In this new column, we follow the adventure of Nairo who until recently was a teacher making a living out of moonlighting at several primary schools. Nairo’s life turns dramatically when his friend and fellow teacher Ernest Mbago wins the Nabirama constituency MP seat.
Back in our campus days, a friend joked that Ernest Mbago was more eccentric than Xixo, the lead character in the film, The Gods Must Be Crazy. Some jokes hold.
Mbago, who is so smitten with being an MP that he takes offence at being introduced without the ‘honourable’ title, showed up for a date in that green military fatigue NRM cadres wear to their retreat in Kyankwanzi.
We were at Africa Hall in Makerere to ‘bench’ Jane. The plump campuser is one of Mbago’s former students in Busoga. As a teacher, Mbago had frequently engaged in trysts with Jane as part of his ‘salary top-up.’
I had thought that having skipped the rungs of society’s ladder to become an MP, Mbago would behave like one. I was expecting him to stop coming back to such girls and date a higher class of a lass, but this benching made me realise two things: one, that ‘class’ is not something any aide-de-camp can try to define selfishly. Secondly, that my boss was a human form of a village currently living city life.
Mbago had his trousers tucked into the Kyankwazi-issued military boots, the hems of his shirt jerking with every motion like a faulty gear lever.
“How will those girls know that I’m from Kyankwanzi without the military outfit?” He had said this in response to my protests over the choice of outfit.
Grinning ear to ear
Jane was with her friend, Agnes. Two others walked in as soon as we had arrived; grinning ear to ear like they had detected scents of the billions BoU claims to have lost in fraud on our bodies. One introduced herself as Olga. I missed the name of the other but without a pinch of regret for she did not look worth benching even under darkness.
Jane’s high-pitched voice rented the room as she demanded to know if the military fatigue meant Mbago could operate a gun.
“We saw pictures of Museveni posing in target positions, did he hit the bull’s eye or do those SFC boys first shoot the target and then when he misses, they bring the board and show the hole from days past to claim the big man had hit home?” Jane asked. Mbago shifted uncomfortably.
“And what of you, how come you’re not in the uniform?” the girl whose name I did not regret missing, asked. Why was she hitting on me? I ignored her. Jane could not. She trilled like faulty ATM whirring money, saying I call myself a strategist. Jane’s voice, I pity the midwives who will attend to Jane when she goes into labour one day.
“So why do MPs have to wear those army uniforms?” Olga probed. “It’s not funny, I remember this image of a minister looking like she was in a tent because they gave her garment worth of three sumo wrestlers.”
Mbago certainly did not have an answer. I’m not sure any of his fellow NRM legislators; they were all too taken up by the camaraderie of donning the uniforms that one self-obsessed MP even forgot his makeup.
“The uniforms… er… we became cadres serving the ruling government and the big man must want it that way. He likes his own uniform, you know,” Mbago said. “Anyway, does it matter?”
Agnes said she had seen pictures of Rwandan leaders going for retreat but that none of them was made to wear military uniform.
“In Rwanda, they wear their sweatpants and go jogging. The retreat that side is national, not about the ruling party and its military drills,” she said.
“Sir, Museveni is not here so speak up your mind,” added Olga. “Museveni sees everything with the muzzle of his AK47 rifle. By the way, besides flaunting sycophancy, what constructive things take place at the retreat? Surely, proposing extension of presidential term and scrapping of age limit from the Constitution can’t be considered in the people’s interest, eh?” She was brittle like beard stubs.
Mbago explained that they had many lectures on role of leaders in socio-economic transformation, party manifesto and constitution.
“Most of us novices were eager to be noticed, but there was no chance. The guys who have been there all this time were even pushier to please the President,” he said. “Nairo, you know the story.”
I took it up, regaling the girls on how Judith Babirye crooned like she had been paid more than Bebe Cool to entertain the cadres.
“Most of the new MPs were dying to know how they will roll in Parliament. Whispers were everywhere on how they will debate, how coat to tag for prominence and who to appease to get more foreign travels and its resultant allowances. I couldn’t attend some of things but their debates were mostly high school material,” I said.
My boss agreed with everything, but declared himself an exception, saying: “If I had become an MP much earlier, my abilities would have shot beyond the President’s ears. Those MPs were just poor, just there to praise their superiors.”
Jane asked if Mbago had rubbed shoulders with the President.
I expected him to lie by painting an image of him engaged in a tête-à-tête with Museveni, but he shocked me with his admission.
“It’s easier to make some veteran TV presenter regain her virginity than get closer to the President nowadays,” he said.
Looking back, we attacked the food like refugees on a rare ration. The size of the canteen in Kyankwanzi is proof that the NRM knows the power of food.
I had enough Splash to float a boat. And while running an errand to Oliver Zizinga dormitory, I found some new legislators complaining about being decked on beds like schoolchildren. The new MPs had thought they would be in single rooms, but the rickety double-decker beds took them by surprise.
“Is the report in the paper that Museveni walked 3.5km during the ritual of crossing River Mayanja with ease as your lot panted away true or some Animal Farm propagandists at State House just thought writing that out would appease their old man?” Agnes asked.
“Most MPs were nursing arthritis and bloating from the food and Splash binge, they could hardly keep pace with the big man,” I said. The lies must have been more pronounced on my face than Arsene Wenger’s wrinkles.
Giggling, Olga said the food was a political weapon to bloat the MPs ahead of the trek.
“But how come grown up men are just walked around like dogs on a leash without asking pertinent questions such as on current human rights situation in the country?” Olga asked.
When Mbago found his words, he said only a fool quarrels with a crocodile when their legs are still in the water.
“When there is storm, smart trees bend to avoid damage. Stubborn ones, you find them blocking the road… felled. We might prostrate now but that is only because the dead can’t cause the change you people desire,” Mbago said.
And then Olga, lithe like a rubber-band, stretched and asked why Mbago had not taken the same boat with a certain overweight MP during the River Mayanja crossing ritual. The room fell silent. “You feared the boat would capsize, huh?” she said.
That was harsh. You don’t ask a man with acute case of diarrhoea to attempt to break wind.