If there was ever a perfect nation, it would be somewhere halfway between Uganda and Rwanda, with just enough rules but also, just enough crazy to make life fun. The ancient Greeks were torn between Athens and Sparta, both had virtues and setbacks. The Athenians had their democracy, free thinking, philosophy and hedonism – the pursuit of pleasure as a lifestyle. The Spartans were cold and militaristic, self-denying, arrogant and dismissive of weaker opponents, pleasure was seen as weakness, philosophy was seen as intellectual bullshit and lies, strength was in unity and sacrifice. You see this as you cross the border, two separate mindsets on display, austere hostility on one side and relaxed fun on the other.
You have roasting chicken by the customs, Rolexes by the immigration, you can eat while they stamp your entry. Which system is best? Both have merits and setbacks, and even today in most modern countries, the democratic government is Athens and the military is Sparta. So it was with this Laconic tendency that I started to understand Rwanda and Uganda, a militaristic elite dominate the political scene. Athens is under control of a Spartan elite, they let Athens be Athens provided the Sophists and Oligarchs did not challenge Spartan power. Back in Laconia, the Spartans were able to keep a strict hold over society, to regulate in minute detail all the behavior and rituals of the Perioikoi, to make clean streets, to build huge public works, to strengthen the military and cement power.
“Corruption is good!!!” Said my taxi driver, climbing pavements without a fear in the world “at least the policeman gets to eat, and I don’t go to court.” I asked what if someone else knocked his child and was able to pay a bribe to escape, how would he feel? “Then it is a big problem. But I lived in Rwanda, you cannot make a living, too many laws and rules, here they leave you alone.” Growth is everywhere in Uganda, exploding off the pavements, pure unregulated growth, organic growth. In Rwanda we can only pray for that organic growth, it is mostly government spending driving growth, organic growth is stifled by regulations and interference. Uganda just needs order, some kind of control, and a brand-new concept they have barely heard of – consequences. You can kill a fellow drinker in a club and get away with it, you can commit murder and never be charged when there were 113 witnesses. All witnesses are dismissed as drunk, then you have several powerful people all wanting to protect you for money. Uganda is Jazz, they make it up as they go, Rwanda is a tightly-arranged symphony with every note in place. Ugandans say they can never be tamed, Rwandans are naturally slow and can be easily governed, unlike the Unruly Ugandan. In 94, Murder was acceptable, Rape was acceptable, it was total chaos but order emerged.
Rwanda is a reaction to Uganda, the RPF vowed never to make the mistakes of NRM, Kagame vowed to never make the mistakes of Museveni, but he made entirely different ones. Such is life, every decision will have its downside, every path its own obstacles. The Relaxed Approach of Museveni is now destabilizing the system and allowing Chaos in through the back door. The Iron Fist approach is also strangling Rwanda, killing our creativity, making a nation of mindless zombies who cannot think for themselves. Ugandans have industriousness, their dirty streets are a sign of clean money, even New York has litter everywhere, when Kigali truly has an economic boom we’ll have litter too. Even if Rwandans had the same industriousness of Ugandans, they are stopped by the overzealousness of local officials who use regulations to stop growth at grassroots. In Uganda people can start-up just like that, the inflation is high and money is worthless but everyone gets a piece of the pie. I wonder what happened to the idealism of Museveni? He let the political class plunder the state in return for staying in power. That is a warning to us in Rwanda, when the political class strikes a grand bargain to allow state capture in exchange for extending rule. I just wish there was a happy medium between the two, the freedom of UG and order of Rw, they say you cannot have both. I would pick order over free chaos, but it shouldn’t be a binary choice, development happens when economic freedom and personal freedoms are balanced. The price of Liberty is eternal vigilance, Uganda has to be more security conscious and fight corruption which is killing the nation. Rwanda has to stop choking itself to death with regulations, these regulations lead to corruption to avoid them. We should ask “Is it beneficial, does it harm (how can we limit harm) and allow it.” Moderation is the key, moderate laws, not too lax, not too extreme, somewhere between Uganda and Rwanda is paradise on Earth.