The word shame has no meaning to most of the Ugandans the ruling NRM has allowed to enjoy unaccountable power or propelled to fabulous wealth. Otherwise the NRM stalwart and controversial businessman, Mr Hassan Basajjabalaba, would have thought twice – no, three times – before using the recent graduation ceremony at his Kampala International University to thank President Museveni for sacking and ordering the arrest of former police chief Gen Kale Kayihura. (See Sunday Monitor; June 24).
Periodically, when pressure on his regime mounts, President Museveni makes a move – or a set of moves – designed to give the impression that the country’s management has been overhauled and was renewing itself. He is a master at the craft of recycling the status quo.
A less cynical regime, a regime with less contempt for public opinion, would have probably sacked Gen Kale Kayihura instead of renewing his mandate two years ago. Reinstating him was a clear signal that the security, or any other rights, and the perception of the citizens were secondary to the survival of the regime. Kayihura was the proven hand at wielding the power and commanding the impunity to work the ropes – and whips – to keep the NRM ship on its relentless course.
If he was left in office at the time so that he might get more rope to hang himself (in light of speculation that he might have had ambitions for himself beyond just being a powerful tool), then the cynicism looks double-strength; because the victims were people of flesh and blood, real people who suffered and died because Kayihura did not do the right thing when required.
That cynicism has not gone away. After another cycle, it will return to the fore, with or without Gen Kayihura.
But how did the role in which Kayihura was an actor become necessary?
The seemingly simplistic answer may be the correct one. The rulers turned to open brutality to suppress any serious opposition because of the erosion of NRM support.
There were of course many reasons for the decline, but one of them was the horrendous corruption involving high government officials, high party officials and associated business people.
Mr Hassan Basajjabalaba may selectively forget that his name used to appear in the bizarre stories of the 1990s and 2000s with the frequency of an incurable headache.
Short of a special inquest under another government, Ugandans may never know which of Mr Basajjabalaba’s deals and compensation claims were legitimate, and which were not. However, there was a time when he and his business outfits were reported to be amassing real estate and shovelling money from public sources as if from a sand quarry.
Because he was then a party official of some sort (an entrepreneurship guru or something), public perception (correct or misguided) was that his position close to those who wielded real power, and their need for money to do their shadowy political work; that these things were somehow connected to the picture of his extraordinary luck. Midas would envy his touch.
Kayihura may be perceived as one of the top security officials and party cadres whose machinations defined Uganda as a gangster society.
But Basajjabalaba may also be perceived as one of the top business and party operators whose shenanigans turned Uganda into a vampire state, making Kayihura-like figures a necessity.
With their boss, the chief executive, still around, and his needs and the party’s needs probably not gone away, a Basajjabalaba – or a Kayihura – would be wise not to dig beneath the other’s feet.