On this sunny December afternoon, I decided to take a stroll from home down to the spring well. First to reconnect with childhood memoirs of fetching water, climbing mango trees, playing at the well, but also to enjoy the serenity of the avenue. Right below Kabalega Primary School is our home. The place has an ambiance created by the mango trees that grace the sides of the sizeable path to the well. As I took my leisurely mid-day walk, I met a good old man, a cross-generation friend – Ibona Portaz.
Ibona has been fetching water from the Kabalega spring well for the last forty years and does it for a living. Ibona last saw me when I was a little boy riding my tricycle around the village in the company of my big brother. Immediately after the greeting formalities, Ibona engaged me in a conversation that vividly brought to life lost time and evoked real childhood pleasures and pains. He reminded me of the days when a child belonged not to one parent or home, but to a village. He somewhere in the middle dropped the bombshell – he was retiring from his job of collecting water, this year, 2014.
I didn’t want to ask him why he was retiring because I could see, age was catching up with my once energetic friend. As we carried on with the conversation, he confided in me (as his son from Kampala) that he was leaving work a happy man because he had caught wind of the news, that the President was going to provide a borehole for one part of the village.
To Ibona, this was great news because the homesteads which he has been supplying water, would not face water scarcity when he retires. But did he say the President is just about to erect a borehole in Kabalega village?
Midway the banter, Ibona couldn’t resist to ask for sh10,000 to replace his bicycle brake pads – which I quickly gave. His biggest worry was now the nighttime petty robberies that were becoming a common nuisance around the village.
A month before we met, thieves had invaded his home and stole his precious (road master) bicycle. He used the bicycle to put bread on his table.
When we met, he was still trying to get over this experience. He couldn’t help, but share it with me (a good longtime friend) in anticipation that collectively we could figure out what could be done to stop such occurrences.
Ibona was even more worried that once he replaces the bicycle brakes, thieves would visit his home that night. Amidst startle, he paused and then imposingly asked, “since the President is coming to bring us a borehole, why can’t he also come and help us get rid of these petty thieves around the village?” Now, this was a very honest question, from a sincere and well-meaning heart.
Asked about what the village Local Council (or better still, the defence secretary) was doing about these irritating thefts, Ibona stood rooted to the spot as he instead asked if I knew any one in that LC1 structure, so I could direct him to where they live. My mind raced and paced as to why this 70-year-old man thought that many things in his life could only get sorted by the President.
This conversation was just that timely reminder about the ‘personification’ syndrome that is creeping and peeking over the walls of government and state organs.
Now that my memory is refreshed, I will certainly not raise my eyebrows if my 60-year-old uncle in Bulindi village pleads for the President’s intervention in eliminating the anopheles mosquitos, which have made him get bouts of malaria over the last six months or if my sixteen-year old niece, Ayebale, calls on the President to help her, with fetching water from the Kabalega spring well to her home, which is less than 500 metres away.
Anyway, the long and the short of it is that, it looks like the ‘President’ now personifies the once institutions, structures and commands of government. This is not just cancerous, but it is also simply not good!