Cursed by the Ugandan Dream

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Two significant events happened over the last two weeks. The New Vision’s Pakasa Forum, a platform where youth are inspired to begin making their own money and the arrest of a one Ronald Muramuzi, the brain behind Telex Free pyramid local scam where many Ugandans lost more than a billion shillings after being duped that they can make a lot of money in just hours.

This however is not a new thing happening in Uganda. It comes barely a year after the Bad Black show was finally brought to an end with the arrest and later, the dramatic re arrest of Shanita Namuyimba for defrauding a company set up by her ex-boyfriend for several billions.

In similar occasions, more than 400 Ugandans in 2011, had lost about Sh 11Billion in a Forex trading scam spearheaded by an ‘invisible’ firm later to be known as Mint Consults Limited run by a one Louis Majwala and a similar scam the following year by John Kasumba of Reilag Investment Ltd whose where about today remain unknown.

These scenarios, say a lot about us and living the Ugandan dream: Hit the big ”deal” (in Luganda its best presented as diilu). This I have come to know, states that “In Uganda without much effort, you can sleep a slave and wake up a master in a period of just over one night”

After waking up from the Ugandan dream, people now call you a ‘celebrity and role model’ then after you go out and announce your “hard worked fortune” with flashy cars, legendary night outs and above all, let everybody know you have arrived by buying people drinks and attract some media attention.

To be honest, this dream does not originate from Uganda. It came from the west and later championed by ‘the legendary’ Bernard Lawrence Madof, the man behind the Ponzi scheme. He was a former American Stockbroker, investment adviser, financier and non-executive chairman off the NASDAQ stock market.

For decades, Madof used his wealth management business to defraud thousands of innocent private investors and charities of billions of money. Even banks and other strong financial institutions invested in this scheme later to fall prey to what will possibly remain as the world’s most celebrated and biggest financial scandal(worth $65b).

Our history perhaps plays a role in the continued advocacy of this Ugandan dream curse. The instabilities in Uganda right from mid 1960s have greatly contributed to our giving of short term attention to crooks, glorification of fraudsters and the denigration of hard, diligent work.

Politicians, citizens and local leaders during the Idi Amin Dada era have been known to have lived a luxurious lifestyle after declaration of The Economic War on Asians in Uganda on 4th August 1972. Many got rich in just hours, took over asian businesses and properties yet they had no management skills. Later, they begun killing each other in order to take over their properties and remain relevant. No wonder today they are nowhere.

Betrand Russell, a philosopher said “ The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves and wiser people full of doubts”. Perhaps this explains why in Mike Ezra, Meddie Sentongo and Bad Black, we see celebrities, socialites and role models.

Or we just need entertainment to distract us from the pain of poverty and everyday living? With the Uganda Shilling always dropping low on the exchange markets, inflations hitting Uganda now and then, Youth unemployment soon becoming a national anthem and abject poverty being close to another arm of our government. Does it now leave us to resort to living the Ugandan dream?

It has always been said, the only place where success comes ahead of work is in the dictionary. Bad Black, Ronald Muramuzi or Meddie Sentongo might have won the lottery like many big time winners before them, but they have always never been prepared for their downfall. Squander the money with the ‘goodwill’ you have but the end justifies the means.

Live the Ugandan dream but be ready to face the downfall– because its inevitable. Ugandans are very unreliable, you are their role model today but you are their laughing stock the following day. Even when you get arrested, them just looking at the prison gate where you are imprisoned is an abomination! Just remember Bad Black’s confession that no kampala night life friends visited her in prison and it was her mother who she had abandoned, extended the courtesy(and regulary).

The Ronald Muramuzi scenario might not be of a celebrity case but its just another side of the same coin. The only difference I see is that he defrauded fellow Ugandans and not a white lady or man that is why he is being condemned by ‘the patriotic Ugandans’ rather than being loved as he was setting off to live the Ugandan dream like all his predecessors.

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Many people have confessed losing money to Telex Free allegedly owned by Ronad Muramuzi

In Uganda money laundering cases are even worse. In this dot com era where one can become a multi millionaire by just clicking a mouse while online, we do not have strong cyber laws (if any) to detect and curb such crime in their infancy. The police crime report 2013 indicates that a total of 45 cases of cyber crime were reported that year compared to 62 cases in 2012, which resulted in a loss of more than Sh17 billion. Yet the computer literacy levels are shooting up rapidly.

The Anti Money Laundering Act is just political in general. Much as it is aimed majorly at curbing corruption from public officers who gain wealth from unknown sources online, a lot needs to be done. The Act does not give a wholistic approach to money laundering and defrauding scenarios like these from the private sector which are left hanging leaving the police at cross roads.

However, I believe this curse will come to an end soon. Life in Uganda is becoming more regularized and socially organized than before 2010. There was a time when Bad Blacks were at every street corner, admittedly for smaller change, but hustling all the same and later becoming millionaires by defrauding people. This however seems to be no more.

The increase in open availability of petrol to international currency, mobile phones and a more coordinating police means that the black market is vanishing and regulated jobs plus incomes are yet to be achieved in Uganda. Now that such crimes can be at least be detected and put on record, it just comes back to the law of karma which states What goes around comes back around”

As Sudhir Ruparelia noted at the Pakasa forum, “no money is free at all”. Whether sports betting which is winning on probability and means that for very winner there is a loser or the capitalist concept of only the strong will survive, we need to stop being greedy and vulnerable. It is better to concentrate on the little we have or work hard to achieve. It is better that way and that is the only cure to this curse.

Ronald Muramuzi and Bad Black have all been trucked off to prisons but when we fail to sleep at night and allow for some self-reflection, we should remember them as symbols of our shallow excesses, do penance for our myopic ways, clammer after substance over style and pray that we earn success through thoughtful and consistent application.

Hopefully now that they are under lock-and-key unlikely to dazzle us with their garish style and rural expression of urban excitement, we can all get back to class or doing an honest day’s work. We need to rethink our beliefs and morals governing our social life as Ugandans considered to be the right thinking members of the society by the majority and end this curse.

“Eneke the bird says that since men have learnt to shoot without missing, he has learnt to fly without perching” Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart

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