These were the two lead story on Daily Monitor’s website on June 17:
“Security operatives dump Bobi Wine’s promoter at police”. The story said promoter Andy John Mukasa, and events organiser for thorn-in-Museveni’s-side MP Robert Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine) was “dumped” at Special Investigations Division (SID) headquarters on charges of incitement to violence, after he was hauled off Saturday kicking and screaming from a city bar.
Mukasa and others were holding a press conference.
Security personnel arrested Mukasa after he allegedly posted a video on social media saying they have a plan to remove President Yoweri Museveni from power before 2021.
The next story was “King Mumbere goes to Kasese to mourn his mother”. It said Rwenzururu King Charles Wesley Mumbere was expected in Kasese to mourn his mother.
“King Mumbere is returning home for the first time following his arrest in November 2016 when UPDF soldiers raided his Buhikira Royal Palace in Kasese Town, leaving over 100 people dead.
“The king and more than 200 of his subjects were charged with several counts of treason, terrorism, murder and robbery among others,” we read.
“Court barred him from travelling to his kingdom as one of the bail terms.”
Beside the endless stories of corruption, it is hard to read Ugandan news for three days without encountering some Opposition figure or regime critic being arrested, beaten, or chased off some station by security officers. You have to admire regimes that do not tire of repressing and torturing critics and annoying citizens decade after decade. However, it stinks the political air.
For example, last Thursday, like all other East African countries (except South Sudan), Uganda presented its 2019/20 Budget. President Museveni got to do the navel-gazing and admire his image in the mirror that has become customary at Budget presentation.
He might sometimes oversell the success of his long-rule, but it would be disingenuous to argue, as many did, that his regime has “done nothing”, or that the NRM government’s record is worse than Idi Amin’s or Milton Obote II’s (although, in relative terms, it is probably below Obote I).
People reject Museveni’s achievements because of the predations of his rule, and the gratuitous bouts of violence – like what was done to Bobi Wine’s man Mukasa, or the humiliation of King Mumbere.
Mukasa can be questioned, but surely it is possible to summon him in a civil manner to SID on a Monday. Mumbere might have questions to answer over possible involvement in violence in Kasese, but why drag him off half-naked as they did then, and then all but cage him for three years away from his realm? Why not let him live in his kingdom, and make him wear a monitor? To some, the most vexing issue is not that the Museveni regime is repressive, but how crudely it does it without any class.
Ironically, the lesson in what is wrong here was given by Museveni himself about seven years ago, when he was railing against donors wanting to impose degrading conditions on his government because they are giving it aid.
A hungry person needs food, yes, but that does not mean that you should make him eat it in a latrine, he said. Powerful stuff, and jarring.
The infrastructure, the booming sections of the economy are important and significant, but most people will reject them if they have to take them in from Museveni’s political latrine.
The tragic thing is that if there ever was a Ugandan leader who didn’t need to rule like a relapsed tinpot dictator, it is Museveni.
With all the horrid things that have happened in the last 33 years, he still took this country away from the mouth of the grave, and between 1988 and 2001, oversaw one of the most dramatic post-war economic turnarounds on this continent. If you are not someone who wants to post controversial tweets, do independent journalism, or aren’t exercising your democratic right to challenge the NRM and Museveni, this is relatively a good country to live in.
Museveni could have, and probably – with the intervention of a miracle – still can use the achievements of his rule to build a shield around him. All he needs is to package them, and project them in credible ways. How his regime conducts itself will make it easy – or hard – to swallow.
He can still be a Teflon president of sorts, by bringing a gentle hand to his rule, locking his dogs up, and ending the senseless and primitive brutalisation of people who are not his political fans. On most days, he seems like someone who walks around with a sword in his belt waiting to slay anything with Opposition written on it.
Surely, after 33 years, even the most vengeful and meanest spirit mellows.
Mr Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africa data.visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site. Roguechiefs.com. Twitter@cobbo3.