Uganda at 60 – Poisoned Eden: From Model Country, through Wrong Dreams, False Starts and Wrong Turns to Poisoned State

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Uganda at 60 – Poisoned Eden:  From Model Country, through Wrong Dreams, False Starts and Wrong Turns to Poisoned State


Uganda at 60 – Poisoned Eden:

From Model Country, through Wrong Dreams, False Starts and Wrong Turns to Poisoned State


– Part One –

A parable of two losers:

How Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman and Uganda’s Jacob Oulanyah illuminate Uganda’s leaders’ existential threat to their country

Bbuye lya Mukanga

15 June 2022



Willy Loman had all the wrong dreams, all, all wrong, he never knew who he was! ~~ Quite serendipitously, I recently happened to be re-reading Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman. I had first read the play almost fifty years ago while studying Agriculture and Economics in the USA. It is the tragic story of Willy Loman, a man who devoted his whole life to the pursuit of “the American dream”. Willy’s version of the American dream was to achieve money, fame, and happiness as a traveling salesperson. He decided that the way to achieve his dream was to be attractive and well-liked and to accumulate material and financial wealth.


Contrary to his pursuit, Willy is not a good salesperson, is not popular and is not well-liked. In spite of his obvious failure to meet his very poorly chosen life goals, he clings to a fierce belief in the American dream. He disguises his profound insecurity, anxiety, and self-doubt with extreme arrogance. He ended up dying a lonely, alienated, and pathetic failure. Before dying, Willy desperately tries to bully his sons who are attractive and well-liked into becoming salespeople. It is a desperate attempt by Willy to vicariously live through his sons. The sons reject any possibility of taking on the mantle of their father’s delusionary path through life. In the most remembered and talked-about line in the play, Biffy Loman summarises his father’s life in these words: "He had all the wrong dreams, all, all wrong, he never knew who he was!"


Jacob Oulanyah left behind a country that had been ‘poisoned’ ~~ It was purely coincidental that the backdrop within which I revisited Arthur Miller’s masterful piece of literature was the recent illness, overseas hospitalisation and death, repatriation of remains, and state funeral and burial of the Speaker of the Uganda National Assembly, Jacob Oulanyah. Oulanyah’s slow-motion exit from the stage of Uganda’s tragicomedy was interspaced with allegations that his death had been a political assassination using poison. “Poisoned” is likely the wrong hypothesis for explaining the colourful Speaker’s exit. But “poisoned” aptly describes the state of the country that Jacob Oulanyah left behind.


Jacob Oulanyah was bearer of a dictator’s poisoned chalice of a violent culture. ~~ One cannot help seeing that, like Willie Loman, Jacob Oulanyah had also lived a life that had the wrong dreams. Jacob Oulanyah decided that the way to political power and riches was to betray his conscience, his family and friends, his electorate, and his country by hitching his wagon to that of the nihilistically brutal, oppressive, and repressive President of Uganda. It is President Museveni that, for more than a decade, presided over a genocidal scorched earth campaign of destruction in Northern Uganda and Teso. It is President Yoweri Museveni that has for almost 40 years ruled Uganda through a life-time regimen of looting, extortion, kidnapping, mayhem, torture, and murder. Museveni masquerades his violent misrule behind decorative veneers of falsehoods that include enforced constitutional changes, rigged elections, purported containment of terrorism, and investment promotion while actually grabbing land and raiding the national coffers, and other Trojan hobbyhorses and artful manoeuvres.


Metaphorically, for a considerable time, Oulanyah became one of the cupbearers of the poisoned chalice of the culture of violence that Museveni and others before and alongside him have foisted on Uganda for the past 60 years of its post-colonial existence. At the end of the day, Oulanyah went away empty handed. He had nothing to show for his cozying up to Museveni and for the violent rule, exploitation, and underdevelopment that he, by commission and by omission, willingly helped to perpetuate on Uganda as a crony of Museveni.


