Uganda is gradually becoming one big prison


A Uganda prison warden pushes prisons into a narrow cell

Let us try to recall Jeremy Bentham’s vision, ‘the view that governments should promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number’.

The father of utilitarianisms’ view seems to have been interchanged to conveniently allow some to rationalize making the majority Ugandans thoroughly miserable, in the interest of preserving the happiness of the minority.

This is a scary direction.  It’s a design of an ideal prison. Where an all seen guard is granted permission to overlook prisoners in a cell while the prisoners are unaware that they are being observed. It is an invasion of privacy.

Bentham believed his panopticon design could only be used for hospitals, schools, factories and all social institutions.

Knowingly or unknowingly, his design is being adopted by the state’s comprador bourgeoisies and is being extended advertently through; conditional entitlement to state benefits, duping voters with unattainable promises, schools and universities are also using electronic methods to enroll, teach, monitor, assess and discipline.

The panopticon apparatus is also encroaching into hiring, firing disciplining, promotion and dismissal strategies of state institutions and parastatals.

Examples; can be drawn from a recent hiring of electoral commission officials and the dismissal of all UNRA staff; including cleaners and drivers under unclear circumstances. Some nurses were suspended at Abim hospital for speaking up.

A BBC report pointed to unconventional apparatus in the form of surveillance equipment acquired from a UK security firm by Uganda government which could be used to track and monitor opposition and dissenting voices.

This is going largely unchecked by both the public and parliament. And yet the state’s role is supposed to be seen primarily as setting and strengthening the rule of law. But the rule of law has never been minimalist as some government officials depict it.

It is increasingly becoming intrusive and oriented to curbing non – conformist and collective action.

This is what Wacquant called ‘public ‘anathemization’ of deviant categories’, notably, the unemployed, the losers, some with character flows and behavioural deficiencies.

But this disquieting tendency to turn strugglers into misfits, villains, to be penalized, locked up or locked out by members of central plank demands interrogation and a thorough scrutiny.

Many poor citizens must prove their allegiance and support to the members of the central plank or that they are not supporting opposition to obtain entitlement to state development benefits.

This selective targeting is only leading to conditional allocation of social services and partly accounts for the widening income inequality and regional disparities.


It’s also leaving the youth hover on the borderline, exposed to circumstances that could turn them from strugglers into deviants and loose cannons prone to listen to populist politicians.

The government’s unwillingness to accept an independent electoral commission is also making Ugandans experience endogenous governance challenges in that the government allowing the opposition to participate or compete but not win presidential elections;

They allow independent press to operate but not completely free;

They permit civic groups to function but not effectively

And consent for election to be held but should not replace the incumbent.

This situation is being aggravated by West’ inability to understand the internal politics and democratization process in Uganda that is bringing in technical bias;

The act of treating symptoms such as training of judges, journalists, MPs and accounting officers and ignoring regimes’ unwillingness to accept independent judiciary, police, electoral commission and media which are fundamental in fostering accountability.

Are strugglers, unemployed, youth and the losers aware that the 2016 elections will grant them with an opportunity to reject the creation of a panopticon Uganda?


Walter Ochanda, the author is an International Development Specialist



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