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Random thoughts about fear in Uganda ahead of 2021

Random thoughts about fear in Uganda ahead of 2021
 Sunny morning in Toronto, albeit the chill of late Winter discourages a much-desired stroll along the shores of Lake Ontario, the smallest of the five Great Lakes of North America. We content ourselves with bright rays of sunshine streaming into our house. It is not the real thing, but it gives us hope for a brighter and warmer future.


My thoughts drift to a warm land whose future gives me hope, notwithstanding the despair of darkness that pervades its politics. Uganda, land of my birth, my real home, gripped by a chill of uncertainty, as the rituals of the next general “election” roll out, evinces signs of surrender by many who see no way out of the chains of their captor.


The people want positive change and peaceful transition from Yoweri Museveni to a democratically elected successor. However, the ruler will have none of that. Evidence: the schizophrenic reaction by the Palace to Gen Henry Tumukunde’s interest in becoming president. His bodyguards have been arrested, for reasons unknown. We now expect the kraal and granaries to be thrown at him, in a bid to persuade him to abandon his quest.


Such drastic responses are meant to terrify the citizens into submission. The message from Rwakitura is very clear. Forget the reasons given for the war in Luwero four decades ago, in which Tumukunde and thousands of others fought with great valour.


Forget the apoplectic denunciation of Paul Semmogerere’s stolen victory in 1980. Forget the stuff about democracy that we sang like parrots.


Forget the fists thrust in the air, with resolute determination to fight for the rights and freedoms of every Ugandan, oba tufa tufe (if need be, we die). Forget the Ten Point Program, the manifesto of the National Resistance Movement, in which the liberators considered democracy a prerequisite for economic recovery in Uganda.


All that was part of the grand deception. The agenda was different. State capture, to be retained by any means necessary. Do not take my word. Read four essential books, one each by John Kazoora, Sam Kalega Njuba, William Pike and Matthew Rukikaire, men who were inside the furnace with the ultimate victor. Cry with them. Feel their pain of betrayal.


To live is to see. Tumukunde, a great soldier, like him or not, is now declared an enemy of his comrade with whom they set out to liberate the land. And if Tumukunde can be subjected to threats and the coming terror that awaits him, who is Adongpiny from Adilang or Ntuzzaliiso from Kyanamukaka, or Tibitondoorwa from Kahondo to dare the ruler’s armed enforcers?


This is the hope of the dictatorship. Fear. If the citizens can buy into the myth of the current ruler’s invincibility, fear will paralyze them and scuttle the hopes of brave men and women with the courage to challenge their boss.


Fear is a handy weapon, to be used without letting up. It has worked for years in Uganda, driving many into silence, into accepting tyranny, even glorifying the tormentor, to whom they look for a cure for their hopelessness.


There is nothing original about this strategy. In her classic work, The Origins of Totalitarianism, published in 1951, Hannah Arendt wrote: “A fundamental difference between modern dictatorships and all other tyrannies of the past is that terror is no longer used as a means to exterminate and frighten opponents, but as an instrument to rule masses of people who are perfectly obedient.” 


The terror against presidential aspirants is meant to frighten the citizens. The regime, seeking to hold on to power, will spare nothing to instill fear in the population. Yet, it is not the regime but fear itself that citizens should be afraid of. We should be mindful of the apt observation by Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States: “When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”


I do not underestimate the ruler’s resolve to retain power at all costs. However, we have seen even more ruthless rulers swept off their thrones by a people freed from fear, by a people who have refused to be intimidated and silenced by fellow humans, by a people united by a shared desire for individual and collective freedom.


That is why I celebrate and welcome Tumukunde back to the ranks of those who want positive change in Uganda. I understand the circumstances that have made him appear to vacillate between the ruler’s court and the ranks of the democrats. I know that he has shared our hopes even as he has stood shoulder to shoulder with the betrayers of the struggle for freedom.


No doubt he has a steep hill to climb. Persuading a skeptical society will not be easy. However, those in opposition to the regime err when they shun Tumukunde and others who exit the burning house, labelling them moles and unwelcome latecomers. Such labels feed the ruler’s agenda to keep his opponents divided and unable to mount a united effort to loosen his tenuous grip on the country.


We need to overcome this fear of the state and fear of each other. Who better to encourage us than Nelson Mandela himself?  “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it,” Mandela said. “The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”


Those opposition folks who genuinely seek positive and peaceful change in Uganda should conquer the fear and suspicion of their comrades whom they label moles or latecomers to the latest struggle. We want more people abandoning the sinking ship and joining our side. From where Tumukunde has come reside many that we need in order to strengthen our ranks.


Ignore the protests of the likes of Mike Mukula, a vice-chairman of the ruling NRM, whose reaction to the Tumukunde challenge betrayed an ethnic narrowmindedness exceeded only by his indictment of his boss.


Mukula was quoted to have said: “For purposes of balanced development and sustainable progress, the next president should come from another region other than western Uganda.”


Mukula’s half-clever attempt to divide the opposition, and keep Museveni in power, inadvertently accuses his boss of favouring the Western Region. This is a fallacy that we must not let distract us from the real challenge, namely, equitable national transformation under a genuinely democratic government. Mukula is welcome to join the struggle and offer us a credible and able candidate of his choice.






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