Ernest Mbago walked into this washroom of a flea-bitten restaurant whose peculiar name always baffled me. This was our favourite joint, a place we dropped in to break boredom among jobless ‘youth’ with graying matter of what was left on their bald heads. Until February 18, Mbago was just like ‘them’—bald, graying but with only part-time jobs at below-UPE-standard schools.
“Ah-huh! I’m no longer a mere Mbago. I’m honourable Mbago, Member of Parliament for Nabirama constituency,” he mused as he sized himself in the broken mirror that had bigger dark spots than the image of the person standing in front of it. “Honourable,” he added for emphasis, chortled and adjusted his neck tie.
Until February 18, Mbago and I had nothing to call a job. We taught at several schools around Busoga for hand-to-mouth pay, pay that often took longer to materialise than nimbus clouds ‘cried’ in a desert.
We had seen it all, until that day in May last year when we met an MP whose nephew had flunked exams at this Iganga varsity campus.
He wanted his son’s marks raised to enable the serial ‘retaker’ graduate. Mbago had been unmoved like a starched military uniform. He wanted his marking ink ‘oiled’ by the MP. That was his weakness: always looking at immediate gain—his stomach and loins.
Tips on how to win
I had stepped in back then and whispered to Mbago that if he helped such a VIP, the reward could return later. We walked away with just business cards exchanged. Back home, I had done what got me my ‘aide-de-camp’ job: suggested we approach the MP for tips on how to win the Nabirama District chair. The MP was warm. He boasted about how he meets the president regularly and would be appointed into Cabinet soon.
“Your district is new, it’s no bigger than a typical kraal in Mbarara. You should look at the bigger picture; become an MP for Nabirama,” the MP had said. “Parliament is the bridge to wealth. Whether you spend more time in lodges or hiding from loan sharks than attending the plenary…or even chewing gum to fight sleep, and causing global warming, you will earn big. That is our Parliament.”
We had listened like zombies as the MP lectured us on how to win elections without winning if we boarded the ruling party bus. “Target the poorest lot in the remotest areas. Let them eat for a night and get so constipated they thank their ancestors in your name,” the MP had said.
And now Mbago had arrived. I had feared that he would invoke the saying that victory is for kings, not the soldiers to forget my contribution, but he has stayed true to himself. Fact is, he is very slow up there and needs my sobering every now and then on many issues to keep at least a step behind the average brainy.
“You know, Nairo, we won’t need schoolgirls for ‘salary top-up’ anymore,” Mbago now joked by the tired mirror. I liked the use of ‘we’. I’d be worried if he used the selfish ‘I’.
“Chief, you’re putting pleasure ahead of pressing issues?” I said. “There are people who will claim that they taught you how to smile for voters, the self-defined strategists. And then there are those who did the rigging and security guys who covered up for you.”
But Mbago was not listening. He said it was my job description as his ADC and adviser to do the tidying up. Once in a while, he gets it right, after all.
“But there are things you must do personally, like meeting the losers who have challenged your declaration; meet the big shots behind them, let them eat. African men don’t talk with food in the mouth, they only smile at the cook,” I said.
“Promise to lobby for them top posts in the district, they will rub their palm gleefully and thereafter sit with their hands between their thighs until 2021.”
Mbago was still nervous because two boxes with ballots pre-ticked in his favour had been found in the graveyard where he had engaged in some sacrifice. God knows how many times I have reassured him policemen had already taken care of everything with my blessing.
Mbago, like many politicians, had run much of his campaign on account of loan sharks. He knew they would have metal fabricators make them artificial knuckles for banging at his door.