You should worry when self-styled pastors like Kabs join political fray

Thursday July 18 2019


By Daniel K Kalinaki

Not too long ago, I ran into Joseph Kabuleta at a shopping mall in Kampala. I had not seen him in many years and while the passing of time was sprinkled in light grey in his hair, he had lost none of his convictions.
We spoke briefly, him about the correctness of the arguments he routinely makes on social media, me probably some poor joke about his newfound taste for leather. We don’t always agree and on a few occasions he has been completely wrong, but that’s par for the course with opinions. As we parted ways, I remember turning back and asking him, this time with seriousness, to take care of himself.
The words that came out of my mouth surprised me, and I thought about them as I drove home later. Usually I am on the receiving end of such advice, but here I was, doling it out. The conversation did not return to me until word filtered out at the weekend that Kabuleta had been kidnapped from a restaurant. Later, the police said they were holding him on suspicion of abusing and or annoying the person of the president.
The most important thing to focus on in this whole affair is the law that makes it a criminal offence to annoy or offend the president. But we shall deal with that more substantively in the coming weeks. The more interesting things are the sideshows, and why we should be ‘happy’ that Kabs was picked up – assuming, of course, that he returns with his head, his wits and his cajones. It is not clear which of Kabuleta’s rants got under the increasingly thin skins of the powers that be – although one would be spoilt for choice were they to rummage through the wastebasket where his pen has slain and stained, undressed and upset, exposed and eviscerated at will.
It is also not clear why Kabs was hanging out and around on a Friday after a particularly stinting rant. Back in the day, editors who’d run particularly strong stories went underground on Fridays, emerging only after the courts had closed, and even then with copies of their bona fides and preemptory bail applications at hand. Kabuleta has clearly been out of the newsroom for a long time.
It is also ironic that he was arrested and detained over the weekend – no doubt to teach him a lesson – soon after a new law was passed to uphold human rights. This, too, we shall return to, very soon.
What was more interesting, though, was the police statement acknowledging responsibility for his disappearance, in which they described him as a ‘self-styled pastor’. In a country teeming with ‘pastors’, ‘bishops’, and ‘apostles’ of dubious provenance and credibility, the point here wasn’t that Kabuleta is passing himself off as a religious leader whereas he isn’t; it was that a self-styled pastor, such as himself, had no business weighing in on political arguments of the day.
You only need to step back to see why this is just the tip of the iceberg. For many years, journalists and editors at Daily Monitor got into so much trouble with the government, it wasn’t uncommon for well-meaning folks to take us aside and ask whether the problem wasn’t with the newspaper itself. Then journalists from other media houses started having run-ins with the same government until one day my friend Barbara Kaija, a wonderful, salt-of-the-earth journalist and boss at Vision Group, found herself assisting the police in their investigations, or trying to find her abducted journalist. By then it was clear that it wasn’t “those Monitor” people, or their “UPC-supporting” editors that had a problem but that maybe, just maybe, something was really going right.
From Stella Nyanzi to Bobi Wine to Andrew Karamagi to Joseph Kabuleta to god-knows-who-else, criticism of the government and its corruption, sectarianism and incompetence is increasingly coming from unusual suspects. This is no doubt uncomfortable for the government, but it is a good thing for Uganda.
For a long time, critics were pigeon-holed as being jealous, lazy, agents of past regimes, or fifth columnists representing foreign interests. But as more and more people, from diverse backgrounds and constituencies come out to speak out against what they dislike about the way the country is being run, it becomes harder and harder to keep ‘othering’ them.
If I was in government or the police, I would be very worried about pastors, whether qualified or self-styled, speaking out about bad governance, ditto musicians, doctors and academics. Politicians are relatively easy to contain in a functional dictatorship; it is the loudmouths like Kabuleta that are much harder to deal with, and more of them are rising to their feet every day.

Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s
freedom fighter.
Twitter: @Kalinaki.