29 August 2018

Africa: Whither to Uganda?

opinion

The author argues that the People Power movement in Uganda has reached a point of no return in their efforts to bring about change in the country, but that they would require more coordination and a united front to achieve their objective.

Introduction

The world is now abuzz with the news of a president traveling all the way to Arua in Northern Uganda from the capital Kampala to campaign for the ruling party candidate in a by-election to replace another ruling party Member of Parliament (MP) who was killed in cold blood, but there isn't yet any resemblance of a report on his murder.

In an unprecedented show of despise, contempt and sheer wit in his challenge to a president who has overstayed his meaningful relevance to the country and the corruption machine-turned former revolutionary movement he leads, a young opposition law-maker and politician, Robert Kyagulanyi followed the president (or rather it is the president who followed him?) to Arua to canvass votes for an independent opposition candidate.

That would not be news if the president had done his job responsibly, not allowing corruption, mainly by the state machinery, to eat the country to its bone marrow, not overseeing the stealing of votes during general elections, and not showing panic before and during by-elections where he perhaps suspects there are very few chances of stealing the vote. It would not be news if opposition supporters had not been shot at with live bullets leaving MP Kyagulanyi's driver dead. It would not be news if President Museveni had not addressed the incident by again reminding us that he fought a bush war, and that by winning he had won the right to stand above everyone and above the country he claims he liberated.

Listen to him talking to his grandchildren:

"I always insist on singling out the grandchildren because I want them to be conversant with our rich experiences spanning a period of 58 years. The elements of the opposition, including Kassiano Wadri (the winner of the now infamous Arua municipality parliamentary election), Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine) and others, who stoned our convoy, including my vehicle," President Museveni said. [[1]]

But remember Mr. President; a person was shot dead on the other side. And if you and your ruling party are still loved by the people of Uganda, there is no reason the local people of Arua would stone your car - or your luggage-carrying car. The irony of your boasting, by the way, that the expensive Land Cruiser vehicle that was stoned only carries your luggage cannot be lost on Ugandans who are tired of being taxed and robbed by a government that has nothing to show for the money in terms of schools, health care, roads, name it!

The people of Arua, like most Ugandans, are fed up with the lies and the draining of the country by your so-called Liberation Movement. They are fed up with the corruption and lack of basic services, and they are ready to support any other candidate than the ones your party fronts even when they know your patronage machinery will not allow them to work freely for the development and well-being of their constituents.

A president gone too low

The president has gone too low now. He spends tax-payers' money campaigning for his party's candidates, who when they win and go to parliament are paid off by the same tax-payer's money to pass bogus laws including the removal of age and term limits to allow one man to rule until he is a Mugabe. Robert Kyagulanyi, now arguably the most vocal critic of the president, is only representing the voices of millions of Ugandans who have inevitably come to the realisation that, as one commentator on social media put it, "there is nothing positive left for Museveni and the vultures in his inner circle to offer Uganda, and there is no turning back on their brute force because that remains their only remaining weapon ... "[[2]]

After the assault on Kyagulanyi, Government Spokesman Ofwono Opondo goes on radio and defends the actions of a gangster government without explaining why a group of MPs could be picked up and some of them battered in police cells, and why they are still being held in conditions that violate their rights. Why block someone from meeting their family, doctors and lawyers?

The military, the Presidential Guard Unit (known officially as the Special Forces Unit) badly beat up Hon. Kyagulanyi and Hon. Francis Zaake (MPs for Kyaddondo East and Mityana Municipalities respectively). Zaake was reportedly dumped on the gates of Rubaga hospital in Kampala where he has been fighting for his life for the last two weeks. The army held Kyagulanyi for days for what many observers thought were trumped up charges of being found with firearms and ammunitions, and of throwing stones on a presidential car!

The military-related offences of possessing firearms and ammunitions were dropped on Thursday 23 August when he appeared before a military tribunal in Gulu, but he was immediately re-arrested and charged in a civilian court in the same city for committing treason. That he, as the government prosecutor said in a written statement, had "with intent to do harm to the President of Uganda, unlawfully aimed and threw stones, thereby hitting and smashing the rear windscreen of the presidential car." The singer and politician, who was looking weak, and in pain, would spend another four days in a Gulu jail until he was released on bail on Monday 27 August.

