The President’s address on Sunday night made for difficult viewing. This had nothing to do with the fact that it was advertised to start at 8pm, but inexplicably started several minutes earlier.
Neither did it have anything to do with the fact that many viewers, expected an hour or so of quick and solid policy pronouncements, but got close to four hours of what, at times felt like being dragged by horses through the cobblestones of history.
In fact some of the content itself was instructive and justified: If the President wants to defend his record by the numbers so be it, even if being fed a string of repetitive statistics in a long speech would leave a few people itching to stab themselves in the eye with a rusty fork.
The difficulty of watching the speech was in form and particularly, in substance. The President was speaking after a month in which the country and his government have received worldwide negative wall-to-wall coverage.
Not only did he refuse to accept any blame, even for the anomalous actions of a few rotten apples, or call for unity, the President went on the offensive against civil society, the media and “indisciplined Opposition politicians” – in reality his political rivals – against whom he called for swift and severe punishment.
Those who break the law should, of course, not be allowed to hide behind their opposition party cards. But when there is a history of partisan law enforcement and the Executive leaning heavily on the Judiciary, it undermines the transparency and credibility of the process.
Then came the railing against external interference, which given our contemporary geo-political strategy and the history of the NRM’s rise to power is a bit rich, but a subject for future discussions. It was interesting to hear the President reject – and rightly so – foreign interference in domestic politics, then immediately ingratiate himself with Team Trump in domestic US politics.
There are at least three issues from the address likely to shape the politics going forward: One, we are going to see a nationalist or patriotic narrative in which those who question or criticise the status quo are smeared with the broad brush of being quislings or agents of foreign interests, details of the same being mostly irrelevant. The threat of a ‘Sovereignty Act’ is not to be taken lightly although exceptions might be made for Chinese loan brokers and commission agents.
Two, the battle for the hearts, minds and votes of the Bazzukulu will be fought with money and quite possibly strong-arm tactics. It will be interesting to see the age group of the reservists called up, how many are from the Reserve Army and how many from the partisan and impugned Crime Preventers. It will also be interesting to see how the promise to support Bibanja holders over landlords will play out, especially in urban and peri-urban central Uganda.
Thirdly, a lot of it will typically be done in an ad-hoc manner. In his speech, the President noted, “Uganda is not a failed State. It has powerful institutions…”.
Presumably the Police’s Criminal Investigations Department and the Inspectorate General of Government are not powerful enough, for the President proceeded to read out the personal mobile phone number of an aide to whom corruption allegations are to be reported!
In addition, urban youth job-creation initiatives will continue to be run by the State House Comptroller, not the presumably weak and incompetent ministries. (Please note that this queue is for job seekers: Parents keen to make inter-generational asset transfers should see Operation Wealth Creation).
Finally to form: The President is absolutely right about doing being more important than “looking like doing”; building a 183MW hydropower dam is more important than talking about building one of 1,000MW.
But it is equally important to understand one’s audience. If the President wanted to reach the Bazzukulu, he should be told they generally don’t do anything longer than 90 minutes (the length of a game of football), and generally hate statistics and history. If he wanted to reach the Jjajas, few of them have the constitution to put in a four-hour lecture on a Sunday night; he might have lost them an hour in, around 1989.
Most importantly, whoever the speaker and whatever the audience, talking down to parents struggling to put food on the table and kids through school or to the squeezed middle supporting their parents, themselves and their own children is generally to be avoided.
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s freedom fighter. [email protected]