3 January 2004

Uganda: Who Let the Gas Out?


Kampala — BBC African Service long-serving jack of all trades, Robin White (has he got an MBE at least?) came to Uganda and interviewed, among others, President Museveni.

I arranged the latter, and the interview took place in Soroti, at the edge of areas of disturbance by the dreadful bandit Kony. Museveni, as he always does in such circumstances, was camped there to oversee the fighting. As well as President he is Commander-in-Chief of the Uganda armed forces. His next stop would be further north, east of Lira. At the interview he was visibly tired, exhausted in fact, but like the true trooper he is the show went on. He never put a foot wrong, I was proud to see, no matter how hard Robin White tried to make him. It is the White (make that Robin White!) approach.

Additionally White was doing his valedictory tour of his familiar Africa, prior to retiring from the BBC. He was going to enjoy the Gestapo third degree approach to newer heights, I surmise, and if anybody was minded to stop him they didn't know their White. After all, had he not decimated Obote himself, the Ugandan dictator either side of the unmentionable Amin? White, in all the forty years I have known him, puts me in mind of a not entirely wholesome schoolboy who spends his spare time in laboratories concocting mixtures which burst on the air with smelly after-effects, leaving him going tee-hee-hee. Same with his interviewing! But this isn't to say that he hasn't left his mark at the Beeb (BBC). His interview with Museveni went very well, even cosily, with White cutting out the echo in the large room by sitting very close, knee to knee with his subject, myself less than a spit away. What proved the interrogator's main preoccupation was whether Museveni would stand for a Third Term. White took four or five bites at the question; to the point of hectoring, albeit with a smile a little warmer than a sneer.

His thrusts were parried with patient humour by his intended victim, who said he would give a detailed answer at his own time. At one stage White jumped in with a snide personal question (far beneath the tone of what had gone before) and again Museveni didn't jump down his throat. It was my job and pleasure to do so, listing the question out of order. No wonder White subsequently left his interview of me on the cutting floor for his African Perspective programme! In this he interviewed various people on the future of Uganda. I gave him my somewhat diehard views (the very opposite, but equally trenchant ones) of, say, Dr Rwanyarare; his appeared, mine not. The aired programme went on deteriorating until by the end it became clear that White had his own idea of what should happen, according to his own gospel, and that he would use those who buttressed this, or at any rate did not aggressively disagree. Usually it is cub reporters who do use this approach, not those with one leg, never mind foot, in the beyond!

The twenty-minute Museveni programme of straight question and answers had been fair and informative. In the African Perspective one White was the lead actor. At one stage he referred to our "huge" army as "completely useless". Museveni had told him in my presence that the figure was around 50,000. Is that huge for White? And if the army was "completely useless", had Mr White, shooting from his microphone, been the one to defeat the bad governments of Obote and Amin? And subsequently to defeat our enemies in West, North West, East and North East Uganda, and all along the northern border with Sudan, and deep in Uganda's interior, to a point where now only a few areas were at risk? Surely even mike wallahs, if fair-minded, would recognise victories (if not yet the final victory) if they crossed their paths! But Robin White, you see, had his own victory to seek. Years ago he had been roundly abused by the aforesaid Obote that he was a Museveni person and should never contact him again. White had denied Obote's allegation. By this snide and one-sided programme about Museveni, whose ending replayed the Obote statement, he was reaching out to Obote and saying, "See? I told you so!" He hopes his audience will gasp, "White fears no African leader, no matter when or where!" But, dear Robin White, others will say, "Who let the gas out!"

* * * *

Precisely a year ago, in the excitement of the National Rainbow Coalition takeover in Kenya after 24 years of Moi, I struck a cautionary note and wrote that this mix of 16 groupings posed more questions than it could answer. No need for an Einstein to see this. But these leading Kenyans seemed to believe that the important thing was to get rid of Moi "and then see". That is a heavily mined route. Ideas and policies must be the mortar to bind an organisation together. Is this too late now? The three or four Big NARC Beasts should go into an immediate huddle and agree on a programme. Easier said than done? Here in Uganda His Eminence Emmanuel Cardinal Wamala has announced that if the inter-religious council is given its head to mediate matters (that is the unity we are talking about above), during 2004 the insurgency in the North will be over. Such an arrangement was agreed by the President many moons ago. What is the delay? Cardinals know many things we ordinary mortals don't. After you Your Eminence, and God go with you.

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