Kyagulanyi's driver had in another incident, and away from the scene of the alleged stone-throwing, been shot dead in the MP's car outside the hotel where his boss was staying.

Same bad old days

For those of us who were here [Uganda] through Idi Amin and Obote II regimes, this is the same, or even some worse opus operandi, which is a shame for a government and a president who has claimed for over three decades that he is the author of the "peace" and stability Ugandans are now enjoying. In February 1977, the Archbishop of Uganda Janani Jakaliya Luwum and two of Idi Amin's cabinet ministers were murdered in what, according to Amin's other former minister Henry Kyemba, could have been a fit of hunger and panic. [[3]] Kyemba thinks that the events of 4 July 1976 had left Amin badly annoyed and embarrassed.

On that day, 100 Israeli commandos staged a 90-minutes sting operation on Entebbe Airport and rescued 102 people who had been taken hostage by hijackers of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - External Operations, killed all the hijackers and 45 Ugandan soldiers. They also destroyed over 20 Russian built MiG17s and MiG21 jets of the Uganda Air Force. "The situation had been building for some time since the raid on Entebbe. Here was a country seeing a Field Marshal and Conqueror of the British Empire being humiliated! It was a humiliation that Amin found hard to deal with," Kyemba says.

Bobi Wine's humiliation of the militarist Museveni has however been not on the military field, but on the ballot box. He has recently been campaigning for independent candidates in all corners of the country. His presence everywhere he went drew larger crowds than the president's, and the candidates he supported beat both the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) and main opposition candidates. Museveni is in panic, and his agents are using tactics from the Amin textbook. Archbishop Luwum had been paraded with a cache of arms laid out on the lawn of the former Nile Mansions before being assassinated. In a similarly cunning but less smart fashion, MP Kyagulanyi has been battered straight away on the claims that he was found with a firearm!

There is no mention of an arrest warrant. There is no claim of an arresting (Special Forces, not Police!) soldier being attacked and injured by a resisting Kyagulanyi. All reports indicate that he was beaten right away and left for dead, to which the president of the republic has responded in his most recent statement that the narrative that MP Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine is gravely ill and that some of his internal organs were damaged following his torture while in custody was "fake news" because military doctors informed him that the condition of the popular musician-turned-politician was not as being portrayed in the media. [[4]]

Mr. Museveni was echoing his own spokesman Ofwono Opondo who told a radio talk show in the aftermath of the chaotic incident that, "it is the opposition that is to blame" for their "arrogant defiance campaign against the President."[[5]] He argued further that the president, after all, has not been physically present in all the other places where election violence has occurred and people been killed.

The president doesn't have to be there Mr. Opondo. He has not been around all the corners of Uganda where Col. Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change, and now Bobi Wine and his followers, have been killed, beaten and sprayed with tear gas just for protesting the gross injustices in the country, or even campaigning before a local or national election.

He just has to show some responsibility and reign in his forces. He just has to justify his claim that he came to bring about fundamental change. And this means, in real terms and for people who have been following Uganda's politics for a long time, that he gives the country what he promised and what Ugandans deserve irrespective of who holds power. It means that people be allowed to hold different political opinions from those in power. It means that Parliament and the courts of law be allowed to do their jobs without government interference. Protesting or campaigning for a candidate of choice is not illegal. Stoning a presidential car is illegal, but the shooting of people by security agents as a result is even more illegal.

Why not learn?

Mahmood Mamdani has argued that for the Amin regime, the years of mid 1970s were years of crisis. "The regime's internal base was rapidly narrowing, and with murder of Archbishop Luwum, its external isolation became almost complete. The people of Uganda were beginning to stir ... "[[6]]. The rest is now history, but history repeats itself. The whole world has for years now seen pictures of running battles between gun-wielding police and peacefully demonstrating people on the streets of Kampala and elsewhere in Uganda. It has also seen the images of the two battered MPs. A headline on one of the Internet news sources announced on 20 August: International Media Houses (Aljazeera, British Broadcasting Corporation) Capture Bobi Wine Story:

"The news about Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine has spread far and wide, and international media houses such as Aljazeera and BBC have got a glimpse of it. This is evident from the headlines they have shared, and news reported concerning the well-being of the MP. All this started when the singer/ politician was arrested, and detained during the scuffle in Arua, over the Municipality MP seat. There were charges thrown at him including illegal possession of weapons, treason and others. Bobi Wine was denied access to his family, and this raised eyebrows, giving birth to the Free Bobi Wine campaign. The news has been caught by various international houses, sharing with the world, what is happening in the Pearl of Africa. With headings like; "Uganda pop star turned politician charged in Military Court" (Aljazeera). "Uganda's Afrobeat MP standing up to Museveni" (BBC). The news networks described Bobi Wine's rise into politics, and the birth of #PoeplePower. The entire world is standing strong to free the Ghetto President."

The external isolation of Museveni may not come handy given the way international politics goes today. Museveni has been hoodwinking the West and donors for three decades. Indeed, the West doesn't really care about the common man in Uganda or sub-Saharan Africa at that! They also have more on their own plates with rising nationalism at home as well as trade wars with one of their own, Donald Trump of the United States. On Friday, 17 August the US Embassy in Kampala warned the Ugandan government over the brutal treatment of MPs and journalists caught up in that Monday's electoral violence in Arua at the hands of security agencies, according to PML Daily. [[7]]

"We are deeply concerned by recent events in Arua, Kampala, and Gulu, and disturbed by reports of brutal treatment of Members of Parliament, journalists, and others at the hands of security forces," US ambassador to Uganda Deborah Malac is reported to have said in a statement. But the fact of the matter is, in my opinion, the curtain has been drawn on any meaningful US-directed drama on the world stage.

In the age of social media, I guarantee that most of the Ugandan youth in the struggle to raise the "voice of the voiceless" in Uganda, and for whom politician-turned pop-musician Bobi Wine has gained king status, are aware that the US government which Ambassador Malac represents in Uganda has gone so low in the way it treats the media, dissenting voices and minorities. They are aware that Donald Trump detests Africa and many other non-White countries and their peoples. Donald Trump is, on the other hand, often compared to and even ranked lower than African dictators. Ironically President Museveni has boldly come out and dubbed media reports about MP Kyagulanyi torturing "fake news", Trump's favourite "adage" (sic).

The ten-million-dollar question is why the Musevenis of Africa don't learn from events all around them. From Gadhafi to Mugabe, Africa has seen the mighty fall of men who until yesterday were untouchables. The warning is on the wall. The Lincoln- attributed saying, "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time" is more relevant to Museveni and his cronies now than ever before! With time, the fooling becomes ridiculous. And "ridiculous" is indeed an understatement under the current circumstances.

It's only in Uganda

It is only in Uganda that a president makes a statement about a Member of Parliament who has been beaten and left for dead, and states that according to his own military doctors the condition of the MP was not as portrayed by the media. "I decided to check with army doctors because, being a disciplined army, UPDF doctors always take precautions in such situations. Bobi Wine had already been seen by doctors in Arua, Gulu and Kampala. He has no head or chest injuries or bone fractures, they informed me," Mr Museveni noted. [[8]] The President said this after the constitutionally instituted Uganda Human Rights Commission top officials had met the politician-turned pop star at the Makindye Military Barracks, where he was being illegally held, and confirmed to the media that he spoke with difficulty, could not see properly, and was aided to walk.

But this is not unprecedented. Museveni has recently said and done things that only a president in Museveni's Uganda can do and say. Forget about him increasingly acting as if he had never said "Africa's problem is leaders who did not want to leave power," while at the same time paying off MPs twice to change the constitution and pave the way to rule for life. He has recently said the one percent tax on mobile money transfer was a "miscommunication" after the NRM dominated Parliament had debated and passed controversial bills taxing mobile money transfer and social media use. He then lowered the mobile money transactions from one percent to 0.5 percent, but insisted all the moral reasons are in favour of the social media tax.

Museveni said in a Facebook statement following a public outcry over the new excise duties: "The social media users have no right to squander the dollars I earn from my coffee, my milk etc. by endlessly donating money to foreign telephone companies through chatting or even lying and, then, they are allergic to even a modest contribution to their country whose collective wealth they are misusing,"

It is scary he says "my coffee", "my milk", "my oil", etc.... It is also scary he is not aware of the fact that Ugandans using social media pay for it through their local carriers, MTN, Airtel, and others. And these, I am sure, pay huge taxes to the government and will continue to pay as long as they are in turn serviced by their local customers. The latter are more likely to be attracted to their phones more by social media and mobile money services than the traditional calling and texting services. I bet the government had a better deal before than now.

