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The East African : July 21st 2014
22 The EastAfrican OPINION JULY 19-25,2014 Fea≥ and loathing on Saba Saba: How Uhu≥uto missed thei≥ ‘teaching moment’ In an matter of a month, mass hysteria had been created over an integral part of the democratic process.” Tee Ngugi I n order to achieve conformity of thought, the Kanu state used a fearsome array of tools — detention, prison, systematic torture and sometimes even murder. But the regime had also perfected a propaganda method aimed at casting anyone proposing a different vision as unpatriotic, deranged, self-serving, traitorous, dangerous, immoral and even blasphemous. Thus Wangari Maathai’s marital status was used to paint her as an immoral woman with “insects in her head.” Oginga Odinga was taunted as a senile old man who wanted to force godless communism on the God-fearing people of Kenya. Civil society was deemed to be working with “their foreign masters” to bring about a form of government alien to African culture. Others were accused of going against God’s wish “as leadership comes from God.” To this effort, the regime mobilised wananchi, church and business leaders to produce a cacophonous refrain of “let us concentrate on development, not politics.” There were screams of “love, peace and unity” and “nyayo, juu, juu zaidi” and other nonsense, all designed to drown out voices asking whether the rapacious Kanu dictatorship was the best of all possible forms of government. So it was deeply disturbing — post promulgation of a liberal Constitution in 2010 — to hear a Kanuesque din against the Saba Saba Day rally called by the Opposition. There were irresponsible attempts to link the opposition to the killings in Mpeketoni, for which Al Shabaab had already claimed responsibility. There were intimations that Raila Odinga was being used by the Americans and British to effect regime change because the two governments were unhappy with Kenya’s “Look East” policy. Prayers were held in which it was clear who represented God-ordained leadership and who was the agent of the devil. Politicians allied to the government hurled diatribes against members of the opposition who they claimed were hell-bent on destroying the country. Wananchi, church and business leaders tried to out-compete one another in singing, “Let us concentrate on development, not politics.” Some governors banned opposition rallies in their counties. Meanwhile, the fear and hate-mon- gering brigade engaged higher gear, and right on cue, threats against communities deemed to be sympathetic to the opposition began to fly about. In a matter of a month or so, mass hysteria had been created over an integral part of the democratic process. Now, a brief statement from the president or his deputy to the effect that the opposition’s right to hold rallies anywhere and on any day was guaranteed by the Constitution and that the government would provide security for those attending the rally and those not attending would have done a number of things. First, it would have calmed the sit- uation down. Second, it would have signalled that criticism or dissent is not criminal or demonic, and that it is now an integral part of our new democracy. Third, it would have sent a clear message that the Kanu politics of diatribe, lies, hate and fear-mongering was now behind us, and that politics would now have to be conducted on the basis of logic, policy, morality and the Constitution. All of these things in concert would have constituted a lesson on the meaning of the new Constitution. The difference between this desir- able outcome and the dangerous neoKanu mobilisation is the difference between a leader and a politician. When President Barack Obama was running for office the first time around, he was confronted with a racial incident that had the potential to unravel his candidacy. He could have called in his spin doctors (his Aden Duales and Jamleck Kamaus), used it to play the race card (the tribal card all our politicians employ when the chips are down) or simply ignored It would have sent a clear message that... politics would now have to be conducted on the basis of logic, policy, morality and the Constitution. it (the way successive regimes here have avoided sensitive issues such as past political assassinations). Instead, he chose the more diffi- cult path of confronting it head on, calling it a “teaching moment.” The option Obama took calmed the situation down, helped his nation to rationally debate the race question and greatly improved race relations. What a shame that Uhuru and Ruto missed their “teaching moment.” Tee Ngugi is a political and social commentato≥ based in Nai≥obi NRM’s cleve≥ politics leads to fi≥e on the mountains T he recent bloody events leading to a reported 90 deaths across three districts straddling the Rwenzori mountain range of southwestern Uganda are now well known. The worst-case scenario is that we face an ethnic uprising backed by a few rebel groups operating on both sides of the locally invisible Uganda/DRC border. Apart from the souls who perished, over 20 military rifles were also stolen. President