Willy Loman and Speaker Oulanyah were like the legendary six blindmen.” ~~ What Biffy said of his father’s achievement and how Speaker Oulanyah decided to expend his considerable talent can be reconstructed into two distinct and yet mutually synergizing meanings. The first meaning is that both Willie Loman and Speaker Oulanyah defined success incorrectly. The second meaning is that both Willie Loman and Speaker Oulanyah lived their lives while denying the facts around them. They lived in illusions and sleepwalked themselves into realities that were much worse than the ones that they were imagining or living in.


Metaphorically, both Willy and Speaker Oulanyah got a-hold of the wrong end of the stick. Willy Loman and Speaker Oulanyah were like the legendary six blindmen who, in turn, misidentified the elephant’s trunk as a snake, the tusk as a spear, the ear as a fan, the leg as a tree, the stomach as a wall and the tail as a rope! As a result, Willy Loman and Speaker Oulanyah had all the wrong kinds of goals for themselves. In the case of Oulanyah, his decisions can be consequential and strongly impact not only on him and his family and immediate friends, but also on his nation.


Redemption for one loser’s child, damnation for the other loser’s child. ~~ There is at least one redeeming feature from the account of Willy Loman’s tragic life of blunders in The Death of a Salesman. The redeeming feature is that Loman’s oldest son Biffy, recognised the mistakes that his father had made and that had led to ruinous consequences in the father’s life, family, and community. Biffy rebuffs, completely rejects, and walks away from his father’s entreaties to follow in the latter’s footsteps. Biffy invites his younger brother to also leave the toxic world that their father foisted. ……. Sadly, sadly: there are no such redeeming morsels in the saga of Jacob Oulanyah. Before, his remains were even laid in the grave, Oulanyah’s children started jockeying for the position of heir to the Parliamentary seat of their father, and to their father’s dream of being Speaker of Parliament, and possibly occupying State House some day as leader of the country.


Soon after Oulanyah’s burial, President Museveni summoned his Party’s leadership in Omoro County and commanded them to ensure that one of Oulanyah’s children was elected to replace the latter in Parliament. Here are some of the President’s words, “…... Let one of Oulanyah’s children stand in for him and follow us (author’s emphasis) for the remaining four years (of Oulanyah’s term).” Jacob Oulanyah’s oldest son, Andrew Ojok, was duly nominated as the NRM candidate for the Omoro County by-election to take his father’s place in Parliament. He was duly elected on 27 May 2022 in an election that his opponents said was marred by irregularities, intimidation, kidnapping and unwarranted arresting of opposition candidates and their supporters. Before the nomination, during the election campaign and after he was elected, Andrew Ojok pledged to follow in his father’s footsteps, and as his father had faithfully done, to be unfailingly loyal to President Museveni and the ruling NRM Party.


The phantom of the story – the ghostly being of Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. ~~ The parable of Willy Loman and Jacob Oulanyah would not be complete without throwing some light on the phantom character who makes appearances in the story in the form of the current President of Uganda, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. In Luganda and Runyankore, a phantom is the equivalent of “omusambwa”. Omusambwa or phantom is an evil ghost or spirit that takes on the form a human being and returns to Earth to haunt, corrupt, disrupt and destroy people’s lives and livelihoods – with impunity. In the parable of Willy Loman and Jacob Oulanyah, Museveni makes appearances as Jacob Oulanyah’s benefactor, a person of intimidating power to whom Oulanyah and many others in his orbit are inextricably beholden.


Ironically, Museveni also holds the office, as Head of State, which was apparently coveted by Jacob Oulanyah. This was in spite of the fact that Oulanyah must have witnessed that many people who have ever expressed or were ever thought to have had any serious ambition to replace Museveni as Head of State or had ever raised serious concerns and challenges about Museveni’s competence to be Head of State had been pulled down, brutalized and humiliated; and some people even died in circumstances that some people have termed “suspicious”. Prominent on this list are former allies or loyalists of Museveni like Andrew Kayiira (RIP), Kiiza Besigye, Noble Mayombo (RIP), Eriya Kategaya (RIP), Amama Mbabazi, and Aronda Nyakairima (RIP); and, also Bobby Wine Sentamu Kyagulanyi, the pop star who many believe was robbed of the 2021 Presidential Election.


