Of Parkinson’s law of triviality and Museveni’s Tom, Jerry politics

Sunday January 20 2019

Norbert Mao

Norbert Mao 

By Norbert Mao

Museveni once said, “I’ll not kill the Opposition, the Opposition will kill itself by what they do and what they do not do.” This is not a new stance. Museveni has long defined his Movement paradoxically as an anti-organisation group. He launched a blitzkrieg against political parties, accusing them of being based on religious and ethnic sectarianism.
It took the valiant effort of the Opposition to compel Museveni to allow multiparty politics. However, while the legal regime changed, the actions of the regime to undermine the right to organise by political parties continued unabated.

We all know that the struggle against any dictatorship requires dynamic organisation. What Museveni does is to sabotage the ability to organise by the Opposition and thus individualise any power contestation. In that way he portrays his opponents as disgruntled individuals driven by selfish ambitions.
His State-funded propaganda machinery makes sure the messages of the Opposition are distorted or misrepresented. That is the frame in which Museveni dealt with the many dissenting voices, including those of Cecilia Ogwal, Michael Kaggwa and Kizza Besigye. These prominent Opposition voices entered a vortex controlled by Museveni.

He orchestrated running battles with each of these leaders as a way of enforcing in the minds of Ugandans the fact that violence or the gun is the major arbiter of power in our country. The ballot is secondary!
The endless running battles and cat and mouse games bring to mind the comical animated film of Tom and Jerry. In that cartoon series the main characters are a cat called Tom and a mouse called Jerry. The whole plot is for Tom to catch Jerry. They chase each other and engage in battles of wit as Tom tries to subdue Jerry and Jerry tries to evade Tom.
But Tom and Jerry are really two sides of the same coin. Two fingers of the same hand. Tom needs Jerry and Jerry needs Tom. They feed off each other. It is an endless charade where the limelight is dominated by these two characters. In one bizarre episode the duo collaborated to help an abandoned baby.

In Uganda’s politics, Museveni is the Tom that always needs a Jerry to thrive. There’s a lot of violence but actually very little bloodshed. None of the two contending parties pushes the other over the threshold.
Over the years there have been many Jerrys but one Tom. Sometimes Jerry imbibes some strange concoction that makes him swell in size. In that giant form he boldly confronts and terrorises Tom and beats him to pulp. When the effect of the concoction wears out, Tom seizes the higher ground again and Jerry has to run for his life. This mock fight trivialises things. Issues of consequence are swept under the carpet. The focus is on the drama of the cat and mouse chase.

There are actually forces that can deal decisively with this behemoth but the behemoth prefers to pump up and indeed schemes to ensure that such serious contenders stay on the periphery of the arena.
It works for a gullible populace that is obsessed with drama at the expense of problem solving. This is demonstrated by Parkinson’s law of triviality which states that “people tend to spend far more time and effort focussing on something trivial that they do understand than something complicated that they don’t”.
Trivialities offer far more scope for contribution and influence. That is why, according to psychologists, people do love trivial things. The Tom and Jerry politics of Uganda is really about drama and reducing debate to brief (but inaccurate) snippets and crowding out (using media noise) the real issues.

This does not just apply to Uganda. In America the issue of keeping out Mexicans by building a border wall is a vote-winner as opposed to confronting the looming disaster of global warming euphemistically referred to as ‘climate change’.
No wonder the US government is shut down as I write. Nothing captures this better than Sayre’s law which states that: “In any dispute, the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake.”