This week, we had an interesting discussion on civic space on the debt crisis soon to turn Uganda into an economic pariah State.
The figures are startling; in 2020, there was a 35 per cent rise in our national debt, it might be argued in part due to Covid-19, but alas.
Most of these – two thirds – are external mainly owed to China and the traditional partners, the IMF and World Bank.
Scaringly, the total debt as reported by the Finance minister is expected to hit 50 per cent of GDP, a figure that only economists know the implications. The fact that these figures translated to every citizen owing Shs1.5 million notwithstanding.
Now dig deep and one begins to get sick. How did we get here in the first place when this country has had debt relief twice since NRA/M came to power?
The day before the TV discussion, I had attended a funeral of a friend’s sister in Kampala. The deceased — a civil servant as is her husband — died in part because of a misdiagnosed and a mistreated condition at a public hospital in eastern Uganda.
Then she was brought to a major private hospital named among the original Kampala hills, a hospital with big benefactors. Operated for millions of shillings in exchange, she still died.
At the church service, we waited as the casket delayed and being Kampala I initially thought it was the usual traffic in the absence of those speedy-outriders-for-the-powerful, in power. Not at all, the body could not be released due to pending bills. In effect, betrayed in life, yet still, detained in death. What a pain, this country.
Image a family grieving the loss of a young mother, a wife and sister yet in prison; traditionally this is the time when the closest to the deceased are supported, comforted and when I grew up, not allowed to touch anything, not even making a cup of tea.
Here instead are family members running around to dry their bank accounts (thanks to a few friends and colleagues too), or else their dead remains hostage.
Thankfully this is a family of relatively reasonable means and one, united in sadness as in goodness generally.
How else can an average Ugandan family be expected to raise more than Shs30 million in hospital bills and one whose total had no guarantee to life?
And there is something equally atrocious; is there no way in which these private hospitals can ensure they get back their monies when our tears have dried even if they do not consider discount charges for those patients whose lives they either failed to save or in some cases speeded the end?
A nation that owes Shs50 trillion should show it in the health and basic livelihood of its people unless its leaders are part of the problem. Wake up Ugandans.
The writer is a former UPC spokesperson