By talking ethnicity, Anite may weaken her UTL fight

Sunday August 25 2019


By Bernard Tabaire

The mafia. The mafia. The mafia are everywhere in the NRM government but not a name to one.
So who are these faceless and nameless members of the criminal organisation operating at the heart of the government? Names, please. Or else someone needs to shut up.

Okay, maybe not so fast. It appears to me that junior Finance minister Evelyn Anite knows more than she is bold enough to let on as she fights what she calls the mafia/cabal/cartel over UTL. Apparently, Ms Anite is looking out for the national interest in seeking a decent buyer for UTL, while the shadowy side is interested in cannibalising the telecom provider, now in the hands of the government and under administration.

But if she is sworn to some secrecy, then in a sense she is not operating different from the mafia, one of whose codes is omerta (silence). Anite is talking without communicating. If she has decided to talk, she should spill everything. Then, even if the mafia were to take her out as she says they are hell-bent on doing, she would not die in vain. A real St Anite would be born.

For now there is no honour in treading the path of former vice president Gilbert Bukenya, who in 2005 was the first key official to complain about mafia in the government being after him but without providing a name for the public to hang on to and a face to hang.
The larger point, though, is that there is a fight amongst the different entrenched interests in a long-entrenched government over who has an advantage in fleecing off the State and the people of Uganda. The struggle is intensifying. And it will intensify further as President Museveni, leader of the system, weakens with age.

Ms Anite — having knelt in public to beg Mr Museveni to run as the sole NRM candidate in the 2016 elections and then following through after that election by threatening opponents of the life-presidency with a military crackdown — believes the President is with her. The cabal she lashes out against, meanwhile, has presumably been around long enough and takes the support, or wink, of the President for granted.
Ms Anite may be on to something, but she is a discredited messenger in some public circles. What with that Kyankwanzi grovelling and that sophomoric majje (army) threat!

Regardless, the mafia struck back through a whistle-blower suggesting that Kneeling Anite “chewed” a bribe from a Mauritian company interested in UTL. True or false, we are at a point where mud shall be flung back and forth. It could get ugly, even deadly, mafia-style.
One other element in this serious food-fight stands out. Thanks to Anite. This is what she told the New Vision in a story published on Wednesday, clarifying an earlier statement to the media: “What I said was that I am hearing sectarian talk. There are people who have become very sectarian, saying that I am a worker in the government and that the government belongs to the Banyankole. I said that my President is against that sectarian talk.”


To break down Ms Anite’s loaded statement requires a thesis on textual analysis and more. Anyhow, Anite is outright accusing her opponents of seeking to cannibalise UTL because they are Banyankole and ultimately because President Museveni is a Munyankole. In other words, they are stealing from UTL, or plan on stealing from UTL, because they are protected by virtue of their ethnicity and the ethnicity of the President.
Ms Anite is too smart or too cowardly or both to say it as it is. So she hides behind, “I am hearing sectarian talk…” She is the one advancing the sectarian talk, of course. Hearing? From whom? She can’t name the mafia, and now she can’t name those who are talking the sectarian talk. What are we to do?

Ms Anite accuses others of sectarianism while at the same time seeking to remain in the good graces of The Boss: “I said that my President is against that sectarian talk.” By the time she utters those words, the discerning reader suspects that the minister was also unburdening herself for whatever reason. It appears that the feeling that she does not belong because she is not a Munyankole, despite her heroic acts for The Boss, stings. The UTL thing has allowed her an opportunity to say what is in her heart. Poor woman.

Again, I believe Kneeling Anite is on to something, but she should not mix too many things together. She will lose the plot, as Ugandans say. She should instead focus on UTL and its audit and keep it clean. Whereas the discussion on the dominance of government by one ethnic group or other, perceived or real, is important, it belongs to a different moment. For now, it may not do her UTL cause any good.

Bernard Tabaire is a media trainer and commentator on public affairs based in Kampala.