My dear fellow citizens, I have $50m to put in your vote bank

A typical email that my Google filter kindly sends to the spam folder goes: My dear, I wish to address you in the strictest confidence. I am US Colonel Allan Edwards serving here in Afghanistan. I have a box containing $12,650,000 which I need to get out of this country to a safe place until I finish my tour of duty next year. I have chosen you to collaborate with me on this delicate matter.

Second typical mail that should go to the spam folder: Dearest friend, I am the widow of His Excellency the former president of (name of a dead dictator of a banana republic). My late husband left me a fortune of £16,000,000.00 and I am now living in exile in Mali. But as you know, the situation here is not good and I need someone I can trust to entrust this money with.

When you receive such mails you usually do not read beyond the first line, the reason being that you do not have time to waste on nonsense. You know it is a conman looking for idiots to fleece, and you are not an idiot.

Interestingly, these days, much as we are not idiots, we tend to give audience and considerable time to equally untruthful promises we know will never be fulfilled.

A typical conmanwoman in Uganda today herds you into a crowd and with a straight face says: “My people of X county, I have come back to you as I have always been with you in all circumstances. I am asking you to vote for me once again to represent you in parliament for the next five years. The reason I need to go back to parliament is to finish the unfinished business of making ours the most modern constituency in the country. There were some problems in channelling of our funds but this time I shall ensure that all the schools are well equipped and the teachers are working.”

Then the second conman goes: “My dear fellow citizens of X county, the time has come to liberate ourselves from the disappointing performance and betrayal of the outgoing MP. As your new MP, I am going to end this backwardness immediately.”

The crowd knows that the outgoing conman has pocketed one and a half billion shillings — equivalent to half a million dollars — over the past five years in personal emoluments as their representative legislator. They all know that there was no value for the money.

The member’s contribution to the development of national legislation was about zero. But the voters are not angry about that. They are angry that he did not give them as many bribes during the term as he did when he was campaigning five years ago.

For that matter, they want him to spend as much on them this time, but they are also intending to con him and not vote for him. They also want to squeeze as many bribes as they can out of his rival. After they send the rival to parliament, what he does there is not their business.

So don’t wonder anymore why people listen to these conmen for hours under the sun. They know they are telling them lies. They are also trying to con them in return. As for quality legislation, who cares?

Joachim Buwembo is a Knight International Fellow for development journalism. E-mail: