Yoweri Museveni’s great trek down memory lane last week was about the future, not the past. His future, not that of his subjects.
The President, not one to do things fwaaa, was sending a barely veiled message to those with illusions of taking power from him, that after fighting to capture power, he will not vacate the throne except on his terms and timing.
The great trek was really a great threat against those who may have harboured strange ideas about freedom, people power, people’s government, agende, or free and fair elections. It was no surprise that in the very week that Museveni, decked in military fatigues, reminded the world how he had skinned his animal in the 1980s, Robert Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine), was manhandled by the president’s enforcers the moment he attempted to exercise his right to interact with potential voters.
This was only a test-dose. We expect things to get really hot when Kyagulanyi, the leader of the People Power movement, threatens the peace of our ruler by pulling large crowds to his rallies.
The pretence that the rebellion by the National Resistance Army was about restoration of democracy, fighting corruption, protection of human rights and so on, was really part of a grand deception that is no longer necessary.
The President is no longer afraid to reveal to all with eyes to see and ears to hear that his agenda was to capture the state, establish his rule and preside over his realm as long as his army and health allowed him to enjoy his childhood dream.
The Great Trek was a clear message: there is no vacancy at State House. People like Kyagulanyi, born during Museveni’s residence in the jungles of Luweero, must be relieved of all illusions in a manner that leaves no room for misinterpretation. We fought for the throne. We shall stay in power the way the ancient kings in Africa’s great lakes region did.
We shall, of course, go through the usual motions and noise about 2021, just to satisfy the internal and external dreamers who need to believe that Uganda is a democratizing country. But the results were announced by the Great Trek.
I must confess that I am a great admirer of Museveni’s clarity of purpose. He was always clear in his views about the whys and hows of capturing the state with the use of arms and establishment of suzerainty over his realm along the lines of his favourite Rwandan warrior kings. That he did this is not in dispute. That he used numerous people to achieve his objective is a historical fact. That many of those on whose backs he climbed came to regret their failure to detect the deception is a mark of Museveni’s brilliance, with plenty of evidence to affirm this truth.
Even the sight of impoverished elderly subjects kneeling before Museveni as he surveyed the nucleus of his kingdom was a reassuring spectacle for a man whose agenda was, and remains, to beat his subjects into complete submission. The small handouts to these folks who supported the war and, perhaps, lost loved ones, were tiny morsels compared to the bribes and other patronage offerings that have been enjoyed over the years by, among others, the very people whom Museveni fought against from his base in Luweero. These poor people of Luweero are needed to vote in the sham elections. Their former tormentors are needed to prop up a predatory regime, in exchange for big cash and other opportunities.
My hope now is to persuade Gen Museveni to undertake another trek, this time unchoreographed and unannounced, through places that his handlers have spared him for years. He should start with the regular wards and clinics at Mulago Hospital and other public hospitals throughout the country.
It will not be a pleasant sight, I know, but Museveni has enough guts to handle the vacant stares of the sick and dying; the wailing of distraught mothers of children facing preventable deaths; the demoralised stares of health care workers struggling to serve in substandard facilities.
To be sure, I will invite him to a great trek through my native Kigyezi, where I just spent the better part of a month exploring the place. It will be a worthwhile journey of discovery.
Now, Museveni has done many good things in his long reign. The doubting Thomases are welcome to drive along the beautiful highways that dot his favoured parts of the country. Ankole region, home of my in-laws, is a good example of what the president can do when he favours an area. First class all-weather roads have positively transformed Ankole, even in areas that had been stuck in early twentieth century mode.
On the other hand, a presidential trek on foot through my home area in Kigyezi may help him understand why people chuckle each time he declares the imminence of Uganda’s middle-income status. This trek should be unhurried and unchoreographed by local MPs and other politicians who are always more eager to declare their loyalty to the ruler than to tell him the truth about their people’s plight.
A walk from Muhanga Municipality to Mparo, the headquarters of Rukiga District, will reveal poverty and scandalous evidence of developmental regression. The rough, potholed and untarmacked road, along with sad-looking, idle and redundant subjects in the small hamlets along the route, will make an impression even on the most hard-hearted of men.
It will not matter which route he takes in his exploration of Rukiga District. Except for the 11 km of tarmac on the old highway to Kabaare town and Rwanda, the president will be shocked by the effects of his obvious neglect of this and other parts of Kigyezi.
These, of course, will not be unique examples of what is really a widespread phenomenon all over the region, and other parts of the country. Sadly, the long-suffering subjects will kneel before their ruler, with arms stretched, grateful to receive morsels, in exchange for votes that are needed to affirm a predetermined result.