It was more than a little amusing to read that three days after musician Joseph Mayanja, aka Jose Chameleone, announced that he had joined the Opposition Democratic Party, police cancelled three of his scheduled concerts in Masaka Sub-region.
It is not clear whether the police will go as far as to give Chameleone the “Bobi Wine Whackdown” or the “Kizza Besigye Hammer”. Essentially, the two are the same, the difference in name being down to the periods when they emerged, with the “Kizza Besigye Hammer” involving at one point an actual hammer, as we saw in 2011 when security operatives hammered the windows of his car, and sent him to a Nairobi Hospital to mend broken limbs and bruised body.
“The Bobi Wine Whackdown” is about 17 years younger than the “Kizza Besigye Hammer” (goes back to 2001), and coming in the social media and the age of video games, lent itself to more colourful description. But like Besigye, MP Robert Kyagulanyi (aka Bobi Wine), has also had his fair share of broken ribs, legs, bloodied eyes, and a trip to a hospital much further away in the USA to heal the damage done by our good President Yoweri Museveni’s watchful sentries.
The moves to curb Chameleone’s freedom to sing to whoever will pay to listen to him, is surprising because the Democratic Party, the oldest active party in Uganda (born in 1954), is not the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) that Besigye was president of for a long time, and its election flagbearer for the last three of four elections. In the first election Besigye was a candidate of what was essentially a dissident movement in the ruling NRM, called Reform Agenda.
These dissident and insurrection elements remain in the DNA of the FDC, and Bobi Wine’s “People Power” was birthed into that political river. Both parties reject the whole political order on which “Museveni’s Uganda” is built. The threat they present to the NRM, and the wild out of control violence with which Bobi Wine and Besigye are frequently met, partly have their roots in that fear.
The now Norbert Mao-led DP is still steeped in the traditions of from early years. Mao is different in that he its first leader who is from outside Buganda, and the first significant “multicultural” party leader in the country, in that his parentage is from far corners of the country. We shall not dwell on that today, but it affects what Kenyan political pundits call the “tribal content” of his politics.
The DP has always been a constitutionalist party, largely committed to working within the law of the land, even when that law is bad. It doesn’t have a strong rejectionist streak. Thus it is par for the course that Mao would show up at the much-panned Inter-Party Organisation for Dialogue (Ipod) and press the flesh with Museveni, while FDC and Besigye dismissed it as a charade.
After the disputed December 1980 election, which eventually took Museveni to the bush, some of the non-traditional DP elements wanted a boycott of Parliament. Leader Paul Ssemogerere and his close lieutenants eventually prevailed, and the party took up its seats as the “loyal Opposition”.
Ssemogerere and the DP probably are still getting an earful about that decision. However, the greater surprise would have been if the DP had boycotted Parliament.
Their fruitless efforts to win State House over the years and much-mocked legalism, however, have not been in vain. The unromantic, but fundamentally important, idea of the “rule of law” and equality in citizenship, are things that haven’t died in this country primarily because the DP has kept them alive. In the years to come, when a revised history is written, it will likely conclude that the reason that Uganda didn’t descend into total barbarism, is down to the DP – and of course, the Catholic and Protestant churches at different points.
Why are the softer reasons why DP is this way? Though partly born out of a sense of Catholic marginalisation, it was a party of southern and northern highbrow elite, and southern farmer gentlemen. Thus, naturally, its past leaders like Ben Kiwanuka wore bowler hats and three-piece suits.
In 1996 when Ssemogerere went against Museveni, he was almost always in suit, and if he threw off the jacket, the tie remained. Beside the Victorian manner, there has always been a lawyerly scholarliness about its leaders (Kiwanuka, Ssemogerere), and bureaucratic plonkishness too (Ssebaana Kizito). And you have to know your tenses and infinitives. Mao is the 2.0 version of Kiwanuka-Ssemogerere-Ssebaana, with a Yale veneer.
That his DP is now also a “Power People”-level threat does not speak to how it has changed. Rather it says we now also have a life and death contest over the soundtrack of Ugandan politics. Bobi Wine had owned that stage. Chameleone has crashed the party.
Mr Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africa data.visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site.