Museveni chooses guns, where yellow roses would do better

Wednesday February 26 2020



By Charles Onyango-Obbo

The Daily Monitor story on Monday said: “The death of Ritah Nabukenya, a supporter of the People Power movement, who was on Monday allegedly knocked dead in Nakawa, Kampala, has sparked controversy.

“According to the Kyadondo East Member of Parliament, Mr Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, the leader of the People Power political movement, Nabukenya was run over by a police patrol pick-up truck hours after his consultative meeting at Pope Paul Memorial hotel had been blocked…

“Police on Monday fired live bullets and teargas to disperse supporters of…Bobi Wine, in Ndeeba, Kampala, as it blocked his consultative meeting.”

There is something very old about this. It has been the fate of the Ugandan Opposition since President Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) came to power in 1986. No, mostly from 1994.

In the first eight years of NRM, there was a loose “broad-based” government, in which all parties except the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), came together in a post-war cohabitation in a “no-party” system.

In the north-east Teso Sub-region and Acholi, rebellions raged, and the ugliness and anger that had marked Ugandan politics since 1966 raged there.


The rest of the country, though, was exhausted by decades of conflict.
The Ugandan economy was ruined. Part of a whole middle class had been wiped out. In the east, south, and west, the NRM offered two things – peace and the opportunity for people to build or rebuild economic opportunities.

Thousands of Ugandans who had fled the country as political and economic exiles, flocked back. Some had been away since the 1972 military coup by Idi Amin.

Some had returned in 1979 after the fall of Amin and rise to power of the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF), but fled again in 1980 after the ouster of Godfrey Binaisa. And many – including a youthful generation, who had never left the country before – took off after the stolen election of December 1980, and the breakout of the NRA/NRM rebellion in February 1981.

From all this, there was a bargain. For peace, the possibilities to build new livelihoods, a return to the motherland, many were willing for a while to let NRM and Museveni rule as a one-party State.

That began to fall apart in the elections to the Constituent Assembly in March 1994, and all but ended in June 1995, when Paul Ssemogerere, who was leader of the Democratic Party (DP) and also Deputy Prime Minister, resigned after the new Constitution was passed, entrenching a one-party State.

The non-NRM parties’ hope that their views of how Uganda should be governed, and the riches of the land distributed, would be accommodated, was crushed.

Though the no-party thing had become untenable by 2001, a point made dramatically when Kizza Besigye first challenged Museveni in the presidential election, it took another four years before the 2005 constitution returned the country to multiparty. But it was a pyrrhic victory.

The door of the parties’ prison cells had been opened, so the prisoners could walk freely and play in the yard. But the prison gates remained closed, and they couldn’t leave. The violence against the Opposition that picked up in 1994, and rose dramatically from 1996 has only increased with every election cycle.

The question then is, when does a regime and its enforcers get tired of violence? And what happens when they do? Honestly, we don’t know – at least in the Uganda context.

But I have a sense of how long ordinary folks can take it. In the Amin years, people lost family, friends, colleagues, and neighbours. They coped with a sense of humour, and escaped into sport.

The cartoon Ekanya became a national anti-depressant, and in their small circles of trust, kept their sanity this way.

Our father and his friends were an irrepressible lot. The coolest member of their group was a tall, dark, handsome lawyer in Soroti called Gonzaga Okurut. He was the younger brother of Stanslus Okurut, late husband of minister Mary Karooro Okurut.

In those bleak times, “Uncle” Gonzaga would still even wear coattails. I think it was 1976. We were little. There was a party at home, and the old man and his friends were trading jokes and laughing away.

A messenger came home, and then a cloud fell over the party. Gonzaga had been seized and killed by Amin’s security agents. These men, who had lived through the toughest of times, and thought they had found a way to hold it together in adversity, fell apart.

Seems it takes five years for violent rule to break a people inside, but they will still carry on. In that sense, we are in 20 years of overtime, bottling in the pain of the hammer.

The tragedy of this all, is that this NRM government, doesn’t really have to carry around the whip, tear gas, and guns to rule. It would get much better results, with yellow roses.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is curator of the “Wall of Great Africans” and publisher of explainer site Twitter@cobbo3