Muniini K. Mulera
Mortals in power: Here today, gone tomorrow
Posted Monday, October 14 2013 at 01:00
Most of us will be forgotten by posterity. Even the work of the most powerful rulers, once dead, will be relegated to history.
If I had my way, today’s column would consist of two classic 51-year-old black-and-white photographs without much comment. I turned to the two photographs last Wednesday as I reflected on Uganda’s formal independence on October 9, 1962.
The first is an image of Prime Minister Apolo Milton Obote receiving the symbolic instruments of power from Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, cousin of Queen Elizabeth II. A somber-looking Sir Walter Fleming Coutts, Governor of Uganda, and Lady Coutts look on, along with many other middle-aged colonial officials and guests.
The other photograph, taken in May 1962, shows a smiling Obote hoisted up by jubilant men celebrating the electoral victory of the Uganda Peoples Congress/Kabaka Yekka alliance. The men are cabinet ministers in the new government, none of them older than 50, probably certain of many happy years ahead, free men in the finest country on the continent.
Alex A. Ojera bears most of the prime minister’s weight. Felix Kenyi Onama – looks into the camera, his arms steadying the victorious prime minister. Ali Akbar Adoko Nekyon, the prime minister’s cousin, lends a brotherly hand. Behind him is Grace Ibingira, not yet 30, waving in triumph. JT. Simpson, the only European in the cabinet, grins with satisfaction.
Dr Joshua Ssejjengo Luyimbazi Zake suppresses a smile. Matthias Ngobi, arms thrust forward, appears to be dancing with joy. The Isebantu Sir William Wilberforce Bwamiki Kadhumbula Nadiope, Kyabazinga of Busoga, beams as he offers a triumphant royal wave. The only man in the photograph whose facial expression hints at ambivalence, if not outright displeasure, is Dr Emmanuel BS. Lumu, minister of health.
These photos never fail to humble me. Of the main figures in the power-transfer photo – Mr Obote, Sir Walter and Lady Coutts and the Duke of Kent - only the latter is still alive. He celebrated his 78th birthday on October 9. The vast majority of the folks seated in the picture are probably dead or in old folks’ homes in England or other British dominion, their days of conquest and invincibility long behind them.
The photograph of a triumphant Obote hoisted high by his comrades is particularly humbling because it illustrates the fickle nature of political relationships. Obote imprisoned Ibingira, Ngobi and Lumu, together with ministers George Magezi and Balaki Kirya, in 1966. They were allegedly plotting to overthrow him. Nekyon resigned from the Obote cabinet in April 1967.
Onama had an uneasy relationship with Obote, even when the latter made him one of the most powerful men in the country. According to the late Cuthbert Obwangor, Onama (and Basil Bataringaya) were behind the assassination attempt on Obote in 1969. Alex Ojera was executed by Idi Amin. Obote, overthrown twice by his soldiers, died in exile in 2005.
The only surviving persons in that celebratory photograph are Mr Ngobi and Dr Lumu, both of them ex-political prisoners now enjoying quiet retirement in Uganda. Uganda’s first parliament had 91 MPs, the vast majority of whom are dead. With the help of my Facebook friends, I have been able to identify only 11 who are alive. These are Eli Nasani Bisamunyu, Kamu Karekaho Karegyesa, AJR. Kangaho, Boniface Byanyima, Mayanja Nkangi, Dr Lumu, Sherali Bandali Jaffer, Ngobi, Sam Odaka, SK. Okurut and Nekyon. We salute them. (I will be delighted to receive additional names of survivors.)
These pioneer leaders of independent Uganda may have been gentlemen in the true sense of the word, but they engaged in political battles that kept the country on the edge of our seats. Oh how people fought and abused one another in the name of Uganda! Oh how people hated each other! The Mutesa-Obote conflicts had supporting acts at district levels. In Kigezi we had the Banyama-Baboga wars that left deep wounds in their wake.
One understands the complexities of politics and the struggles for control that trigger epic battles between comrades. Yet one wonders whether it is worth it. We are simply transients on Earth, destined for a definite rendezvous with death in a few years. Most of us will be forgotten by posterity. Even the work of the most powerful rulers, once dead, will be relegated to history.
Their legacy, especially the negative aspects, will live on. Amin continues to shape the Ugandan character 34 years after his removal. Yet even that will eventually become a distant memory, replaced by new realities and directions.
The Prophet sums it up for us in Isaiah 26: 13-14: “Lord our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us,?but your name alone do we honour. They are now dead, they live no more; their spirits do not rise. You punished them and brought them to ruin;?you wiped out all memory of them.”
Today’s rulers, and the rest of us, should take heed. We are but passing clouds, a mere wind that blows across this Earth with little trace. Uganda will be here long after we are gone. Ours is a call to do good and take our leave.