Be careful. Viruses can have a good name

Sunday May 17 2020


By Alan Tacca

Perhaps for dramatic effect, some people peddle the picture that life under Gen Museveni’s NRM authoritarianism is worse than that under Milton Obote’s UPC dictatorship before 1986. Don’t buy.

The UPC machine delivered a kind of sustained pain. The NRM delivers punctuated pain. The result is that in any year under Obote, if, say, we considered extra-judicial killings, UPC returned more corpses per capita than the NRM generally returns.
However, outrageous as its human rights record was, not to mention its fraudulent 1980 election victory, the UPC government was the established ruling entity.

I bring this up, because in his monologues on Covid-19, where President Museveni renders the fight against the coronavirus in militaristic analogies, he appears to invert the relationship between his NRA and Obote’s UNLA during the Bush War. He gives the impression that it was the NRA that was legitimate.
This needs correction.

I have no problem with the NRA claiming a higher moral ground and a popular revolutionary cause, but the UNLA was the established national army. Mr Museveni’s National Resistance Army was a rebel outfit. It was the aggressive irritant; the ‘virus’.

The distinction is important, because Gen Museveni romanticises that conflict, and is clearly inviting us to see him as its supreme hero.

We would be insane if we supported his treasonous war – or indeed any war – if it was just for the pleasure of watching violence.


His heroism is only valid in the context of the higher moral stance of the NRA rebellion.
In this ethico-historical frame, the heart of the UPC regime was evil. The NRA, or the ‘virus’, was good.
President Museveni must, therefore, tread carefully, so that his own metaphor does not haunt him. After all, a virus can be ‘good’.

Two months is a short time in a guerrilla war like he led in the Luweero Triangle. Two months is a long time in politics. The unreserved support the President received from the population in March when he first announced our creeping lockdown is beginning to show cracks.

Where at first everybody tuned in to listen to the President to get a prized plan for the way forward, many citizens now tune in to note his mistakes.

The boring storytelling before delivering the essential messages…The imprecision of the messages… The doting on his biological grandchildren when other grandparents are watching their own face starvation… The recital of cash and food donations when his political ‘grandchildren’ remain underfed, penniless, and sometimes get whipped… Even shot… Ugandans take stock of these things. And they count the corpses.

The problem for Gen Museveni is that the institutions that evolved from his Bush War outfit, or were invented after, are now the legitimate and established authority. What he did not dismantle, he has overhauled and branded as NRM things.

The irritants – the ‘viruses’ – are (or were) out there: Peter Otai (RIP), Alice Lakwena (RIP), Joseph Kony (exiled), ADF rebels (in disarray), Kayunga and Kasese monarchists (many RIP), any Opposition politician who commands a large following (on treason charges). And, of course, the coronavirus.

Whether Covid-19 goes or stays, the lockdown will gradually disappear, and Gen Museveni will have to handle its many residual effects.

More clearly than at any time since 1986, institutionalised corruption and inequality will stand out as human rights issues; as direct threats to the very survival of millions of citizens.

No sane Ugandan wishes the coronavirus well. But other enemies of the NRM have their supporters.

On the ‘battlefield’, Gen Museveni commands his lieutenants; the good, the bad, and the vampires; delivering that special NRM brand of punctuated pain. Will his establishment lie low, listening carefully to the movements of the enemy? Or will it swagger like Obote’s until the people’s ‘viruses’ – who now claim a higher moral ground – force it to crumble?

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.