I shall save you from the snake all you have to do is catch it and kill it

Making rain in traditional Africa was a secret art, the preserve of the king or those specialised rainmakers to whom he delegated authority. But when the colonialists came, they tried to demystify rainmaking to the extent of even changing the form of the rain itself.

Not only did they introduce irrigation to make reliance on rain unnecessary, they forced us to grow cash crops and seek employment, thereby putting individual rain in our wallets. They also forced us to dig toilets and remove stagnant water to reduce visits to the witchdoctor to report ailments arising from poor sanitation and mosquitoes.

Fortunately Independence came and we reverted to our mysterious ways. The supreme ruler is the provider of everything. You must thank the government for roads, security, schools and health centres even after paying for them through taxes.

It is like in the ancient kingdom of Buganda where the Kabaka was revered both as temporal and spiritual leader. Once, a big snake that was terrorising his subjects in Kalungu village was reported to him after it had killed many people. The Kabaka ordered his subjects to go and catch it. They went and caught it.

He ordered them to make a big fire. They made a big fire. He ordered them to throw the captured snake into the fire. They threw the captured snake into the fire and it burnt to ashes. They thanked the Kabaka and lived happily ever after.

Things have not changed much.

Today people are jostling for the position of chief rainmaker through electoral campaign rituals. Ugandans are being promised roads, hospitals, security, schools, things they have been paying for and will continue paying for.

Whoever is elected as Chief Rainmaker in February will be joined by one million and seven hundred thousand assistant rainmakers from 400 MPs to dozens of councillors in each of Uganda’s 60,000 villages.

For security, they will recruit the voters’ own children much the same way the Kabaka sent his subjects to go and capture the big snake. They will train and arm them using the our taxes and we shall be expected to thank them profusely.

For education, they will send money to schools and pay teachers plus ghosts, for hospitals they will buy some drugs and also spend $150 million every year sending VIPs for treatment abroad, all from our taxes, and we shall be expected to thank them for a less-than-good job done.

Yet all these services are so poorly provided that many taxpayers who can afford simply shun what the government is providing. Yes, even security — the private security business is growing faster than the public security sector in terms of numbers employed.

One sector that cannot yet be fully taken over by the private sector is roads. But still the government cannot build roads — its road agency called UNRA just buys roads from private companies. But even that will change as companies start getting leases to build and operate pay-as-you-drive roads.

But for now, everything we owe to the rainmakers even as we pay for it. The question is, aren’t 1,700,000 rainmakers too many for 34,000,000 citizens? That is one rainmaker for every 20 people, right?

Joachim Buwembo is a Knight International Fellow for development journalism. E-mail: buwembo@gmail.com