By Andrew Karamagi
Over a cup of Rooibos tea one evening at Dr Kizza Besigye’s country home in Rwakabengo, Rukungiri, I asked him whether he and his bush war comrades didn’t see any telltale signs that could have given them any advance warnings about the likelihood that their leader, Gen. Yoweri Museveni, would one day abandon the cause and become the diametric opposite of the values that he purportedly professed.
He responded that Museveni was so articulate about Marxism, NRA’s Ten Point Programme and rigorous about revolutionary dictates that he could be excused for any occasional lapses in character…after all, he is only human.
And that in the fog of a raging guerrilla war against formidable government armed forces, mind-reading and fortune-telling were a luxury that couldn’t be afforded.
There was matériel to bring in across enemy lines, makeshift medical camps to run to sustain those injured in fighting, resources to raise and above all, a war to win.
Decades later, Dr Besigye concluded his answer to me, it was apparent that he and others should have heeded and taken more seriously the telltale signs that General Museveni masked so well behind the veil of revolutionary fervor, great speeches and prolific writings about the future of Uganda and Africa.
As you the reader are probably aware, the dam burst in 1999 when Besigye penned that open letter in which he ably showed how the NRA Revolution had aborted its objectives and derailed from the cause.
He incontrovertibly placed the responsibility for this about-face at the feet of the self-appointed Ssaabalwaanyi (Fighter of All Fighters), Museveni.
Besigye has since paid a colossal toll in physical, emotional and other terms for breaking ranks with the regime and for his dogged refusal to capitulate.
The details of his trials and tribulations is well-documented history.
In 2015 or thereabouts, my close friend Nyanjura Doreen was elected with a decisive majority as Secretary for Trade and Investment for the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).
Days later, she appeared on a talk show and was attacked for her limited appreciation of the portfolio she’d been elected to.
The fighter in Nyanjura didn’t let the media assault take the wind out of her sails. Her strident loyalty to the cause, her thirst for knowledge as well as her rock-solid aversion to weakness spurred her on and today, she is an even stronger force to reckon with.
Nyanjura has rejected offers of large sums of money and other material inducements. There’s no space to talk about the ferocious brutality that has been visited on her body and property for the sin of questioning misrule and despotism.
She’s in the ring and won’t relent.
I can’t say the same about many, very many age mates of ours who started out opposing the mismanagement of our country but have since sold their souls for thirty pieces of silver and shamelessly joined the oppressor.
Many youthful friends who are rabid Musevenists in public yet in private tell me about the grave ills of the reigning junta cannot dare bite the hand that feeds them. They have regrettably chosen the easy way and decided not to rock the boat as long as their nests are feathered and warm.
They are similar to my buddies in the corporate world whose highest and only aspirations in life is marriage, two children, a three-bedroom house and a four wheel drive vehicle—a phenomenon that the highly cerebral Norbert Mao refers to as the “1-2-3-4 Syndrome”.
In the minds of many so-called corporates, these four attainments (1 Spouse, 2 Children, 3 Bedroom House and a 4-Wheel-Drive Vehicle) are it. Once they get them, there’s no farther obligation towards society or one’s immediate community. In Kampala street parlance, they have “arrived”. Teenagers say “arrove”.
At best, theirs is to engage in navel-gazing and armchair analysis about the political arena.
“Otamukwiise, ati mwiikarire tugyende!” they say. *Why don’t you wrestle the man and floor him quickly so that we go!
They have all kinds of theoretical stuff about public affairs but when push comes to shove, ‘politics is a “dirty game” and is for hooligans. Activism is for the idle. Social causes are boring. Voting doesn’t matter…we’d rather go golfing.’
The prolific intellectual, Mary Sserumaga diagnoses this “1-2-3-4 Syndrome” as a result of a faux middle class whose fortunes have been built on the proceeds of corruption and patronage over the thirty four years of Museveni’s overstay but that’s an entire subject for which no space is available in this my defence of Ssentamu Kyagulanyi whose entry into the public arena stands to contribute significantly towards ending the decades of broken promises, pent-up frustration and unfulfilled commitment that pervades the post-1986 Ugandan experience.
I will return to these brief stories in my conclusion.
My phone rang off the hook for the better part of yesterday (Friday).
I also received an avalanche of messages.
In equal measure, my WhatsApp gallery is replete with a 2.18 video clip that was cropped out of NTV’s Thursday night show, On the Spot, hosted by the amiable Patrick Kamara.
