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Choice before Ugandans is not Bobi Wine or Muntu versus Museveni

Choice before Ugandans is not Bobi Wine or Muntu versus Museveni

I had decided to stay clear of all comment on the latest pretence of “democratic competition” for Uganda’s presidency. Whereas we have new faces in the cast of those who are challenging Yoweri Tibuhaburwa Museveni, the incumbent president, the script is unchanged. The outcome is more predictable than November’s grasshoppers.  


Yes, Robert “Bobi Wine” Kyagulanyi has mounted a vigorous campaign that has struck fear in the notoriously competition averse Museveni. Gregory Mugisha Muntu has continued to build his strength against steep odds and very limited resources. Under normal rules of democracy, these two men would have denied Museveni a first-round win in a genuine election.


However, “normal democracy” is a foreign concept in Uganda. Presidential elections are as fake as the miracles merchandised by today’s self-appointed pastors, apostles and prophets. The rituals of political parties, nominations, campaigns and voting are a conjuror’s tricks to keep the subjects in a state of self-deception and the foreign meddlers happy that the colony is playing by the rules. 


After 36 years on the throne, Museveni, 76, is determined to retain power by any means necessary. He will continue to use violence and fear, backed up by an assured fraudulent tabulation of the votes that will give him a comfortable “win.”  


My views about the fake rituals that pass for “elections” in our terribly undemocratic country have been well documented in this column and elsewhere for 20 years. That is why I have nothing else to add except to wish this season’s participants in the charade the very best and God’s protection against a ruler who, in his words, is ready to crush those who threaten his tenure in the presidential palace.


The only reason I am breaking my promise to myself  is because the images from last week’s riots and killings in Kampala keep replaying in my brain. A young woman in a red skirt, down on rugged concrete, motionless, bright red blood flowing from her head. She is somebody’s daughter. Perhaps she is a mother, a spouse or sibling. 


A man lying face down on concrete, just outside a building. His motionless body announces his death. Someone has covered his head. A stream of blood is making its way from him  into the earth, a permanent signature on a land that mourns, yet again, her own children whose lives have been cut short in an orgy of endless state-sponsored violence. We now know his identity – John Kitobe – a retiree who survived Idi Amin, Milton Obote II and Tito Okello Lutwa, only to be murdered by a regime he may well have welcomed in 1986. 


Then there is a young lad – barely in his teens – whose leg has been broken. He lifts his head, sits up and, summoning unusual courage, grabs his shattered leg. The foot-end dangles like the proximal part of a banana trunk from which the fruit has been harvested. Spectators watch as the lad bleeds, with no evident effort to apply a tourniquet to stem the bleeding. I keep wondering whether he survived.


Men in civilian clothing wielding lethal guns on the streets of Kampala. Shooting at humans the way we used to throw stones at birds that invaded my mother’s sorghum fields. To us, those nameless birds were trespassers whose lives, needs and roles did not engage our intellectual powers. We were mere enforcers on a mission, sent  by our mother, to protect that which belonged to her. 


Likewise, those gun-wielding men would not have been on the streets of Kampala had they not been sent by the owner of the land to rid his capital of nameless subjects that threatened to take his God-given right to rule them until his death in very old age.  


Our aim at the birds with our catapults was more deliberate and precise than the indiscriminate firing into crowds that these agents of the state hope will kill the enemies of the revolution. One video recording shows a uniformed soldier who aims his gun at a window, discharges a bullet and moves on to seek out another target. That bullet misses the woman for whom it has been sent. Her crime is that she has been recording the mayhem on the street.  She calmly narrates the details of the attack and her search for the bullet like a seasoned war correspondent. I take note of this changing soul of the land. Not even the number of the dead – more than forty – seems to have had the same impact on the land that the death of one person used to have on us decades ago. 


Watching these videos brought back memories of Yoweri K. Museveni’s rally at Makerere University’s Freedom Square in 1980. I was present. Speaking in English, with Aloysius George Bakulumpagi Wamala translating into Luganda, Museveni railed against the suffocation of people’s democratic rights and warned against rigging of elections. “We shall not hesitate to go to the bush to wage war if the people’s votes are stolen,” Museveni intoned, triggering applause. 


He ridiculed Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere for repeatedly declaring that he would meet his supporters in Entebbe, a not so-subtle claim of victory even before the votes were cast. Museveni wondered how Ssemogerere planned to take power when he had no guns. 


Museveni’s incendiary statements did not trigger a violent response from the Tanzania-backed dictatorship of the day. Makerere University did not ban him and his supporters from returning to the great hill. The state-sponsored violence that preceded that year’s election was child’s play compared to what awaited those who were not yet born – among them Bobi Wine. 


More than thirty-five years after winning his five-year guerrilla war, with promises of a new freedom and democracy, Museveni orchestrates rivers of blood because Bobi Wine, 37, has attempted to take the drinking straw from the ruler’s mouth. 


The democracy for which many lives were lost in the country’s fits of violence was stillborn. The political parties for which otherwise good people are willing to kill each other exist in an airless, lifeless haunted house that has room for only one man.  That is why I cannot summon any interest in the charade of the campaigns and presidential “election” in our dysfunctional land.


As we mourn our latest dead, let us remember that the choice before Ugandans should not be Bobi Wine or Mugisha  Muntu versus Museveni. The choice must be between freedom and enslavement; between democracy and autocracy; between good governance and corruption. The focus must be the struggle between survival and collapse; between the future and the past; between peace and more deaths of young women like that lady in red. Put simply, it is a choice between Uganda and Museveni. We all must decide on which side we are. 


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