Museveni’s press-ups, Covid-19 politics, and quest for 40 years

Wednesday August 12 2020

I still don’t believe I got involved in it, but a few days ago, I got into an argument about President Yoweri Museveni’s latest installation of his office exercise and press-ups.

I can barely make more than 10 press-ups to save my life, so when a Museveni pulls off 30 or 40 at his age, I take my hat off to him.

But, apparently, the press-up purists think after the novelty of his April offerings that made global headlines, he shouldn’t have come back for a second bite. That is because, as my friend who knows a thing or two about extreme exercises said, the President is doing them wrong.

Apparently, there is a lot of technique and a “correct” way to do a press-up. Elbows are supposed to be 45 degrees to the body; you are supposed to start with your T-shirt kissing the ground and elbow rising slightly higher than your back at that point; and all that. One of the biggest sins is having what they elegantly call a “lower back arch”, with your rear pointing up in V shape.

As my fussy friend said, “your President is doing an ‘ass up’ not a press-up”.
I should have been smarter and let the matter pass, but I pressed the issue. “Surely, does it matter if he points his butt higher than he should, it is still a tough exercise”, I said.

“If the goal is for exercise, then he is not really working the biceps that way, so why is he doing it?, he asked.
“Well, he still gets something, even if it’s not 100 per cent”, I said.


“Ah, you see the problem there? We really do that across many things in Africa in the way we run our affairs. We eat half the money for projects, and don’t go the full extent of the quality and quantity we could get”, he came back.
“The way your man is doing press-ups is symptomatic of the problem.”

I should have seen that coming, so I pivoted to what I thought were firmer grounds.
“The first time he did in April, there was a broader point that some found persuasive. The country was about a month into Covid-19 lockdown; people were catching cabin fever and starting to break out to exercise,” I said.
“He wanted to demonstrate that they could exercise at home.”

“You realise that for most Ugandans, the President’s office is bigger than their whole houses or even the land they own. They just don’t have the optimal space for it,” he said, adding “even if we accept it, his second installation comes at a time when the lockdown has been eased, so what is the use?”
“I see where you are going with this,” I said.

“Yes, I think he is trying to show that he is not too old to seek to rule for 40 years, because if the broader goal was to encourage mobility, why are [Opposition] Bobi Wine and Kizza Besigye’s people being beaten and restricted from moving?” he said.

If you have been in this argument and polemics business long, there are several tricks you can usually pull at this point.

First, you make the other party feel he is being mean, unfair, which is unlike him, and you guilt trip him into yielding ground.

Second, you play the devil’s advocate, and say something to which if he responds to the only logical way, he sounds foolish.

So, I said: “Interesting, it is unlike you Xavier [not his real name] to read too much into what is essentially a side issue, and to sound conspiratorial”.

“You can’t say that,” he replied, “when the man himself took it even more seriously. If for nothing else, he upped his outfit, went for a closer fit with a short sleeve T-shirt, getting rid of the baggy sweatshirt he used the first time. He also worked to increase the press-up by 10 from the first time. He is the one ratcheting his profile.”

“It is politics, he seems to have hit it with the first one; any politician wouldn’t leave points lying on the table, and pass up doing an encore”, I said. “The cost to him is very low”, I said.

“That might well be the case,” he said, “but I think the more important issue is that Kaguta is not going to ‘ass-up’ away the various crises brought by Covid-19.

He needs to be imaginative about a testing regime that will allow the economy to fully reopen, and to devise an economic plan for recovery. If I were him, that is where I would be running to, not around on the office carpet”.
At that point, I was no longer in a position to spend my capital batting for Yoweri.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”.