Upon Jacob Oulanyah’s own death, albeit after a serious bout with cancer, Museveni makes cameo appearances in the story as the elder statesman who is the chief mourner of Jacob Oulanyah’s demise, and as the ever-present and generous benefactor and defender of the Oulanyah family and the Acholi people. He is the one who arm-twists and cajoles the local NRM Party leaders and sends his agents out to harass opposition candidates to ensure that one of Jacob Oulanyah’s sons is elected to replace the father in Parliament. It is with that phantomic self-serving mix of pseudo-wisdom, pretence of father-like concern and empathy, and brutally ruthless and lethal enforcement of his my-way-or-no-way sense of destiny that Museveni has governed Uganda for the last thirty-seven years; that is, for 62% of the 60 years that Uganda has been independent.


A moral for Uganda’s leaders and movers-and-shakers, who have had all the wrong dreams. ~~ Sadly, Uganda is a country that has, ever since Independence in 1962, has been led and governed by people that are too much in the mold of Speaker Oulanyah. Uganda’s leaders and movers-and-shakers have, for themselves and for the country, had all the wrong dreams. They have been blind to the facts that are in and around them. Pretty much all of them have had no idea of what Uganda is: its geography, history, ethnicity, indigenous and adopted knowledge and technology, people’s deeply held beliefs as well as likes and dislikes, people’s aspirations, and other important considerations. Neither have they formed any realistic ideas of what they would like Uganda to be like. Instead, they set their sights on the pursuit of glory, power, control, and riches in a country that they have not even bothered to know and understand. In the process, they have set wrong goals and targets, taken wrong paths, employed wrong means, deployed wrong tools, cut corners, and taken unnegotiable and unpassable shortcuts, and literally built roads to no where! They have brought devastation and ruin to a land that should otherwise be flowing with abundant harvest, milk, and honey. Following wrong dreams and setting goals does not only hurt the dreamers. It hurts families, communities, nations, and the world. It is the essence of most things that have gone wrong in this world and in Uganda in particular.


Uganda’s present danger is characterised by violence, riding on endless impunity. ~~ Museveni and his cronies have always spun a narrative that Museveni was some kind of saviour who rescued Uganda from decades of misrule, socio-economic decline, and state-sanctioned terrorism. They paint a picture of Museveni’s thirty-seven years rule as the golden age of post-Independence Uganda. Nothing can be farther from the truth. I refer to Museveni as a phantom character because, to the overwhelming majority of Ugandans, even people like Jacob Oulanyah, he is an apparition or ghostlike object of dread and abhorrence. There are no definitive accounts of the type and number of deaths due to extrajudicial executions and other acts of lawlessness under any of the regimes that have ruled Uganda since Independence.


However, Museveni’s reign has almost certainly claimed more lives than the combined total for all the other regimes that have governed Uganda since Independence. Estimates from Amnesty International put the number of violent deaths for the 23-year period from 1962 to 1985 at around one million. This covers the periods of Obote 1 – 1962–1971; Idi Amin – 1971–1979; Binaisa and Military Commission – 1979–1980; Obote 2 – 1981–1985; and Tito Okello Lutwa – 1985-1986 for six months. It excludes the brief period of Yusuf Lule rule (69 days) when there are no records of state sanctioned atrocities. In contrast, violent deaths during Yoweri Museveni’s reign are estimated to number several million, including those killed in Uganda and those killed in Museveni’s military adventures (many of them for plundering intents) in Sudan, South Sudan, Rwanda, and Congo. Mass killings inside Uganda have included those during the scotched earth policy in Northern Uganda and Teso, those in Kasese in 2016, the killings in Karamoja under the alleged pretext of controlling cattle rustling, extra judicial killing of the community living near Murchison Falls National Park, and the intensified killings that have occurred around all election times.


Not only the killings, but Museveni’s regime has restricted freedoms and run down the socio-economic condition of the country through passage of oppressive laws like the Public Order Management Act (POMA) which practically did away with the right of assembly; the NGO Law which is used to silence civil society institutions; massive land grabbing in all parts of the country; massive corruption, including the famous handshake that the president used to re-distribute US$ 602 million of oil royalties money at will to individuals of his choice, and the disappearance of over US$ 100 million from the Global Fund for AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis (GAVI); the President’s interference in Parliament’s affairs including jailing of MPs, forcibly influencing elections for the Speaker and other officers of Parliament, and ordering Parliament not to investigate corruption and other criminal activities in the country. There have even been armed invasions of Parliament and courts to stop proceedings that had potentially unfavourable outcomes for Museveni or his cabal of loyalists. Today, poverty, squalor, food insecurity and malnutrition, maternal and child death rates, death from communicable and non-communicable diseases, paucity of viable education facilities and opportunities, lack of law and order, and other socio-economic shortcomings are more widespread and deeper that there were at Independence.


Theft and plunder, with no shame and with no empathy for the victimised. ~~ Like Willy Loman and the pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm, the President and the privileged few around him croak and crow about “Uganda’s economic success and peace under President Museveni and NRM.” They measure the country's success not in terms of the people’s well-being, but in terms of their own inflated salaries and perks, their ability to appropriate public and private resources for their personal gain, their ability to drive around in flashy cars in long motorcades, their ability to travel abroad to shop and to eat shrimp, their ability to fly out of Uganda for medical treatment, and so many other corrupt and delusional concerns. They have platoons of soldiers guarding their residences day and night, while ordinary citizens’ homes are attacked by armed robbers (who are often in cahoots with soldiers and police officers) on daily and nightly bases.


The impunity is such that, soon after Jacob Oulanyah’s death, his replacement as Speaker of Parliament by-passed establishment procedures and requisitioned a US $500,000 car for herself. She did the same for the Deputy Speaker. In the meantime, expectant mothers and children continue to die daily in clinics and hospitals because underpaid and overworked medical staff also lack facilities, equipment and materials that cost only a few thousand dollars to avail; children attend classes with 150 learners, often with neither chalkboards nor chalk, and many receive their lessons in leaking buildings or outside under trees or under the open sky.


Personalising duties, responsibilities, and benefits of office, while pretending and lying all along. ~~ For thirty-seven years, Uganda has been lorded over by a person whose goals are: to personally control everything in the country; to remain in power “for ever”; to accumulate as much material wealth as possible; and to be admired or feared, but preferably more feared than admired. The modus operandi of the regime is to tell outright lies, to obfuscate the facts whenever they surface, to bribe the corrupt, to inflict violence on any who will not be bribed and/or refuse to keep quiet, and to pretend that the Government is doing an excellent job, and everyone is better off than they have ever been.


During the 2016 Elections, Museveni addressed the issue of stepping down, with the following statement: “Those who say, let him go, let him go, they need to know that this is not the right time. This old man who has saved the country, how do you want him to go? How can I go out of a banana plantation I have planted that has started bearing fruits?” He then went on to say in the same speech, “We can’t be in the middle of a forest and want the old man to go. This is not right. We must concentrate on development; my time will come, and I will go.” Thus, on the one hand, Museveni gives himself the fantastical credit of having led Uganda through an era of unprecedented peace, growth, and prosperity. On the other hand, he admits that whatever he has done has not born fruit, at least not yet. He will do anything to make sure that no one else governs Uganda. And he insists that he is the only one who is entitled to leading Uganda.


The intractability of impunity – as leaders believe their own lies to be the truth. ~~ Talking later about his work ethic, President Museveni made a surprisingly candid confession. He said, “I hear some people saying that I am their servant. I'm not a servant of anybody. I am a freedom fighter. That's what I do. I don't do it because I am your servant. I am not your servant. I am just a freedom fighter. I am fighting for myself, for my beliefs.” In an interview with a reporter, he declared: “I am working for myself, I am not working for other people. I’m working for my grandchildren and my children.” Thus, even on the rare occasion when Museveni says something close to the truth, it is with the impunity of the bully who tells the little boy: I have taken your marbles, there is nothing you can do to get them back. When the leaders pretend or believe that the lies that they tell themselves are the truth, and when those leaders have full unfettered control of the military, the police, local government, the legislature, the judiciary and all the resources in the country, what will happen to the rest of the forty-eight million Ugandans? What hope do they have? What can they do?


The existential threat of Museveni’s succession plan and inter-generational concatenation of delusional falsehoods. ~~ While working in a country in East Asia a few years ago, I met a group of highly educated Ugandans. Day after day, my compatriots kept asking themselves one question: when and how will Uganda’s nightmare come to an end? The friends seemed to agree on one answer, an answer that I have also heard from many other Ugandans. That answer is this: “Let us wait for nature!!” It took me some time to figure out the meaning of this statement. What it means is that some day Museveni will become incapacitated and be unable to hold on to office or he will simply die in office. Either way, so many Ugandans hope, Museveni will then be succeeded by someone else, and things will change for the better. Under the reigning circumstances, this is an extremely unlikely and fantastically illusory scenario. It is so because Museveni is hell-bent on creating and preserving a dynastic legacy of his rule by passing on the leadership of Uganda to one of his children. The chosen heir apparent in this case is his son Muhoozi Kainerugaba.


The ascendance of Muhoozi has been a long project in the making. Muhoozi eschewed the rigours of post-secondary education, and he was recruited into the army at a tender age. With accelerated promotions, it took him only twelve years to rise to the rank of Brigadier. By then, he had become the main pillar in his father’s personal security and protection apparatus. Today, he is the de facto head of the military. His allies are strategically situated in command positions in all branches and levels of the UPDF (Uganda People’s Defence Forces), Police and other security agencies.


And so, one can see in the Oulanyah family as well as the Museveni family, the grooming and passing on from one generation to the next of the concatenation (or relay-type inheriting) of delusional dreams and falsehoods that can only eventually lead to all-round destruction of the country and the lives and livelihoods of those who call it home, including the dynasty builders. Through the Muhoozi Project of succession, Museveni is dreaming of building the Tibuhaburwa Dynasty, which would have his name at the top of the pile of successor descendants that any dynasty-builder hopes to last for ever. Of course, this would mean for Uganda, a dream or plan for the generational continuation through one family of the same types of falsehoods, misrule, oppression and underdevelopment that has been foisted on the country for the last 60 years. 


Reclaiming Uganda – by concerted, sane, self-sacrificial and conciliatory enterprise of ordinary people. ~~ . Through the Muhozi Project of succession Museveni, wants to ensure that neither incapacitation nor death stand in the way of his dream to permanently imposing his legacy (dubious as it may be) on Uganda through the creation of a Tibuhaburwa Dynasty. It is, hence, obvious that reclaiming Uganda from the rabid deathly grip of the current President, his family and their cabal of facilitators and hangers-on is bound to be an odiously difficult and sacrificial task. Reclaiming Uganda is NOT something that can be achieved by passively waiting for the random and uncertain chance of incapacitation or even the sure and time-honoured cold hand of death. Neither can re-claiming Uganda be achieved by re-inventing or reviving the methods of armed violent rebellion that Museveni used to bring himself into power. That would constitute a futile and self-destructive exercise of digging Uganda deeper into the foxhole that it is yearning to escape from.


Muniini Mulera, the long-time analyst and commentator on the Uganda condition, has described what it will take to reclaim Uganda in the following words, words that are worth repeating verbatim: “The third option [in reclaiming Uganda] is for people to place Uganda before self, mobilize or join forces with those who seek peaceful resistance against the ruler’s plan to complete his dominance and enslavement of the land. This requires a countrywide coalition that rejects the usual divisions along tribe, religion, and partisan politics.” As I have said, achieving this dream of national redemption will not be easy. Among other things, it will take a collective re-assessment, re-thinking and over-hauling of the country’s identity, institutions, potential and goals, and building stronger checks and balances and other anti-dictatorial bulwarks against the type of self-serving leaders and cliques that have run the country over the past 60 years. We know that such leaders and cliques will resist the people’s will. However, we hold on to the eternal hope that there is God in this world whose character is to dispense justice. Let us, hence, encourage and spur each other on by focusing on the truth of God’s promise of justice, and remember Martin Luther King Jr’s admonition that: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” 


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