8 February 2013

Uganda: Niringiye, Besigye Stuck At 'Tower of Babel'


In the last few weeks, the Black Monday movement has been on the streets of Kampala.

The movement, organized by several local and international NGOs, has been staging weekly street protests where activists have distributed the 'Black Monday' newsletter highlighting and denouncing the rampant corruption in government and demanding that something be done about it.

As expected, the activists, who usually dress in black, have often ended up in police detention, ostensibly because their activities of fighting corruption are without police permission.

Even then, this has often passed off nearly unnoticed except for a brief mention on the FM radio news and a one-minute clip on TV. This week, the movement got its big publicity break with the arrest of Bishop Zac Niringiye, one of the faces of the movement, at Makerere University where he, together with other activists, had been distributing the newsletter.

This arrest no doubt attracted some much-needed publicity to a movement that has for one reason or another failed to gain traction among the public the way Activist for Change (A4C) organised walk-to-work last year. In the previous week, we saw former FDC leader Kizza Besigye and Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago rounded up by police when they attempted to lead a city-cleaning exercise, again generating some media excitement.

Kyadondo East MP Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda had caused a similar buzz in the Kireka suburb of Kampala last week with police refusing, then later allowing, him to lead a group of youth in shovelling out silt from the drains.

Considering that there is near unanimity about the epidemic levels of corruption currently obtaining in Uganda, and the general economic, social and political malaise, why have Bishop Niringiye and the Black Monday movement not been joined in droves by Ugandans, both the elite and the 'unwashed' of Kampala? And why is Besigye, Lukwago, Ssemujju and group increasingly failing to attract attention to a noble cause they are championing?

Why are the 'NRM rebels' Mohammad Nsereko, Theodore Ssekikubo and group failing to attract public attention beyond wonderment? Why are the messages of condemnation of the current state of affairs in the country, in churches, mosques, media, etc, failing to galvanise the country into action to stem the tide, and instead the forces of corruption and mismanagement are getting more emboldened?

Many Christians are familiar with the biblical story of the Tower of Babel where humankind set out to build a tower reaching heaven so that they could directly talk to God. After they had made some progress working together, God realised that in unity and speaking the same language, they could easily pull off their task; so, he made them start speaking different languages which confused them and created misunderstanding and disunity.

In the end, the tower project was abandoned halfway because when one mason called for more bricks, sand would be delivered instead and when more cement was needed, instead stones were delivered. Everybody was angry and confused and, as they say, the rest is history.

The cacophony of noises, protests, plotting, etc, from the opposition, civil society, and religious leaders about the depreciating situation in the country will, therefore, remind many of the Tower of Babel story. Nearly all Ugandans ? apart from the ruling regime, its direct beneficiaries and opportunists ? know that the country is suffocating under corruption, mismanagement, tribalism, impunity, etc.

That poverty, lack of medicines, poor education, bad roads, etc, are a direct consequence of the actions of the current NRM regime and salvation will only come with change. Yet the messages they are giving to ordinary Ugandans and their actions to address the problem are simply not in tandem!

For instance, when Besigye was leading the walk-to-work campaign, religious leaders like archbishops Cyprian Kizito Lwanga and Luke Orombi came out to denounce the protests. The same bishops weekly in their Sunday sermons were lamenting the level of corruption, mismanagement, poverty, lack of medicines, etc.

Meanwhile, many of the NGOs now at the forefront of the Black Monday movement either watched in silence or decried the idea of politicians using ordinary wananchi for 'their' political ends. Today as the NGOs lead a campaign against corruption, Besigye and other opposition politicians are going to clean garbage skips. The 'NRM rebels', meanwhile, are apologizing or explaining themselves at the Kyankwanzi party caucus.

Clearly, the ordinary Ugandans looking for change and leadership are confused by the various languages of the 'masons' [the political, religious and civil leaders] and so cannot pass on the brick, sand and mortar to support the struggle against the NRM regime, even when they want it out yesterday. This has generated frustration on all sides: politicians think ordinary Ugandans, NGOs and priests are stupid; priests, NGOs and ordinary wananchi think politicians are stupid and cheats; wananchi also think NGOs are opportunists; and NGOs think wananchi are poor, confused and unfortunate!

This is the classic 'Tower of Babel' scenario but while in the biblical times it was induced by God, it is difficult to say what has caused it in Uganda so that the opposition, religious leaders and civil society cannot speak one language. In Kenya in 1992 and 2002, these groups spoke the same language and President arap Moi was forced to listen.

Is it the Mitsubishi Pajeros and Land cruiser Prados that are always given to bishops upon ordination by President Museveni, the donor advocacy funds flowing into the NGOs, the hefty perks that await politicians on victory [or on being bought off], or just plain ambition and ego that has blinded these leaders from working together to effect change for the ordinary Ugandan?

Whatever it is, we are stuck at the 'Tower of Babel'!

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

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