Recordings of land wrangle gone bad have gone viral on social media. In the first episode, a tycoon or property mogul as Godfrey Kirumira is known, is on the receiving end. He is miffed that his neighbour in attempting to widen an access road to his property, is encroaching on his (Kirumira’s) land and destroying part of his wall fence.
Kirumira’s neighbour is allegedly taking advantage of his ‘ethnic connections’ to out muscle him using a senior UPDF officer, Lt Gen Charles Angina. In an attempt to defend his land, Kirumira borrows from the provinces and goes native raising his voice and hurling rocks. Unfortunately in this situation, his physical muscle is not as abundant as his financial muscle. He gets a beating, is rolled in the mud and loses his footing or shoes to be exact.
In the next episode, Kirumira ups his game. He appears with another very senior UPDF officer Gen Elly Tumwine in tow. Gen Tumwine is the man reputed for having shot the first bullet that started the five-year Bush War way back in 1981. He lost an eye in that campaign.
Gen Tumwine, who is the current Minister for Security, is captured at the scene of the wrangle dressing down Lt Gen Angina warning him about misusing “our forces” to settle personal matters outside of the laws. As Lt Gen Angina responds in a whimper “Yes sir” to each subsequent reprimand, Kirumira joyfully interjects in the background like a bullied child, whose big brother has come in to confront his hitherto invincible tormentor.
These pictures tell a story much bigger than the characters involved or the little feet or land that the parties are tussling over. It says something about what might happen to the ruling NRM in the future. The NRM that landed in Kampala in 1986, full of revolutionary fervour, waving the little book called the NRM 10-Point Programme, is not the NRM of today. Back in 1986, the promise of a nationalistic agenda that fitted into the national motto ‘For God and My Country’ was so believable that one would be lynched for doubting it. But time has taught us that the personal interest is so strong to be resisted by human beings with unlimited power. Now almost everyone is taking care of themselves as a matter of priority.
This story starts at the point when it became noticeable that the NRM was not exactly limited to merely creating a land flourishing with milk and honey for all to indulge. It was about dominance and perpetuation of itself and those who rubbed it the right way. The Constitution was changed to suit a prolonged stay in office for the NRM. Those accused of corruption were either promoted or let off with a slap on the wrist. Those who spoke out against these things were punished, etc.
So the unabated grabbing here and there of whatever tangible national resource went into full throttle as if Uganda was about to disappear. The story of privatisation gives a detailed coverage of this point. Then came the phase of perfecting the art of the deal. Here powerful individuals started positioning themselves to take a cut on huge procurement deals mainly supplying the government. When that was streamlined with the coming of the Public Procurement and Disposal Authority (PPDA), the smart people in the room started hiding behind foreign investors. They simply source for an investor to come up with a huge project of say a dam or a road at an inflated cost. Pull all the strings to have the investor awarded the project and then get their cut and move on.
To manage all this, known government systems and institutions had to fall giving way to the birth and growth of powerful individuals. These people are commonly known as ‘above.’ Their orders put the fear of God in all those who receive them. They are more powerful and effective than the courts of law and act as the law itself. They can get one almost anything from employment to procurement to protection and to promotion, you name it.
Now the trouble with this sort of patronage system is that as resources and other avenues through which middlemen and dealers can get contracts to supply the government shrink, competition intensifies and becomes ugly. The most powerful of the powerful wins. Victory goes to the one who has the most entitled god father. In the case of Kirumira and his adversary, the former made a better choice and has an advantage as of now. Groups and cliques with power for hire are emerging and people in need will flock to them. Overtime, these competing forces for especially pecuniary interests will clash.
The chief executive, who is reputed for having a finger in almost every pie, will be preoccupied with settling these sorts of disputes where ‘his people’ fight and each of them desire that he takes their side.
Whatever patronage he gains by siding with one party will be a loss for him in terms of loyalty in a contending camp. Already, there are many instances where government ‘secrets’ are leaked by aggrieved parties in corruption deals not because they think it is bad, but they feel they did not benefit. So they expose it to embarrass the government.
The rise of people with immense power and the competition among them is likely to be the Achilles heel of the NRM.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. firstname.lastname@example.org.