Bebe Cool, dad Bidandi, and the untold Ugandan story

Wednesday December 5 2018


I smiled to myself when I read the story in Daily Monitor about what the paper described as “former Local Government minister and former President Museveni’s confidant” Jaberi Bidandi Sali, saying he had no problem with his son, musician Bebe Cool, supporting Museveni, a man he has since fallen out with politically.

I was tickled that anyone would ask Bidandi (affectionately known to some of us simply as “BS” or “Mr”) that question at all. Being broad minded and actively nationalist is what a certain generation of politicians and businessmen did quietly for decades, and to them we owe what Uganda is today. Some of us benefitted greatly from their generosity.

Bidandi belonged to what was called the “Sapoba Trio”. Based in Katwe, Sapoba Bookshop was the publisher of the influential, and defunct Weekly Topic. It is where some us cut our journalistic teeth. Together with former prime minister Kintu Musoke, and current Second Deputy Prime Minister Kirunda Kivejinja, they were the publishers and owners of Sapoba.
In many respects, Sapoba was the birth place of the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) on whose ticket Museveni stood for presidency in the controversial election of December 1980.
But Sapoba, though associated with the left of Ugandan politics, was a longtime refuge of all progressive and “good” politicians, be they UPC, DP, or the Conservative Party.

Some of the money Sapoba made from the 60s to its closure in the late 90s, went to supporting dozens of families of all sorts of progressive politicians across the country.
After Obote II regime assumed power, and in 1981 after Museveni took to the bush, there was a crackdown on UPM politicians and supporters. Bidandi was detained without trial. Kintu Musoke went underground. Kirunda fled to exile.
Bidandi was released some years later. After Museveni became President, all the three of them were appointed into the NRM government.

One day in early 1987, Bidandi, Wafula Oguttu and I were standing above Sapoba in Katwe watching as rolls of newsprint were being off-loaded from a truck. There was a big store that was rarely open, but on this occasion, it was. I saw that there were two cars that were covered with tarpaulin inside.
I asked Bidandi about them, and the answer was a big surprise. One of the cars, he said, belonged to Akena p’Ojok. The other belonged to David Anyoti. P’Ojok had been Cooperatives minister, and Anyoti the dashing Information minister in the Obote II government. Both were considered good men, and known to work across the political divide. “They are fine people,” he said.

When they were fleeing, they turned to the two people – BS and Kintu Musoke – who had been tormented by the UPC. Kintu still walks with a limp, thanks to a bullet from the UPC days. Yet, they somehow managed not to let it turn to blinding bitterness.
They were part of a wider body of Ugandan national consciousness and friendship network, which included business people like the late James Mulwana, Ugachick’s Aga Sekalala Snr, and in fact Gordon Wavamunno, though that might come as a surprise to many, to name a few.

I first met Sekalala Snr, Mulwana, and Wavamunno, through, who else, Bidandi and Kintu Musoke, when I was a young lad.
When I was editor at The Monitor (now Daily Monitor), I used to be a popular fundraising figure because I would raise a lot of money for good causes. I would always run to people such as Wavamunno and Mulwana, and they would ask, “what is your target?” and would cut for me a cheque.

And when the times got tough in the early years of The Monitor, there was Bishop Misaeri Kauma. Bishop Kauma would come and park outside our office on Dewinton Road. A message would come, and I would hasten to his car. It never took long. He would always ask, in Luganda, “Are you okay, my son?” I would say yes, we were battling, but we were okay. He would put his hand on my head, and say; “Be strong. We will pray for you”, and drive off.
Why did these people do these things? And who exactly were they? One day, hopefully, the story will be told. I think the country will be awed.

It is a system of obligation that passed on, and people such as the late prime minister Eriya Kategaya understood it. One day, Wafula called me to his office, and he was holding a note from Kategaya. A “good comrade in the NRM” had passed on, and someone needed to look after his family. This one is yours, Kategaya, simply wrote, and enclosed were fees slips for his children and an itemisation of costs.
There was no discussion, no “ifs”. We did our duty, as the Bidandis had done before. These things come from a place far deeper than the petty political scuffles that fill our daily lives and dominate stories in the media.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africa data
visualiser and explainer site. Twitter@cobbo3