This ‘Mafia’ has ruled Uganda for 50 years

Author: Charles Onyango Obbo. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • In case you think I am a post-independence cry baby and latter-day brat, I am one of them. I was born before independence. Watch out for The Main Man in the cohort, Museveni; he might go for a world-record-breaking 10th term in 2031. That’s how our veterans roll.

I missed it. At last year’s end, I was in Rukungiri. During breakfast at a friend’s house, we talked about the meaning of Uganda having the world’s youngest population as a percentage of its population.

He said just how young Uganda struck him when he was told that early last year when Covid-19 booster shots were given, there were only about 40,000 Ugandans in circulation who needed it because they were older. In other words, not counting the few bazee in the villages who are minding their own business, the number of Ugandans around today who were born before independence in October 1962 can’t fill Namboole Stadium, which has a capacity of 45,200.

If it was reported in the mainstream media, I didn’t catch it. This Covid Booster Shot Cohort might be small, but it is striking how much they have dominated, continue to dominate, and have shaped Uganda – for better and worse. It demonstrates their tenacity but also illustrates starkly how two post-independence generations have “not eaten things” to use the wonderful Ugandan expression.

Consider President Yoweri Museveni as the First Man in the Covid Booster Shot Cohort. He was born nearly 20 years before independence, yet today people who are almost the age of his grandchildren are still kissing his ring and shoes and begging him to bless them to run for office in 2026 and 2031 - 69 years after independence.

The Bank of Uganda is one of the country’s most venerated institutions. However, Deputy Governor Michael Atingi-Ego, is the first Ugandan who was born after independence to either be governor or deputy.

Prof. Mahmood Mamdani is Uganda’s most published scholar and one of the world’s leading political scientists. He was born before independence. Prof. Samwiri Lwanga-Lunyigo, Uganda’s leading living historian, is also a pre-independence baby.

The toddler among these dons is Prof. Joe Oloka-Onyango, the country’s most innovative thinker on human rights and leading constitution scholar. But even he was born before independence.

Jak Katarikawe was easily East Africa’s most famous pioneer artist. He was often called “Africa’s Chagall” after celebrated Russian-French artist Marc Chagall and died in 2018 in Nairobi at the age of 78. There’s a view that he still has no equal today.

Okot p’Bitek, Uganda’s most famous poet and one of Africa’s leading giants, was born well before independence. Two of Uganda’s great playwrights were Robert Serumaga and Byron Kawadwa. All pre-independence. The most accomplished Ugandan playwright alive today is Alex Mukulu, born before independence. The Monitor is the most successful existing legacy media company in Uganda. Ndugu Wafula Oguttu, a pre-independence child, helmed it.

One of Uganda’s most enduring musicians, a national treasure, is Afrigo Band’s Moses Matovu. He doesn’t look like it, but Matovu was born in 1949.

When you talk of industry and men and women who built great businesses from scratch without patronage, the stars are all pre-independence. James Mulwana was pre-independence. Aga Sekalala of Ugachick is pre-independence. Justine Okeny-Bitek, the co-founder of Vitafoam, the mattress maker, was pre-independence.

The late Dr Sulaiman Kiggundu, who founded the now-defunct Greenland Bank, was born in 1947. Property mogul and Crane Bank founder Sudhir Ruparelia was born before independence.

Retired Lieutenant General Salim Saleh, Museveni’s brother, who some whisper is Uganda’s co-president, was born two years before independence. Buganda’s King Ronald Mutebi was born even earlier. Dr Kizza Besigye, the most consequential democratic opposition politician of the last two decades, is pre-independence.

Winnie Byanyima, one of Uganda’s most storied feminists and international public servants, was born before independence. Toro’s Princess Elizabeth Bagaya, in her prime considered one of the most beautiful women to walk this African earth, was born in 1936.

Our game-changing military dictators and champion bad men and women were all born before independence. Military ruler Idi Amin was born in 1925. Both Holy Spirit rebel Alice Lakwena and the horrible Lord’s Resistance Army’s Joseph Kony were born before independence.

And this Covid Booster Shot Cohort isn’t going anywhere yet. Some of the men are still having children with side chicks. Some dogged ones are marrying young women “to escort them to the grave”, as the Zulu of South Africa put it.

They are buying land and planning to build more homes. They own most of Uganda’s cattle (thanks to Museveni) and (thanks in no small part to Kabaka Mutebi) most of its prime land. They came around before sleeping sickness had been eradicated. Smallpox was rampant.

For them, the treatment for malaria was so aggressive it would throw them half mad. They survived all that and about 10 wars and rebellions. Maybe it is why, even though they are just 0.08 per cent of Uganda, they still rule the roost.

In case you think I am a post-independence cry baby and latter-day brat, I am one of them. I was born before independence. Watch out for The Main Man in the cohort, Museveni; he might go for a world-record-breaking 10th term in 2031. That’s how our veterans roll.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. 

Twitter: @cobbo3

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