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Buganda, Museveni and charges of sectarianism

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Buganda, Museveni and charges of sectarianism

The fraud during this month’s voting ritual in Uganda exceeded my expectations. I knew the numbers would be faked, but I underestimated the boldness with which it would be done. 


Luckily, not even the internet shutdown stopped brave compatriots from recording the “election-related” criminal acts and smuggling videos to the outside world. The evidence has been archived for posterity. 


Anyone who thinks that what is on those videos were isolated incidents probably believes that babies come from a mother’s belly button. Anyone who is surprised by the theft has not watched past voting rituals, including last year’s NRM party primaries. 


The “election” day thefts are the final acts of a perennially undemocratic process. First, the incumbent ruler enjoys five years of campaigning for the next ritual, using the entire state machinery and treasury to buy support. 


Second, the efforts of the ruler’s political opponents to organize and hold rallies are systematically undermined, sabotaged and even prohibited by the state machine. 


Third, the Electoral Commission (EC), which is appointed by the president with theoretical approval by a Parliament he controls, serves at the ruler’s pleasure.  


Fourth, once the voting date is set, the entire administrative state machine morphs into the ruler’s campaign organization. Their capacity for sabotaging the ruler’s challengers knows no bounds. 


Fifth, most of the state security establishment becomes part of the ruler’s  campaign machine. Selective enforcement of the rules is their brief. Shooting to kill is their sport. The ruler’s opponents are maadui (enemies) and traitors. They must be dealt with as such.


Sixth, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), taking orders from above, and commercial telecom providers do their part to frustrate the ruler’s challengers. If shutting down the internet can help the fraud to be perpetrated in digital darkness, it is done without apology. 


So, the usual declaration by observers and partisans that the “election” went well just because all was peaceful on voting day is meaningless. Likewise, analysis of “the results” of a fraudulent “election” is akin to trying to determine the best student in a university class whose lecturers exchange marks for sex or cash.  


The fact is that we do not know who actually won the presidential contest between Museveni and Robert “Bobi Wine” Kyagulanyi. It is quite possible that Museveni would have been re-elected without the massive cheating. 


Uganda’s ethnic sensitivities have a way of determining voting patterns that go against our wishful thinking. A resurgent Buganda (symbolised by the red wave of Kyagulanyi’s National Unity Party) may have triggered defensive voting outside that kingdom. Yes, the old fear of Buganda dominance, fairly or unfairly rooted in the colonial era experience, remains alive and well in many parts of Uganda. 


However, it is also possible that it is only massive rigging in most of the country on “election” day that gave Museveni the “votes” he needed to overcome the total rout he would have suffered had it been a genuinely free and fair contest. So, how Kyagulanyi fared outside Buganda must remain a mystery. 


What is uncontestable is Museveni’s major defeat in Buganda. Notwithstanding his public claim that he was a victim of sectarianism, Museveni could not have been surprised by the result in Buganda. 


That the people in Buganda had woken up from his hypnosis had been evident for a while. That the Baganda were rightly tired of being used and abused, and of being relegated to a support role in a regime that they brought to power with their blood and tears, should not have surprised anyone. All they needed was a courageous leader that spoke for them and, yes, one of their own. Just like many in the West view Museveni as one of their own. 


Clearly the Baganda were not the only voters in Buganda. Members of other ethnic communities, hundreds of thousands of whom call Buganda home, probably voted for Kyagulanyi.  But let us assume that the vast majority of Kyagulanyi’s voters in Buganda were Baganda. So what? Does that make them sectarian? 


It is supremely hypocritical of Museveni to accuse Baganda of sectarianism. The master of sectarianism calling the Baganda sectarian is akin to the pot calling a kettle black. Museveni has ruled Uganda for 35 years with the aid of a very narrow group of his tribesmen and their ethnic cousins from western Uganda. 


As we speak, the control of the organs of state that matter – the presidency, the army, intelligence and other armed security services, the electoral commission, the cabinet and the treasury and central bank – remains firmly in the hands of people from western Uganda, especially Ankole and Kigyezi. To this you add the ministries and public entities that receive the largest budgets and foreign grants, such as the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA), Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), and the Ministries of Education and Health. 


Museveni, his brother, his wife and his son have an iron grip on the country that is in the league of that wielded by rulers of pre-colonial kingdoms in the Great Lakes Region. 


Besides these visible owners of Uganda, there is an invisible retinue of courtiers that share the president’s or his wife’s DNA who serve as senior military officers, cabinet ministers, key ambassadors, directors of financially juicy departments, and so on. That is where the power is. Not that they are unqualified to hold those jobs, but only the blind would think that they are in their stations by mere coincidence.


All those outsiders who sing no-change are mere accessories, court dancers with little consequence. A social science student at Makerere should build Yoweri and Janet Museveni’s extended genetic pedigree and share her findings. It will be a remarkable case study that may leave the most loyal sycophants a little giddy with shock. 


Like  Donald J. Trump, the former president of the USA, Museveni accuses others of what he is a master at doing. However, this time round, I believe that the sectarian barb against the Baganda was a deliberate effort to divert attention from the real reason why Museveni has thrown everything at Kyagulanyi. 


We must not fall for the trick and waste time on an old question. After all the Baganda are not unique in placing their trust and hopes in their ethnic kinsman.  The pretence that Ugandans are one united people, shorn of ethnic identities and history, is a hypocrite’s pursuit. It does not withstand serious scrutiny. We shall visit that subject on another occasion, along with thoughts on a possible path towards realistic coexistence in our forced marriage.


The big question is why Kyagulanyi is still under house arrest. Why has the State declared they will keep him under close surveillance?  Is Uganda in a state of war-preparedness just on account of his audacious challenge to Museveni? Why are social media still shut down? 


The answer has nothing to with Kyagulanyi’s massive support among his ethnic kinsmen and the youth. It is not even the fear of protests. There is a much bigger contest at play, with high stakes politics that invites journalists and analysts to cast their gaze and ears way beyond Mengo, and beyond Uganda’s borders. 



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