President Museveni has an exceptional ability to manipulate the minds of some of Uganda’s smartest citizens. Men and women who have no trouble analysing the most complex academic subjects, seem to lose their ability to see through patent duplicity when under the president’s spell.
Gen Museveni has mastered the art of creating illusions of power and influence in order to gain personal electoral advantage. So he uses people before dumping them and replacing them with willing victims who think they will have better luck than their predecessors.
One of the saddest victims of this trickery was Mr Wilson Wamimbi of Mbale. As Mbale District LCV chairman in the early 1990s, Mr Wamimbi was a very formidable politician who threatened the political fortunes of the President and his allies in the area. The solution was to appoint him ambassador to Canada.
Politically neutered and muzzled, Wamimbi’s tour of duty in Canada was characterised by neglect, financial frustration, and great strife in the High Commission. He was basically rendered politically and diplomatically irrelevant.
Whereas he never expressed it in as many words, it was very evident that Wamimbi regretted having fallen for the deception that had pulled the rag of political power and influence from under him. He served one tour of duty, returned to Uganda in 1999 and settled for the position of resident district commissioner of Iganga. He became the Umukukha (king) of Bamasaba in 2010. One person who ought to have been familiar with Wamimbi’s experience was Dr Gilbert Bukenya, Museveni’s vice resident from May 2003 to May 2011.
Bukenya, a very bright and well-educated medical doctor, appears to have believed that the Wamimbis and others who had been used and dumped had been less valuable than he was. Once under Museveni’s spell, Bukenya became Chinua Achebe’s Enoch, the son of the snake-priest in Thing’s Fall Apart, “whose devotion to the new faith had seemed so much greater than Mr Brown’s that the villagers called him the outsider who wept louder than the bereaved.”
Serving the real purpose for which he had been appointed, Bukenya became his boss’s chief crier in Buganda, assuring his ethnic kin on May 10, 2004: “Museveni is Buganda’s best friend. I have been in meetings and you see that he listens to issues of Baganda.”
Not even the discovery that he was truly an outsider tempered Bukenya’s cries of loyalty to a president who did not reciprocate the commitment. “I support President Museveni wholly and nothing can change me from that,” Bukenya said in 2007. “Wherever I go, I talk about him in my speeches. Even if they stab me in the back and I am no longer the vice president, I will continue supporting him.”
Reiterating his unwavering loyalty, Bukenya said in July 2008: “Mr Museveni is still strong. So, why should we let him go? Let us support him. I cannot compete with Museveni. How can I turn against my mentor?”
Once Bukenya was no longer needed, and after he showed signs of interest in becoming president of Uganda, Museveni dumped him without even the courtesy of a personal phone call or meeting. The messy task was delegated to Ms Miriam Kankunda, one of the Museveni’s secretaries, who delivered the bad news via a phone call. It took a stint in Luzira Prison on charges of corruption, for Bukenya to wake up from Museveni’s spell and acknowledge what millions of his countrymen had already realised very many years earlier.
Last week, Bukenya eloquently summed up what many commentators have laboured to communicate: “This country has gone to the dogs and has become a police state.”
One hopes that Bukenya will now complete his recovery from the Museveni spell by walking away from the personalised political party that has room only for the president and praise singers.
Dr Mulera is based in Toronto, Canada. firstname.lastname@example.org