both in words and action.
The Greek philosopher Socrates used to encourage youths to rebel against government while himself at the same time was very loyal and obeyed all the laws of government. However unjust they were, similarly there could be some individuals who prey on the minds of such innocent dwellers encouraging, funding and even supporting them to cause havoc for selfish agendas.
The master planners or architectures are usually different from the implementers—the former watch at a distance as their plans are being implemented by the former (innocent youths).
Remember in criminal law, the perpetrator is what the law targets first. Government ought to engage them now and on words. Let the government fund women groups through savings cooperatives since women do better than men, especially those in non-notified settlement areas, as opposed to mere handing over envelopes to them.
since it is an established practice that those who receive envelopes pocket them and disappear and resurface again with another set of complaints after the resources are over, a model slum for learning purposes can also be envisaged so that if the outcome is healthy it can be replicated or cascaded down words to other slummy areas in the country.
President Museveni’s extension of an olive branch to residents of the Ghetto republic should be commended in that they had taken themselves as people living in a different republic and were engaged in sorts of many things quite contrary to all statutory provisions in Uganda.
It has been a strong base for political actors like Dr Kiiza Besigye and recently people like Kyagulanyi.
With voting patterns between Kololo and Kalerwe clearly known, the olive branch so extended should be long and not cosmetic.
Rehabilitation of such individuals is necessary including even creation of a ministry to be headed by a Rastafarian with deep knowledge on such people can be a welcome idea.
The writer is a researcher from Mbale .Tel 0706655811.