By Denis Jjuuko

This week, the Minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development will present the budget for the next financial year to Parliament. There will be proposals to increase taxes here and there including one on ‘gossiping’ through social media. Apparently, it is ok to walk or drive to somebody’s house to gossip than doing it lazily over the phone!

Anyway, I expect a few proposals to attract investment in certain areas by giving tax holidays to investors in some sectors. It is a very welcome idea that I have previously supported. However, if the government doesn’t nip in the bud the growing insecurity, the economy will continue to contract. Genuine businesses hardly thrive in a country where kidnaps and murders are rampant.

It started mainly with Muslim clerics with one being killed every few months. A lot of people thought these were just Muslim wrangles and kept away, after all they were not Muslims and were, therefore, not being targeted. Then they started killing women without public profiles especially in the Entebe area.

We kept quite because we were told those were prostitutes. Since we were not prostitute or pimps, we turned a deaf ear. In Masaka, they would actually issue a warning letter and come on the indicated day and create unbelievable mayhem. We didn’t live in Masaka or had any relatives there so it was ok. Before we knew it, armed men staged daring missions in the middle of Kampala in broad daylight killing an army major, high profile prosecutor, and an assistant inspector general of police.

When they killed a woman after her parents had paid a hefty ransom, we simply said, well, it must have been a family wrangle and since we don’t have that kind of money, so they will never come to us. But the stories I hear about kidnaps nowadays aren’t really about people with huge bank balances. Anybody seems to be a target.

The latest killing is that of a comical and flamboyant Member of Parliament. When news of his killing first filtered in, everybody wondered why would anybody target Uganda’s version of Iraq’s Comical Ali. In fact, in the war that removed Saddam Hussein from power, nobody ever targeted Ali. He was considered a clown. But that is what it is, you don’t have to have much to be targeted by masked men on boda bodas or those willing to extract as little as Shs500,000 from your relatives.

Those who killed the MP over the weekend, some reports indicate had even the time to correct evidence in form of bullet cartridges from the crime scene before jumping on their boda bodas and disappear to wherever. That is how confident they have grown over time. Those who killed the former assistant inspector general of police seem to have had time as well to do whatever they wanted.

The country like we saw in Arua when the body of the slain MP arrived there was on tension leading to the destruction of properties. Nobody, high profile or not knows whether they will return home alive today. Parents are not sure they will arrive back home and find their kids. And if it is not gunmen, it is jobless youth targeting your phone that is worth less than USD100 who will be waiting for you at the gate.

In the circumstances that prevail in the country today, very few people want to invest. When people are scared and not sure what will happen to them or their relatives the next day, they cannot think long term. They will just do what they can to survive. There might even be people thinking exile already. Such people rather keep their money in the bank or take it somewhere they feel is safe. So if we want to grow our economy, we need to think of securing this country so that nobody loses their lives to “idiots and pigs.”

Before any serious investor comes over, they want to check on how secure their families and properties will be. They don’t want to lose money. They want an environment that is safe for their kids and relatives. If they aren’t secure, they go somewhere else. In the 1970s and 1980s, many Ugandans left the country and set up businesses or simply offered their expertise elsewhere. Some have never really come back. The countries that adopted them went on to achieve more from their industry.

The same applies to tourism, which is one of the country’s biggest foreign exchange earners. If tourists see anything on the news that scares them, they stay away. When they read of people being kidnaped, high profile people being showered with bullets during the day, they seek alternatives.

So as we prepare for the new financial year, the government’s work is properly cut out. Protect the lives and properties of Ugandans if you want to grow the economy or face the consequences of an increasingly unemployed youthful population.

The writer is a communication and visibility consultant.

Photo of MP Ibrahim Abiriga, a comical character, who was shot dead together with his brother on Friday last week