Saturday February 5 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: In State Research Bureau, history repeats itself

A scene from the movie State Research Bureau

A scene from the movie State Research Bureau written and produced by Ugandan film maker Matt Bish. 


As President Museveni prepared to celebrate a quarter of a century in power, a movie premiered on the outskirts of Kampala. SRB (State Research Bureau), written and produced by a Ugandan film maker, Matt Bish showed at Wonder World cinema hall in Kansanga.

First things first
SRB is a story about an epoch in Uganda's turbulent past. It recounts what took place in the safe houses of 1970s and 1980s, bringing back the memories of what happened to one once arrested at the dreaded road blocks mounted by the security forces of the time.

Set in 1985, a family tries to flee the troubled country because the Uganda National Liberation Army, the force that ousted Idi Amin Dada had also turned onto the civilians, killing them without trial in the guise of supporting the National Resistance Army (NRA) rebels, who were fighting Milton Obote, whose UPC government was being accused of rigging votes.

The movie was released during the campaign period and at the time the NRM regime is celebrating 25 years in power. One expected cinema hall to be filled by Uganda’s who is who – it was not the case. The turn up was good, but the audience was youthful – most likely, many of them didn’t know what it meant to be stopped at UNLA’s road block – however, the movie gave them the chance.

In the movie, a couple that escapes a brutal massacre of civilians in Arua town miraculously reaches Kampala, and attempts to flee to Kenya. On their way through Jinja, they are intercepted at a road block mounted by men of the notorious Captain Yusuf, who runs a National Security Agency (Nasa) unit in Jinja.

However, Capt. Yusuf, whose relatives perished at the hands of agents of Nasa’s predecessor, the State Research Bureau (SRB) during Idi Amin’s regime, is not impressed by the new name and wants to run “an improved version of the State Research Bureau”.

He carries out the most ruthless arrests, and is not interested in finding out the truth but the exploitation of suspects, from whom he obtained monetary bribes or got sexual favours in exchange for freedom.

SRB is a story of undisciplined, corrupt, brutal, inefficient, and cowardly soldiers who killed civilians at will, raped women, took bribes, and did not care about the security of their countrymen, but their own indulgences.

It is not surprising the film ends with a rag tagged NRA army full of children, overrunning the drunken, greedy, perverted and a corrupt force on January 26.

At his safe house, Capt. Yusuf is the law, the prosecutor, and judge. He has right over life – and of anyone under him. However, even people like Capt. Yusuf can lose their power when the oppressed study their weak points and exploit it. In the movie, the captain has a soft spot for women, so, the prisoners use it to their advantage.

The movie brings in a debate of whether Uganda is completely rid of officers such as Capt. Yusuf and his men, in the light of revelations of army officers raping women in Karamoja, safe houses still existing in various towns, black mamba hijacking courts of law, and people like Annet Namwanga, disappearing for days without being presented in the courts of law.

There are people who doubt whether Uganda has walked past from abuse of security services. That is why SRB is a piece of history, all government and security administrators should never have missed, since history repeats itself.

Take it forward
SRB is a moment of reflection on the social contract governments make with the people to protect their lives, short of which, it ceases to be government. "I wanted to make a film, which, while having a political purpose, wouldn't be overly polemic but rather observational - giving the viewer the opportunity to draw their own conclusions about what they are experiencing," Matt Bish the producer said.

These days, the signs of the horror that once engulfed Uganda are few and may sound far-fetched that the generally youthful audience at the premiere laughed off the actions of the security officers who were enticed by beautiful girls, or the prisoners, who fed on their urine.

But this general gap reminds us of our responsibility to take affairs of this country seriously and never to leave the country to irresponsible people like Capt. Yusuf. When you watch SRB– whether one lived in those times or later – what comes to mind is a vow of two words, "Never again!"