You may want to forgive Mr. Museveni for possible senility, but then it can't be that all those around him are senile. Museveni's Finance Minister Matia Kasaija had earlier distanced government from the parliamentary decision to insist and charge the one percent tax on mobile money transactions saying that the cabinet position was 0.5 percent. Don't miss the irony here! Finally, the "cabinet position" prevailed, but one would wonder why so much money is spent to facilitate a parliament to pass laws that are a rubber stamping of the cabinet's (read President's) wishes, and others that can be changed overnight at the latter's whim?

Empowered by silence

Things will only change in Uganda if all Ugandans seize the opportunity and demand for the change they all need. I have often wondered what drives the police, military and other security agents to blindly obey orders and do things that in the long run are going to hurt their own children and grandchildren. I have also marvelled at the "courage" shown by regime supporters and lieutenants when they go on national television or radio and defend actions that are indefensible by any interpretation of civil and moral law. I have also been disappointed when the moral voices of the nation have been either silent or vaguely muted where young men and women, the likes of Bobi Wine, come out loud and clear to oppose the evils going on and articulate the path to a better future. Let all the voices that matter come out together and condemn Museveni and his regime for what they are.

In all fairness, the media have done their job pointing out the excesses of Museveni's government. As far as I can recall, most of them have always spoken out even when the majority of Ugandans still thought Museveni was the anointed one! And they have paid for it. Images of journalists being beaten on the streets while reporting about the pro-Kyagulanyi demonstrations were beamed out for the whole world to see.

Some elders and former NRM stalwarts and Museveni men like John Nagenda (senior presidential "advisor" on media) and Francis Babu (former NRM Member of Parliament for Kampala Central) have spoken out loud on the atrocities going on and advised the President to call it a day. Some voices, however, are choked or completely missing in action! Leading among them is the voice of the church. We have heard condemnations here and there from the likes of Kampala Metropolitan Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, but they have been muted. He has spoken about "people in Kampala and elsewhere who beat innocent civilians as if they were beating animals ... "[[9]].

The catholic and Anglican churches combined make up over 84 percent of the population. Most of the poor souls being tormented on the streets by soldiers and police, as well as by the biting state of the economy are most likely to be their subjects. It is high time church leaders stood firm and took actions like banning corrupt government officials including Mr. Museveni from church functions. The sight of him standing up and hypocritically "preaching" in churches and national shrines about virtues is almost sickening.

Ugandans are suspicious that the money and 4WD vehicles he gives to bishops is meant to gag them. Indeed, the Anglican Bishop of West Buganda Diocese in Central Uganda has recently been reported in the press as having "responded to voices from a section of Christians who castigated religious leaders for accepting President Yoweri Museveni's donations like vehicles, a move they assert, is intended to stop them from speaking against the injustices in the country."[[10]]

Bishop Katumba-Tamale was quoted as saying: "These are very expensive cars which are indeed needed for us to traverse the big diocese. If there is any Christian who can offer the cars to us, then there is no need to have one from the president." The Bishop also added that President Museveni does not intend to silence them, a claim that begs the question because the reality is that our religious leaders have for long failed to call out the President and other government officials directly and in stronger terms in the face of the corruption and atrocities going on in the country. Indeed, the voices castigating them for accepting President Yoweri Museveni's cars have been heard for a while now.

I for one have always wondered why the bishops haven't declined these gifts in the midst of vote rigging, persecution of the opposition, the paying off of MPs to meddle with the national constitution, as well as the rampant corruption going on at all levels of government. One smart challenge to the big man would have been for even one bishop to sell the Pajero and use the money to construct a clinic in one of their rural missions and invite the President to officiate at its opening ceremony! None of them has gone on record to do this. No wonder whenever Museveni hears even the most muted of their voices he hits back asking them to mind their church business.

