By Special Correspondent
For three decades until the 1960s, the American and European public were obsessed by Hedy Lamarr, the Austria-born scientist, because of her physical beauty, persistently acknowledging her then as the “world’s most beautiful woman”.
But Lamarr was a scientist who, on immigrating to the US during the second world war, had invented “frequency hopping” which became so vital for the navy vessels’ defence and striking mechanisms. Lammar’s invention was to be applied five decades later to develop Blue Tooth and other mobile digital applications, whose billions of users today do not even know the name Hedy Lamarr, and don’t have to.
Even when she was actively doing her groundbreaking scientific work, Hedy Lamarr was being pushed into film acting (which she also did very well to Holywood celebrity status) by public demand because of her beauty. Even the soldiers whose efficiency and safety was helped by radar systems that were dependent on Hedy’s scientific work, were only aware of her beauty and not so much of her scientific research. But the Commanders-in-Chief who occupied the White House during those three decades were more interested in her strategic contribution to the security of the United States, and kept engaging her.
Hedy Lamarr died in 2000, around which time a Ugandan high school girl was pondering a career in Media, Police and was later finally to opt for elective leadership. Her fate is similar to Lamar’s, with a public that was more aware of her good looks but the Commander-in-chief being keen on her capabilities
“I appointed Judith Nabakooba to the Lands Ministry because she was active on issues of land,” Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni said on the 2021 Heros’ Day to mark the people who have offered themselves, some paying the ultimate price, for the sake of Uganda. “That girl fought land grabbers in Mityana and was on the side of the people. I know she will do a good job there!”
So the president this time, in a cautiously cursory manner, chose to mention a person who, in his view, has rendered heroic service to the country, though not yet and maybe not about to be decorated. For the issue of land still calls for skillful leadership more than decoration of those who are fighting to ensure that equity, justice but rationality as well, are taken care of in matters of land administration.
Land is finite, and its size cannot be expanded like happens with other factors of production. But the population of the people of Uganda is growing, at a rate reputed to be the second fastest in the world. With agriculture being Uganda’s most viable sector in which the country enjoys incredible comparative advantage, messing up the land sector poses an existential threat to the state as we know it.
And as if the ‘reproductivity’ of Ugandan women and men was not challenge enough, there is also the phenomenon of land grabbing, where entire square miles are taken up by a single entity or person, displacing entire villages of people.
Such is the situation, and it requires more leadership and person skills than legalistic approaches. Uganda is still at that stage where a public maxim goes like “omwavu tasinga musango” – a poor person cannot with a legal case. Such persons are what the president has in mind and to protect them, he has reached out to “the girl” whom he knows can deliver. From her combined background of media and police (she retired early at the high rank of Commissioner of Police), Nabakooba is well placed to handle the tricky docket.
Nabakooba’s declared approach is quite promising. “Over the years, a lot of studies and commissions have properly documented the problems and solutions to the land issues in our country,” she said as she was receiving the instruments of office from her predecessor, Betty Olive Kamya. “We are therefore not coming in to do more studies or inquiries, we are coming in to ensure that some of the best solutions brought forward over the years are well implemented.”
In particular, Nabakooba pledged to implement the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire commission report. Bamugemereire spent over a year probing the (mal)practices in land management over the years. Her commission uncovered a lot of rot in land affairs. But the commission also took note of the idle land that is often held for speculative purposes. There was also bigtime land grabbing reported in areas that where communal ownership of land is prevalent.
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