What you need to know:
- ...the undressing of a likely candidate in the Museveni succession, rather than the words used themselves, is what explains the violence...
As of the time of writing, PEN prize-winning author Kakwenza Rukirabashaija remained illegally detained and being tortured, the second time he has endured this ordeal.
Kakwenza is being held after a series of fruity and sharp tweets criticising President Yoweri Museveni and his son, Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, Commander of the UPDF Land Forces.
In August last year, Museveni surprised when he made a strong speech against torture, which has been the hallmark of his government for years. It seemed like it might be a turning point. It wasn’t to be. In the face of recent terrorist attacks in Kampala, the use of excessive force and torture, seem to have been upped. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise. In May 2017 Museveni made much the same speech against torture as he did last August, then Robert Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine) happened, and there was another descent into hell.
However, despite how much the Museveni state has instrumentalised torture as a weapon of political control, it seems the problem with the tweets that led to Kakwenza’s latest torment is not so much that they were “abusive”, but rather the subject: if you strip away the language, at base they were broadly about the Museveni succession, and specifically about Lt. Gen. Muhoozi’s suitability as the chosen one, if indeed that is true. I listen to my friend Tamale Mirundi on the YouTube channel “Kasuku Live”, and in his analysis (again if you can tune in carefully beyond his dramatic rendering) it is not so straightforward.
I am more persuaded that the concern that the undressing of a likely candidate in the Museveni succession, rather than the words used themselves, is what explains the violence with which Kakwenza has been countered.
And precisely because of that, it is surprising that the protagonists would allow a picture to emerge that a post-Museveni NRM-ruled Uganda is going to be more violent and repressive than the present variety. For one, it makes the job harder as it mobilises greater opposition to it.
Secondly, this was not the trajectory that the post-Museveni Order was on up to recently. In Africa, and indeed the developing world, generational transitions within the same ruling parties have mostly also been a movement from an illiberal and closed order to more liberal and open ones. When in 1976 Deng Xiaoping succeeded Mao Zedong, who had ruled China for 27 years, he set out on the political and economic reforms that have made the country so fabulously wealthy and a superpower today.
When Julius Nyerere stepped down in 1985 after 21 years, Ali Hassan Mwinyi began the liberal political and economic reforms that have brought Tanzania where it is today. So, after about 15 years, transitions from a founding or dominant patriarch are usually anchored on a liberal, or at least a progressive, promise. Uganda’s is unusual in that it now promises regression.
The post-Museveni order had and still has many threads, but since Kakwenza’s case focuses on Muhoozi, let us spotlight that. Muhoozi was central to the formation of the Presidential Guard Brigade (PGB), which later became the Special Forces Group, and lately Special Forces Command.
For all its controversial role in Ugandan politics, it was a force that initially recruited some of the country’s brightest. Many were well educated, pan-Africanist, centrist in their politics, and nationalist. I will not list some of the stars in order not to get them in trouble, but PGB as an organising idea and a cadreship academy was a major improvement over most things the NRM had to offer.
It was not alone. There were several streams of what we shall collectively call “New Age Ugandan political forces”. From the Bugisu region, we had the rise of the likes of Michael Werikhe. In Acholiland we had folks like Mao Norbert being elected Local Council 5 chairman for Gulu District. In Buganda, we saw the decline of the old nativists, and the rise – much like in PGB – of centrists, though, ironically and contradictorily, they were more globalist than what was emerging out of NRM. That process brought Charles Peter Mayiga to the Buganda premiership and folks like lawyers Apollo Makubuya and David Mpanga into the Mengo government.
Put together, optimists could see a post-Museveni enlightenment. There were many reasons why it unravelled. Regionally, the competitive threats posed by the rebirth of a post-KANU Kenya, the ascendance of Rwanda, and the peculiar independence of South Sudan, were skillfully exploited by reactionary forces at home. Domestically, the endurance of Kizza Besigye, and the entrance of Bobi Wine, all complicated things further.
All is not hopeless yet. The succession forces that have coalesced around Uganda’s militacracy, still have some tradition they can call upon to prove the adage that few political sons are the equal of their fathers, is wrong.
Mr Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. Twitter@cobbo3