Keep calm Tumukunde, President Museveni has taken back his needle

Tuesday March 17 2020


By Nicholas Sengoba

It is very intriguing the way we generally perceive power, especially as exhibited by those who hold high office in Uganda today.

An image of former Minister for Security, Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde, humbly sitting in a chair with his hands cuffed like a highly respectable common criminal, spoke thousands of words.

Gen Tumukunde, like many of his counterparts, landed on Uganda’s high table way back in 1986 as highly revered liberators. Theirs was a mission to fundamentally change this country. The privileged lot, to which Tumukunde belonged, led by President Museveni, had conspired in the tall grasses of Luweero for five years.

Their effort paid off when they succeeded in kicking out an established regime together with its offshoots that presumably had corrupt election thieves, murderers, obscurantists, and backward elements that they dumped on the political garbage heap of history.

Tumukunde now begs to differ. He wants to have the opportunity to make the fundamental change happen. He has not said we have been wasting time all along running down the garden path. He simply wants us to get onto the right path.

Before Tumukunde’s latest fallout with Museveni (that is what his announcement to vie for the presidency means), he had held several posts in government, which earned him the moniker ‘powerful’ that came before his name. So he was not just Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde. He became ‘the powerful’ Minster for Security Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde or before that ‘the powerful’ Chief of Military Intelligence, etc.


Uganda’s post-independence history has been characterised by multitudes of men and women who are thrust into high office by circumstances like wars and coups.

Overnight, someone becomes superhuman not for discovering the vaccine for the coronanirus, but because of the office to which they have been appointed at someone’s pleasure. They are then literally worshiped and held in high esteem. They will have an escort vehicle complete with overenthusiastic guards to help them beat the traffic jam.
Influence becomes their middle-name as no one wants to rub them the wrong way. A mere phone call, chit or wink may get their relative, friend or sycophant a job or whatever favour they need.

These individuals have the power to deploy the instruments of coercion in order to overturn a court order or take over a piece of land that they desire citing the fact that they fought while the rest hid under their beds, etc.

It is invaluable to have one such powerful individuals in your circle or know someone who knows someone who knows them. Merely dropping their name may save you from being arrested or prosecuted. What many of us never observe is that the power that these men and women wield is borrowed from the appointing authority.

In 2016, you had former prime minister Amama Mbabazi attempting to dislodge Museveni from the NRM party leadership and the presidency of Uganda. He came posturing on a wave of superficial hype. He was a super minister, the software that run NRM’s hardware. He was the architect of the superstructure on which the NRM was successfully built.

He had mapped out a network that coordinated NRMs support base that he had the capacity to remotely switch on an off.

The day Museveni dropped him from all offices he held is the day all this hype went up in smoke and the whole phenomenon of Mbabazi the super powerful politician run out of fashion.

Before one could say hand sanitiser, Mbabazi’s admirers, followers, sycophants, beneficiaries and benefactors had dropped him like a bitter hot potato.

Arms of State and government agencies whose knees hitherto would bow at his name were now ready to apply the necessary laws and regulations against him and his operations to ensure compliance like the rest of us. He was left to his own devices.
Those who are wondering what will happen to Tumukunde need not scratch their heads too much. He will follow in the same footsteps as Mbabazi because both were made by the same factor that has remained constant and that is Museveni.

As Museveni in present day Uganda is the giver, he is also the taker. Whatever Tumukunde is up to in his bid for the presidency, Museveni will have a say on the outcome.
As Tumukunde cools and ponders his next move, he should listen to the lyrics of the 1981 Lingala song Le tailleur (the tailor), sang by the late François Luambo Makiadi Lokanga Djo Péné, popularly known as Franco, with his Orchestre T.P.O.K. Jazz.
In 1981 when Franco was harassed by the then premier of then Zaire, Jean Nguza Karli Bond, he waited for the day president Mobutu dropped Bond then got back to him with this song.

In Le tailleur Franco mocked Bond by asking him how he was going to continue ‘sewing’ now that the owner of the needle had taken back his needle.
It happened to Mbabazi whom Tumukunde, under Museveni’s influence; campaigned against in 2016. That piece of history is kindly telling us about Tumukunde’s political future in the framework of the Museveni-led NRM apparatus.
The needle always goes back to its owner.

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues.