Uganda Cranes pay dispute and the ‘Museveni generation’

Tuesday July 9 2019

Nicholas Sengoba

Nicholas Sengoba 

By Nicholas Sengoba

When the Cranes, the Uganda national senior men’s football team, put their boots and gloves down claiming they had not been paid all their dues, you could not fail to make an interesting observation.
You need to get a background to appreciate this. The times of Amin taught many of that generation one thing - that the word of authority was not something you took for granted. We saw many people being carted away and they disappeared for good. I remember quite vividly my parents saying after the Israeli attack on Entebbe in 1976 that they would not discuss Operation Thunderbolt because the president had forbidden it! Can one imagine that happening today with all that goes on, on social media?
The firing squads arranged at Clock Tower in 1977 to punish rebels were out in the open, not a mere rumour. Many learnt to lie low and keep quiet even if they saw and knew that something was wrong.
Then came the 1980 elections after the fall of Amin and the UNLF chaos that followed that controversial election. President Museveni, then a young man too in his late 30s or early 40s (he does not know his age), led other young people against an established government and won. The speeches from most of these young men were full of revolutionary fervour aimed at demystifying authority, the gun and those who held it.
The media was given relatively free reign. NGOs that promoted human rights and democracy set up camp in Uganda and created a lot of awareness despite the fact that Uganda was a semi-authoritarian, military, quasi single-party democracy. People talked, but did not exactly have the power to significantly force the NRM government to act democratically. Freedom of speech was the premium paid in exchange for lack of democracy, especially multiparty political activity, which was banned. But the spirit to stand up and speak truth or grievance to power took serious root. The space was opened and became extremely difficult to close or even narrow down effectively.
This, coupled with the advent of Internet and communication technology, global television, etc, exponentially increased the courage. On cable television and on the internet they saw pictures of many young people engaging in demonstrations, riots, stone throwing and expression of all kind of discontent against authorities at different levels. These events increased significantly after the fall of the Berlin Wall and communism in Eastern Europe between 1989 and 1991, the event in Tiananmen Square, etc, showed the power of everyday people.
Today, what goes on, on social media many times leaves you scared for young people. I recall one girl who posted a video threatening to hit the president with female gentilia in his teeth if MP Robert Kyagulanyi was not released from jail. Many have insulted and vowed to overthrow the President at some point. This spirit where one does not really care about the unforeseen consequences of their action is one with which the Cranes faced Fufa.
It was cash or nothing. All the talk about patriotism and legacy does not work with this generation for they have seen the dividends that accrue to those who put the law, decorum and diplomacy aside.
It is jump over tables and fight for yourself or you are gone. Live in the present and the future will take care of itself. It does not matter much what the law and public opinion dictates. Do what you can and if you are wrong get punished, if you are right, history will absolve you.
After all you have ‘successful’ examples of people like Museveni, who when they felt cheated in the election of 1980, did not go to court or sit back and write missives. They became violent and undiplomatic. They neither listened to those who dismissed them as unpatriotic power hungry lawless bandits nor did they crumble to the emotional cries of those who said their war in the jungles of Luweero would cause more bloodshed for Uganda, which had a history of haemorrhage due to instability most of the post colonial era.
Lest we forget, part of the Museveni legacy from which many young people have learnt vital lessons is that if you are on a mission to promote a public ideal ends before individual who sacrificed are paid, they may never be paid at all. The Luweero bush war claimants are still out in the open. So are the various sportsmen who served the country diligently, but now live as paupers. Some such as the illustrious Philip Omondi went to an early grave with the vagaries of poverty hard on their heels.
Fufa, these are the sort of young people you are dealing with and you may have to brace yourselves for more in future because they have learnt a lot from the past, a past which informs the present and determines the manner in which they prepare for their future.

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues.