Passion For Humanity

what's new

Uganda: Who is the true patriot?

Edited by Admin
Uganda: Who is the true patriot?
Admirers of particular leaders or rulers demand that we blindly praise their heroes. To criticize their hero, whether in life or in death, is to invite the wrath of those who prefer that history be edited to reflect an image of a perfect being, not a fallible one. Deify him, don't humanize him. If you praise him, you forfeit the right to point out his failures and weaknesses.


If you praise Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah for his historic struggle for the independence of the Gold Coast, you must not reveal his self-aggrandizement or his despotic and self-destructive rule over Ghana.


If you celebrate Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere's success in subjugating ethnic nationalism to Tanzanian patriotism, you must not utter a word about his earlier anti-democratic credentials. If you acknowledge Mzee Jomo Kenyatta's enormous contribution to his country's struggle for independence, you must not censure him for betraying the Mau Mau freedom fighters on whose bleeding backs he climbed to the helm of independent Kenya.


If you stand in awe of Winnie Madikizela Mandela's resilience during the most difficult phase of the anti-apartheid struggle, you must not whisper about her horrifying role in the murder of young Stompie Moeketsi or the personal demons that led to her downfall.


If you salute South African cleric Alan Boesak for his heroic role in the struggle for his people's freedom, you must turn a blind eye to his swindling of funds that were meant for the very struggle in which we hold him dear.


If you honour Robert Gabriel Mugabe for his unflinching resolve during the military struggle against Ian Smith's Rhodesia, you must not condemn his ruinous and corrupt dictatorship over Zimbabwe.

If you praise Jefferson Clinton for his excellent stewardship of the US economy, you must not say he wrecked his legacy with his reckless pursuit of Monica Lewinsky, which led to his impeachment.

And if you once extolled the great achievements and heroism of a Yoweri Museveni or an Eriya Kategaya in the struggle for political liberation of Uganda, you must remain silent when Museveni betrays everything you thought he stood for or when Kategaya reverses himself on a fundamental principle for which he had declared himself an unshakable advocate.


So it was that when I disapproved of Seperiano Mukombe Mpambara's choice to return to the Uganda People's Congress after he had so publicly and so firmly severed his membership in the party, some wondered how it was possible for me to criticize a man whom I considered to be one of the great leaders of the Kigezi of my youth.


Yet if we learn to separate the individual from the public figure, we quickly discover that we can love and censure someone at the same time. Depending on the context of our speech or writing, we can commend or criticize the subject of our discourse.


To some we must not speak of the dead except to praise them. To them we must purge history from human discourse. Yet the eternal silence of the dead cannot still the voice of history.


No doubt, had I been writing in the context of people's contribution to the welfare of their kinsmen, I would have definitely cited Mukombe Mpambara as a leading example of a great cultural nationalist. In which case I would have been judged by his relatives to be a good man because "I had been fair to their father." Yet honest comment about Mukombe Mpambara reveals a composite of various strengths and weaknesses, a complex man who was all too human.


As a politician, he was very easily accessible, even to those of us who were of little consequence in the socio-political milieu in which he operated in the 1960s. He made politics very exciting because he was one of the most charismatic politicians of his time. But his was not the politics of mere smiles and empty promises.


He knew how to build a social and political patronage network. As Secretary General, he made Kigezi count in the corridors of power in Kampala. In just three years as Chairman of the National Trading Corporation (NTC) he economically empowered very many Banyakigezi.


The truth, of course, is that his stewardship of the NTC was a classic example of nepotism at its worst. Primary school teachers, clergymen and lowly civil servants became NTC depot managers, product distributors or well-paid employees, which sowed the seed that would bloom into Kigezi's famous twariire wealth of the 1970s and 80s.


It was very easy for those of us who came of age under his political influence to admire him and to look up to him for leadership. It is for that reason that many of us were deeply disappointed by his political decisions and public acts of his last years in active politics. Yet none of this can erase his outstanding example as a true Munyakigyezi patriot, one who is in need of a dispassionate analysis by one of our political scientists.

Speaking of patriotism, Ndugu Teddy Seezi Cheeye wrote a commentary in late May 2006 in which he declared me to be unpatriotic to Uganda because I had chosen to live and work in Canada. To Cheeye, at the time a senior official in the Ugandan Internal Security Organisation, my choice not to live in Uganda had nullified my right to express opinions about my country of birth.

The corollary of his argument, I suppose, was that those who lived in Uganda were, by definition, patriotic to our homeland. Cheeye was wrong, of course. Patriotism has nothing to do with one's place of abode. There are patriotic Ugandans inside and outside Uganda. There are traitors and criminals inside and outside our motherland.


Is a Kampala-based citizen who steals Shs120m from the Global Fund for AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis more patriotic than an expatriate Ugandan living in Toronto who shares his hard-earned income with his relatives living with HIV/Aids in Uganda?


Who are the patriots? Ugandan ministers of health who presided over the misuse of said funds or Bamasaba in the Diaspora who gathered in Toronto, that very week in which Cheeye penned his commentary, to mobilise funds for the development of Bugisu? Are the patriots the men and women who have not only looted the land to the bone, but have also suffocated the people's hopes for freedom and justice?


We have never read a passionate commentary by Cheeye or other Uganda-based commentators urging fellow countrymen to reject the $1 billion in annual remittances that a bunch of "unpatriotic" Ugandans living in Arabia, Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe, South Africa and the USA continue to inject into the Ugandan economy.


Patriotism transcends physical space and boundaries. Patriotism is not a song. It is an attitude buttressed by one's positive deeds, not by criminal acts committed while living on Ugandan soil.



(Originally published in the Daily Monitor of Monday June 5, 2006. In April 2009, Cheeye himself was sentenced  to 10 years in prison for embezzlement and forgery involving  USh.120 million ($32,000) from the Global Fund for AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis. Released in 2017, he was killed by a motor cycle as he crossed a major street in Kampala.)


Recent Posts

Popular Posts