Western countries, as I have argued above, do not consider Uganda strategic. They will, therefore, not do more than an occasional call for the respect for human rights. The American Ambassador will issue an almost routine statement, but the Cable News Network will give more coverage to a silly Trump tweet than to opposition MPs being incarcerated in Uganda and their innocent supporters killed on the streets of Kampala. Ugandans must fight for themselves to get rid of Museveni and his oppressive system.

Conclusion

I personally don't buy the rumours that Museveni is not Ugandan, he doesn't, therefore love the country and he came to make it complete into a "Trump s... hole", and that he should go back to Rwanda. After all we have heard that line before to no meaningful effect. It was United States President Trump's original racist weapon against the Obama movement, and it has proved to have been utter nonsense. The fact is that Museveni has just got drunk on power, creating a patronage machine that has now gone out of his control. He thinks he is giving orders, but actually he is now taking orders from the machinery that feeds from his hands (read government coffers).

We have noted here [Pambazuka News] in an earlier article that Museveni has reached a point of no return. [[11]] He is now so terrified of the machine he created. He is actually in a panic mode and is prone to many grave mistakes. The situation will get worse before it gets better unless the President comes back to his senses and realises that there is more to Uganda than his pride and the greed of his patronage machinery.

But the forces against him have also reached a point of no return. They may not be in the form the big guns (locally known as Saba Saba because of the sound they made) with which Museveni and other Ugandan exiles chased away Idi Amin in the 1978-79 Liberation War. They may be just what they are: "People Power," just as Museveni's new nemesis, Kyagulanyi, has defined them. But they will require more coordination. They will require a coordinated, not divided opposition.

There are rumours that some in the "traditional" opposition themselves see MP Kyagulanyi as a threat to their own ambitions. If that is true, they should watch out and avoid the sickness that is killing Africa: ENTITLEMENT! Most of the independence fathers ruined their countries throughout the 60s and 70s on account of their respective feelings of entitlement.

They had won independence for their countries, and thought they alone had the visions to move them forward. Then came the 80s and 90s so called "liberators" like Museveni who think they are the only ones capable of delivering their countries to the Promised Land. But as they say, you can't have your cake and eat it. They pretend to be running democracies while at the same time resorting to repressive measures to keep themselves in power. They abolish the traditional monarchical systems or deny them political power (Uganda's Obote and Museveni respectively) while ruling as monarchs themselves.

With the Musevenis, Mugabes, Salva Kiirs (and his "brother in entitlement" Riek Machar), Joseph Kabiras, Pierre Nkurunzizas, name them, men who keep insisting on playing the entitlement game, younger forces that represent most of their countries' populations and futures are bound to rise, not necessarily in arms, but hand-in-hand shouting "People Power, Our Power." And as the now hospitalised Ugandan MP Robert Kyagulanyi (aka Bobi Wine) says in the lyrics from a song titled Situka, which means "Rise up" in Luganda, and which he sung ahead of the 2016 general elections, "When our leaders have become misleaders and mentors have become tormentors. When freedom of expression becomes the target of oppression, opposition becomes our position."

* Vick Lukwago Ssali teaches English at Gakuin University, Japan.

Endnotes

[1] The Monitor, Wednesday 15 August 2018.

[2] Unknown author, August 2018, in the aftermath of the Arua assault on Kyaddondo East MP Robert

Kyagulanyi aka 'Bobi Wine'.

[3] The monitor, 17 February 2017.

[4] The Monitor, 20 August 2018.

[5] The Capital Gang, Capital FM Kampala, Saturday 18 August 2018 (capitalradio.co.ug/tag/capital-gang/)

[6] Mamdani, M. Imperialism and Fascism in Uganda, 1983, P. 103.

[7] www.pmldaily.com/news/2018/08/us-embassy-warns-on-bobi-wine-arrest-torture-of-mps-

journalists.html

[8] Mr. Museveni in his first statement on Sunday 19 August on the violence that had marred the previous

week's Arua Municipality by-election and in which Bobi Wine had been arrested and tortured by

security forces.

[9] Archbishop Lwanga, speaking at Mitala-Maria Parish, Buwama Town Council in Mpigi District, on

Sunday 26 August 2018.

[10] The Monitor, Monday 27 August 2018.

[11] Ssali, "Museveni at a point of no return," Pambazuka News, 4 May 2017.

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