Uganda: Bobi Wine and Price of Pointing Out the Emperor's Nakedness

Bobi Wine.

The current turbulence in our political waters made me re-read The Emperor's New Clothes - a short story by Hans Christian Andersen. In the story two weavers approach an emperor and promise to make him a new suit of clothes which would be visible to all save those who are incompetent, stupid or unfit for their offices. In reality these conmen make nothing. Yet they make everybody believe that perhaps the clothes exist but is only invisible to them!

When the day arrives for the emperor to parade himself clad in his "new clothes" everybody in the royal entourage is quiet. Even the onlookers cheer sheepishly. No one can dare say that they do not see any suit of clothes on the emperor for fear that they will be seen as stupid, incompetent or unsuitable for their positions. The charade goes on. The band plays and everybody cheers. Then a shrill voice is heard over the din. "But he isn't wearing anything at all," a child cries out.

What do you do about an emperor who is stone deaf to any criticism and doesn't care for anything except hiring crooks for weavers and insists on displaying his nakedness under the pretext of wearing invisible clothes? To everybody who can see, the weavers surrounding the emperor are swindlers who con the emperor into believing that whoever doesn't see the fine fabric is either an incurable moron or unfit for public office. They feed on the emperor's vanity.

The whole cloth making exercise is a make-believe. The charade works because no one, including the emperor or his courtiers, can see the said "clothes" but continue to pretend that they can lest they be thought unfit for their offices. The emperor also joins the pretentious charade.

The whole exercise is an empty mime. As the emperor marches in the procession his uneasy subjects plod on like zombies behind him. It took a child too young to appreciate the importance of keeping up the pretence to blurt out the obvious that the emperor is naked. Having broken the silence, the child's cry is taken up by others in the procession. The emperor is aware that the child is right but persists in the pretence. He marches on.

This book which Anderson wrote as a children's book reminds us that "seeing" means having the courage of one's convictions. According to a prominent review of the book, the story tells us how "sight becomes insight, which, in turn prompts action".

Scholars say this story is a strong critique of "anything that smacks of pretentiousness, pomposity, social hypocrisy, collective denial, or hollow ostentatiousness". There is a parallel with the situation in Uganda. The country probably has the youngest population in the world. More than 70 per cent of the population is below the age of 35!

This population is technologically adept and has embraced the modern tools of the Information Age. Armed with smartphones they will not be silenced. They demand to be heard. Marching behind their current standard bearer, Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, they are showing the courage to challenge authority and to speak truth to power.

The inconvenient truth that the rulers of Uganda don't want to hear is that it is time for change and that Ugandans will not wait for 2021. That is the truth everybody knows but agree not to talk about. The emperor is butt naked!

The arrest, torture, tear gassing or even killing of those who speak this self-evident truth about the need for a transition of political power now, will not make the issue go away. The more the State brutalises people the more the demands for change will become louder. The people will increasingly accept that it is better to pay the price for freedom instead of trying to adjust to an intolerable status quo.

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