Olympic Stories: Uganda's Gold Medalist Stephen Kiprotich

From The Sunday Monitor, "Gratefully Ugandan; please take the loaf and give me the crumbs, it’s okay," by Nicholas Sengoba , on 21 August 2012  --  When Ugandan Olympic gold medalist Stephen Kiprotich met President Museveni last Wednesday, he continued to show his ‘un-Ugandaness.’ Winning Uganda’s second the Olympic gold medal was the first feat that set him aside from the many who were satisfied with just flying to London or taking part.

After he had been given a golden handshake of Shs200m, he said thank you and then asked the President to also consider building his parents a house. He went on to ask that a high altitude training facility is built and that there is more funding from the government. He asked that all Olympians be rewarded. When he was offered a year’s free subscription at a modern gym, he asked that other athletes are offered the same.

Unlike Kiprotich, it is characteristic of Ugandans to be grateful for whatever comes their way on the first instance and simply stop at that. You expect little or nothing at all, so when you are given some crumbs, you gladly take them and leave the loaf to the giver. To appreciate this attitude, you must look at Uganda’s turbulent history. From the 60s throughout the Amin period and the 80s to date, Ugandans have suffered various degrees of abuse by the State. Life, property and the right to stay in your country have all been denied at some point.

When asked if the psychology and attitudes of Ugandans had changed during and immediately after (the turbulent UNLF/A administration of 1979-1980), the reign of Idi Amin, Prof. Senteza Kajubi in the Africans page 83 by David Lamb, responded that “we obviously have been greatly affected by the experience of Amin and what happened afterward. We have fallen so low that I wonder if we can ever climb back”

Prof. Kajubi was peeking into the minds of many in which the experiences have implanted the notion that the most important thing is simply to be alive. Anything else that comes to one is treated as a bonus. So whatever you are given even if it is your right, you are smarter taking it and being thankful because the alternative of it being denied or being taken away without recourse is ever present.

I have spoken to journalists who have been called for questioning by the police. Many of them are grateful if they are given a soda and are not beaten as is done to common criminals. They come back praising the police for being ‘professional,’ and ‘misunderstood’ yet in actual fact, a police officer is not supposed to beat a suspect. When lawyer Charles Peter Mayiga was kidnapped by State agents and rusticated to Western Uganda then almost a week later released without charge, he was ‘grateful’ that the police returned his wallet with all its contents and had not really been treated badly despite being detained for more than the mandated 48 hours without being produced before a court of law. Mayiga is no fool he knows how the Amin government brutally murdered his sister Theresa Nanziri Bukenya. Things can get worse.

There is the case of Beatrice Anywar, a hitherto acerbic critic of the Museveni regime. When she got a car accident and the President visited her and gave her Shs8m, she was so thankful that she forgot to remind him to improve the health conditions for all Ugandans, including her constituents suffering from nodding disease. Anywar has seen former MP Patrick Kiggundu ignored and wasting away with no help after being involved in a road accident. Museveni with all his weaknesses is therefore a blessing. When former Vice President Specioza Kazibwe was talking about her experience with domestic violence, she said her husband had ‘only’ slapped her twice.

Kazibwe is no fool. She has seen women killed and maimed by their husbands so two slaps is ‘nothing.’ Those incidents tell a lot about the psyche of this nation. We have become accustomed to extremely low standards; anything slightly above ‘sea level’ is okay. The biblical equivalent is Proverbs 27:7, which says unlike those on a full stomach, bitter things taste sweet to the hungry. That is why many people from Western democracies cannot understand how we live ‘unbothered’ with corrupt dictators for years on end.

We have lived without elections so shambolic elections can do. We have had Kangaroo courts before so biased judges conducting farcical trials in open court can serve the purpose. We have had relatives disappearing without a trace, therefore it is okay when they are now killed and we are allowed to give them a decent burial.

We have seen so much failure and disappointment that we have now lowered our standards or have no standards at all in our expectations so that our hearts are not broken at the next incident of disillusionment. That is our coping strategy. Embolden yourself by going into everything expecting it to fail or come out the wrong way. If it succeeds, well and good. If it fails, your heart will be intact the way many young women get married to errant men making it loudly clear that they know all men cheat just to ready themselves in case he cheats.

The end result - lack of accountability by leaders, cynicism, mediocrity and general failure. That is Uganda’s greatest tragedy 50 years after Independence. (source: The Sunday Monitor)

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