‘Backwardisation’ has secured the future of Uganda’s ‘mafia’

Sunday January 24 2021
By Alan Tacca

In any nation, there are always at least a few people who amaze. Big or small, they force you to smile, to contemplate, and to shake your head.

As I write these lines, midweek, I am still intrigued by the thought – the question – whether President Museveni actually derives joy (not just raw glory) from his many election victories. Do they bring happiness to him and his circle? Or do they haunt him? If they brought satisfaction and happiness, would he want more… and more… and more…?

Many scientists now understand that the divide between nature and nurture is not as clear-cut as was believed. While the biological (genetic) make-up of individuals directs much of their behaviour, their social environment or socio-driven behaviour also makes fairly durable bio-chemical changes to their brains. Gradually, through many generations, there are even imprints at the genetic level.

It is possible that we are often too harsh when we demonise rulers who have stayed too long in power. We assume that they are completely free actors and quickly bring out the moral code.

But what if in fact they are damaged bio-machines requiring sympathetic professional scientific help?
In its quest for better-informed democratic action, tomorrow’s civilisation may explore such questions and deploy scientific tools more readily than today; both in the determination of those who rise to power, and in shaping the institutions that protect society from those who hold power.

Unfortunately, we are not in tomorrow’s civilisation, which in any case will present its own challenges and may not necessarily be more liberating than today’s. We inescapably live in our times. And by the rules and gross abuses of the Ugandan republic in our times, President Museveni and his NRM have retained the presidency and will control Parliament. Now we demand that they govern properly, even after a clear picture of steady decline.


Ten or 15 years ago, Mr Museveni’s campaign slogan included a commitment to ‘modernisation’. To this day, we hear his promoters citing the ubiquitous mobile phone and a choice of television stations as his achievements. You would think he invented those technologies, or that any other ruler would have prevented them coming to Uganda.

However, in the mother of ironies, when the demand for speedy communication was at its highest – towards, through and after the presidential and parliamentary vote exercise – Museveni’s government ordered that the internet be switched off for five days.

The aim was almost definitely to stop on-line traffic, including social media, from monitoring the election process. But the victims included all sorts of business organisations that depend on the internet. Their losses are in billions of shillings.
Apparently, when political self-preservation is the goal, the rules of NRM meanness do not only dictate an unleashing of primitive violence during the campaigns, they also prescribe ‘Byabakamaesque’ vote mathematics and spell the fear of 21st technologies. The song of ‘modernisation’ is replaced by the spirit of ‘backwardisation’.

Power in NRM hands is for now secure. Old foxes tend to behave like old foxes. The chances are that the shadowy networks that are often referred to as the ‘Mafia’ will continue to bleed the country. Some of the alleged Mafiosi made spectacular chessboard moves and were returned to Parliament unopposed, with a sideways wink from State House detected in at least one case.

Some dons may fall. Others will rise. But people who believe that gross systemic corruption will be reduced during the next five years are also damaged individuals who need sympathy and scientific help.

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.