At times President Museveni probably wishes the past did not exist. Then he would invent different narratives that suit him and call them ‘the past’. History becomes a product of current need; disposable fictions of the past.
In his recent conversation with the BBC, Mr Museveni described the Opposition figure, Bobi Wine, as an enemy of Uganda’s economic progress.
Reason: Bobi had urged Western powers to stop backing Museveni’s rule because it had become untenable.
Giving himself as an example of a good Opposition politician in the 1960s (he claims he was a Democratic Party member), Museveni said he had not opposed projects like construction of the Kampala-Kabale highway by Milton Obote’s Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) government.
Now, even if your very existence, your bread and soul, is totally dependent on licking the President’s boots, you would have noticed Museveni glaringly leap backwards over the 1980s.
He referred to the 1960s instead, as he often does, because his anti-Opposition reasoning cannot be reconciled with his 1971-1986 political violence, especially between 1981 and 1986; his answer to rigged elections, undemocratic rulers, unjust courts, compromised lawmakers, partisan security organisations and economic activities that give life to dictatorships; his 1981 doctrine that Uganda could only be liberated by traitors.
Let us look at Museveni of 1981-86, or ‘Sevo’, and Bobi Wine of 2018-21.
Sevo: In 1981, after losing a 1980 parliamentary contest, a 37-year-old Museveni secretly recruited hundreds of Ugandans and Rwandan refugees to fight Milton Obote’s UPC government, which had won the discredited general election. Obote treated Museveni and his fighters as bandits
Bobi: After winning the Kyadondo East parliamentary by-election in 2017, a 35-year-old Robert Kyagulanyi insinuated that he might seek the presidency during the 2021 general election. Thousands of Ugandans openly encouraged him. Museveni’s officials treated Kyagulanyi as an outlaw.
Sevo: In the early 1980s, after claiming to have started his rebellion with less than 30 guns, Museveni’s men systematically eliminated hundreds of government soldiers, policemen and (UPC) party functionaries, in the process acquiring more weapons.
Bobi: From 2018, Kyagulanyi led a campaign urging citizens to get their identity cards so that they can vote in 2021.
Sevo: Throughout the rebellion, Museveni and his rebels wore boots, camouflage clothes and military headwear that were in every respect identical with those used by Uganda’s security forces. Indeed, if a government soldier fell in desperately short escape timescales, it was not beyond NRA creativity to hastily rip off the shirt, collect the cap and chop off the lower limbs by the ankles and flee with the feet. Later, when it was safer, the NRA conqueror would bring out his booty, undo the laces and detach the boots from the dead soldier’s feet.
Bobi: In his campaign, Kyagulanyi and his supporters often don red caps, with or without ‘People Power’ badges, vaguely resembling military police caps.
Sevo: During Museveni’s five-year war, one-third of Buganda region was infested with rebels. This so-called Luweero Triangle became a place of dispossession, desolation and mass graves.
Rebels robbed the area’s cooperative society stores. Residential houses were de-roofed. Normal agriculture, trade, manufacturing and construction were impossible. The only investors were people who dealt in death, orphans and looting on an industrial scale. In short, gun barrel economic destruction.
Bobi: During Kyagulanyi’s campaign, he has challenged foreign agencies to examine Uganda’s record under NRM rule and reconsider their commitments. Rhetorical economic disruption.
The facts of Museveni’s 1981-86 armed rebellion can be denied, suppressed, doctored or glossed over, but they already exist.
The facts of Kyagulanyi’s democratic campaign before 2021 are being created.
Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.