Yoweri Museveni’s subsequent broadside against “chauvinism” only obscured the issues surrounding the deadly unrest, and set off a war of words with one Wesley Mumbere, leader of the numerically dominant Konzo ethnic group whom the president basically accused of attempted ethnic cleansing. Angry denials soon followed, and have been followed by threats of arrest. However, given that the raiders reportedly targeted army and police positions, there exists scepticism of the governments’ attempts to frame the crisis as “tribal clashes.” Others take the longer view that the presi- dent has brought all this on himself by letting the kingdoms genie out of the bottle in which it has been sealed since 1967, starting with the 1993 concession to demands from the southcentral Kingdom of Buganda that the terms of the war-time pact that created Museveni’s National Resistance Movement be honoured. To the outside observer, these kingdoms may indeed seem an outdated oddity. But this is in fact a discourse about the future, much as it seems framed in the language of the past. Despite periodic bouts of electoral theatre, These kingdoms may seem outdated oddities. But this is in fact a discourse about the future.” Kalundi Se≥umaga Uganda has not held one single free and fair general election, right from Independence in 1962, to date. In such an absence of conventional demo- cratic traditions, many issues that would have been grist to the mill of some NGO in Kenya, for example, are instead voiced through native institutions. The attraction is obvious: Beyond being born into it, there is no membership qualification, and so they offer the possibility of wide civic access. In that context, a real throne does actually serve an important political function. The actual problem is that NRM leaders have never met a valid political idea that they did not then try to corrupt by trying to co-opt it into the service of their own ends. History By opportunistically inserting himself into domestic matters, the president continues the Lugardist tradition, but this time to get to the wealth underneath Professor Mwambutsya Ndebesa blames the “mystery of the Rwenzori attacks” on Uganda’s “politics of patronage.” “The NRM has been constructing politi- cal support, through recognising new kingdoms whose leaders are given big cars and a monthly stipend.,” he explains. “Those who receive gifts are expected to be clients of the regime.” This is only part of the story. I have argued elsewhere and at my peril, that through reviving old conflicts, exacerbating existing ones, and also inventing wholly new ones between the various communities, there is a deeper purpose aimed at debasing the authenticity of native voices. Uganda was birthed by the extended col- lapse of the Bunyoro Empire, a process only accelerated by the aggressive British imperialist Captain Frederick Lugard, whose conquests of various nationalities here culminated in Bunyoro’s military destruction in 1899. As the fires on what was once Bunyoro’s southern mountain province called Tooro show, the consequences of that collapse still reverberate today. Centred on the lake now called Albert, Bunyoro’s distinct ethnic regions were governed militarily, enabling ambitious governing princes to contemplate secession. An 1896 Tooro succession dispute provided Lugard with the perfect excuse for invading Bunyoro in “defence” of what today would be claimed as Tooro’s democracy. By thus inventing Uganda, he also became, in effect, its first president. Today, from the probable site of Lugard’s first fort, now known as Kampala State House, President Museveni faithfully follows his predecessor’s doctrine. In 2009, the president endorsed Mumbere’s breaking of the Konzo away from Tooro. Not surprisingly, a subsequent presidential endorsement in May this year of one Martin Kamya as the “king” of the Mba, a minority now demanding separate territorial recognition from the Konzo, has left the freshly minted King Mumbere as annoyed as the Kingdom of Tooro was when the NRM government smiled upon him, and no doubt as annoyed as Bunyoro’s Emperor Kabalega was when his chief in Tooro was ousted by Lugard. There is nothing new here. The real ques- tions are: Why are all these conflicts flaring up now and why only in particular places? The most likely answer comes in one word: Oil. Lugard’s interest was land. By also oppor- tunistically inserting himself into domestic governance matters, the current president continues the Lugardist tradition, but this time so as to get to the wealth underneath. If one were to overlay a map of where Ugan- da’s oil deposits are found and suspected to be, on to a map of the “new throne” areas, one would be struck by the extent to which they match up. Simply put, the ruling party has spent the past decade cynically misusing the argument for cultural representation to try to balkanise the oil-bearing areas of the countryside so as to confound genuine native claims to mineral rights. With these outbreaks of violence, it would appear that this game — mistaken for clever politics by some analysts —is finally catching up with them.
July 14th 2014
July 28th 2014