In the clip, Kyagulanyi Ssentamu is asked to proffer a solution for the inflation problem that hamstrings the Ugandan economy. Kyagulanyi’s answer has been deemed unsatisfactory because it lacked precision and was “all over the place”, to use the words of one friend who called from Casablanca, Morocco.
Social media lit up with memes, insults and derision targeted at Kyagulanyi for several hours. I believe the trolls slept well last night.
My namesake and erstwhile critic of Museveni’s naked Family Rule Mwenda, whose reflexive disdain for Bobi Wine is well known, went as far as characterizing him as an idiot.
A number of messages were offers for help and guidance.
Here’s why I am sticking my neck out onto the chopping board:
Leaders work with teams. The best leader that any group can get is one who consults, is willing to learn, delegates power and appreciates the importance of working through institutions. This much I can say are attributes that Bobi Wine demonstrably possesses.
Whereas it is true that leaders must be informed and hold a position on issues at hand, it is inaccurate to suggest that they need a PhD in everything. In any case, Amama Mbabazi, a polished savant who is arguably a master of statecraft and a lawyer of note had trouble finding traction for his presidential bid because, according to NRM Spin Doctors, he didn’t have supporters!
The same people are attacking Kyagulanyi for being a novice at statecraft even though he enjoys a groundswell of support countrywide.
Their only alternative to our situation seems to be doing nothing…and doing nothing, I find, rarely accomplishes anything.
Gen. Yoweri Museveni’s cabinet line-up over the past three decades has always featured a litany of distinguished individuals with colourful CVs in their respective fields but these have been implicated in all manner of corruption, impropriety and dereliction of their duty of care to Ugandans.
A former Attorney General who holds a first class degree in Law and graduated with distinction from his Master of Laws class from Yale stunned the country when he issued a legal opinion to the effect that Dr Besigye was half-guilty and half innocent. Incredible!
Look at what the experts did with seven commercial banks!
Several other examples abound.
These elites have sold out and continue to do so because of the aforementioned “1-2-3-4 Syndrome”.
The solution doesn’t lie with their arm chair analysis and moral cowardice.
More than, over and above speeches and the ability to sound refined, Ugandans need leaders who have demonstrated consistency, commitment and authenticity.
Kyagulanyi possesses these qualities.
We need the tigritude of Nyanjura, the brevity of Mugumya Sam, the resoluteness of Asuman Basalirwa, the political will of NRM’s Monicah Amoding, the clarity of Ibrahim Nganda Ssemujju, brilliance of Muwanga Kivumbi and the calm contemplation of Gulu’s Aol Betty Ocan.
Team work can and will win.
NRM has passed enough policies and laws to make Uganda the Pearl of Africa in the literal sense of the phrase but with all their doctorates and postgraduate qualifications, they lack the will and wherewithal to put these into practice.
Museveni & Co., have nothing new to offer.
What they haven’t done in thirty years, they can’t and won’t in five, ten or fifteen.
Bobi Wine is an uncut diamond. Join hands, all ye intellectuals, elites, social media critics and corporates and let’s contribute to the generational cause that one of us has offered to lead. It’s not about him. It’s about (all of) us.
We must, indeed, all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately, as Benjamin Franklin warned, years ago.
In the meantime, those who say it cannot be done shouldn’t get in the way of those who say it can be done.
Post Script: If it matters, my two cents on how to resuscitate the Ugandan economy is that it doesn’t take rocket science.
With four clear steps, if we have the discipline and political will, we can turn this economy around.
I) Reform the tax regime (Income Tax Act, Uganda Investment Code Act and related policies and laws) to stimulate rather than frustrate Small and Medium Size Enterprises (as is the current case). SMEs are the engines of growth for an economy like ours.
II) Implement a stringent Import Substitution Initiative that lowers our import bill and grows our local/domestic production (processing and industry).
III) Constitute a lean but effective structure of public administration (government) that significantly lowers the current public administration wage bill. Alongside this, crackdown on corruption without fear or favour.
IV) Invest heavily in public capital and assets like stocked and staffed medical facilities, functional mass transportation systems for our city and towns, quality public education and social security safety nets.
That’s what I’d do if the decision was mine to make.
Are you a young Ugandan who agrees that the incumbent junta doesn’t speak for or care about the things that we aspire for?
If your answer is yes, let’s get together, regardless of our affiliations, roll up our sleeves and get down to work.