20 December 2012

Uganda: Nebanda - Tale of a Lion and a Dog


The sudden death of Butaleja Woman MP Cerinah Nebanda Arioru last Friday in very macabre circumstances has, as would be expected, electrified the nation to the point of outrage and bewilderment.

The dramatic events over the last few days following her death have not made matters any easier, both for the parents and Ugandans in general.

The police somersaults; the arrest of the private pathologist hired by the family and Parliament, accusing him of attempting to smuggle the late MP's body parts out of the country; the change of charges against the pathologist to abuse of office and attempting to leave the country without permission; the revelation by ministry of Health that they actually granted him permission, and all the other twists and turns make Nebanda's death a conspiracy theorist's dream case.

The level of panic by the government in handling the case is simply disenchanting. Initially, many Ugandans thought this is the usual disorganised and uncoordinated way police and government operate with their signature incompetence, but increasingly, many Ugandans are inclined to believe that there is something absolutely not right!

But the country is under strict instructions by President Yoweri Museveni not to speculate about her death and trust the government to get to the bottom of the matter since this is a much simpler case than the others before.

Something about MP Nebanda has, however, refused to leave my mind and it all has to do with a conversation I had on Saturday with two friends as we drove back from Busia where we had attended a funeral of, incidentally, another Cerina [Masiga], wife of Eng Eric Masiga, the NRM chairman for Busia district.

We all agreed that the deceased MP represented not just the future of the country but perhaps the future of NRM if it was ever to survive after Museveni. In her was a young woman who was not focused on benefiting from stealing like many politicians of today.

Instead, she saw that the present was not good and the future could be worse unless we did something about the present. She spoke boldly against corruption which has become the religion of the ruling NRM party and refused to be compromised by money to shut up.

She spoke for the democracy that has steadily been replaced by 'mobocracy' of the NRM caucus; she spoke against the squalid life in the countryside, in the hospitals and everywhere in the country when many chose to keep quiet and live in glass houses. In just under two years in Parliament, she achieved a stature that many of her colleagues who are serving their fourth term as MPs have failed to achieve.

Why, we asked ourselves, and we were told of an MP (name withheld) whose self-confessed political philosophy is that he would rather be a living dog than a dead lion. Yes, Nebanda was a political lioness; she shook the country's politics (read politicians) in life, and has shaken it further in death just like real lions do in the jungle.

So in many ways, Nebanda - a child of the revolution, so to speak - may be the spark that will change the political trajectory of the country. But that is if the politicians and Ugandans who have chosen to live as dogs read anything from the felling of the lioness.

Dogs usually live under the illusion that they are safe with the hunter whom they help to hunt down other animals for his choice meat in exchange for a few bones and offal that will be thrown their way at the end of the day. But in reality, a dog's life is short, unpredictable and often brutalised!

It can end when the hunter misses the game and the arrow hits it instead in what is often described as "collateral damage" or "friendly fire." It could be poisoned once it is deemed rabid, thus dangerous to the hunter and his family.

That is the dog's life that many Ugandans and politicians are comfortable living simply because in their minds, they cannot figure out that a pack of dogs is actually more powerful than the hunter and can stand their ground anytime, anywhere. The hunter knows it but the dogs don't.

As we mourn MP Nebanda, let us celebrate her courage and her commitment to a better Uganda, free of corruption, dictatorship and political patronage. A Uganda where social services are equitable and available ? and the best way to do this is to carry on with what she left.

If you are a leader, choose to live like a lion, not a dog and if you are an ordinary citizen, choose to live like a lioness' cub, not a dog's puppy, because in the end, both the lion and the dog will die. The lion will leave a mark, both in life and death, and will go with pride and honour. The dog will leave a bad smell by the roadside and nobody will remember it, after all it's just another dog!

I cannot help but reflect on Jamaican-American poet Claude McKay's words in his poem, 'If we must die.'

If we must die, let it not be like hogs

Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,

While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,

Making their mock at our accursed lot.

If we must die, O let us nobly die,

So that our precious blood may not be shed

In vain; then even the monsters we defy

Shall be constrained to honour us though dead!

O kinsmen! We must meet the common foe!

Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,

And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!

What though before us lies the open grave?

Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,

Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

The author is a political and social critic. He is a former editor of Sunday Monitor and The Independent.

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