Nagenda in context of our troubled history - Part 3

Author: Nicholas Sengoba. PHOTO/NMG

What you need to know:

  • Increasingly NRM, where Nagenda served as the President’s media man and called himself his dog, was now preoccupied with defending itself. 

After NRM captured power in January 1986 it promised there would be no more arbitrary arrests, detentions and extra judicial killings. Corruption was to become history.

The same fate would befall nepotism and sectarianism which were now thrown on the garbage heap of history. Free and fair elections would become the norm as the cornerstone of a viable democracy. Uganda would build a vibrant self reliant economy and stop exploitation by foreigners.

A human rights Commission with Justice Arthur Oder as its gaffer, to inquire and document the abuses from 1962 to 1986, was constituted and John Nagenda starred on it especially when he took on his nemesis Paulo Muwanga. Another headed, still by an Arthur; Counsel Johnson Katongole, did the same with the scourge of corruption. Ugandans had to know how far (bad) the NRM had rescued them from. Never again would they go back to Egypt. They were headed to the promised land. 

More than three decades since then, the reports have been gathering dust.

The NRM seemed like either a group that was composed of people, good at military matters but poor civil managers or beyond the general rhetoric, they did not have concrete plans beyond rhetoric to steer the country forward. Their hands would be steadied on the job.

The excuse was that we had come a long way and needed time, understanding and patience. Not even Rome was built in a day. It is one that Nagenda touted extravagantly albeit in different forms right to the very end, when rebutting those whose opinion was contrary to that of NRM.

In Amin’s time you would get killed or sent into exile’ he once scolded me for what he called ‘abusing the President!’ As usual he did not contradict what I said. I had referred to Museveni as a dictator like Nagenda had once called him an autocrat. So I told him that it made the two of us. I won’t say what transpired after.

To cut Nagenda some slack, it was not an easy job defending the NRM. NRM was often long on promises but short on delivery.

The restoration of kingdoms in 1993, something that was close to Nagenda’s heart, seemed not to go the whole hog or serve the right amounts of chops to placate monarchists.  They called it byoya bya nswa; an allusion to bones without flesh. Nagenda placed the ‘ingrates’ in Mengo in his bad books for vilification from time to time.

The new Constitution of 1995 froze political party activities while entrenching the NRM in power with the institutionalisation of ‘no party democracy’.

It was like Obote or Oboteism had come in through the back door. Then the war in the north happened where NRM leaning commentators callously claimed it was Joseph Kony killing his people - like they were not Ugandans.

Slowly but surely NRM’s mask peeled off. Then the gruesome atrocities in Northern Uganda. The Mukura train wagon incident and the pit suffocation in 1991 in Buchoro, Gulu District made shocking human rights comments. So did the treatment and conditions for those placed in camps for decades as a strategy to defeat Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army.

Elections were marred by reported theft and violence. The General Election of 1996, the first under NRM, was not clean for a group that went to the bush protesting a dirty poll. At some point of panic we saw Nagenda pull out adverts in the media claiming that if Museveni’s rival Paul Ssemogerere was elected, he would return Obote in power and serve Uganda more skulls and terror.

Ssemogerere was another of those Nagenda listed for vituperation and ridicule from time to time. Interestingly observers have noted the contradiction that the former was accorded an official burial (even when his family protested), which was not the case with the latter.

Increasingly NRM, where Nagenda served as the President’s media man and called himself his dog, was now preoccupied with defending itself. The high ground and standards it had set while disparaging its predecessors was used to judge them.

How would you defend corruption, abduction, extra judicial killings all of which contradicted and embarrassed the NRM?

The likes of Nagenda resorted to writing columns branding those who pointed out NRMs shortcomings as ‘enemies’. After the election of 2006 where Northern Uganda voted overwhelmingly for Kizza Besigye, another one on his dark list, Nagenda was to write that such areas should be treated in the same way when it came to distribution of national resources.

For this, a commentator in the foreign press described him as ‘a slightly ridiculous man.’ He even went further at the height of the war that weighed heavily on the Acholi and claimed that as a self confessed ‘praiser’ he thought Museveni was the real deal and should be given a Nobel Peace Prize.

It got worse for The Monitor  when they reported that the former Human Rights Commissioner had been in the company of a person who brandished a firearm as a threat in a land dispute at his farm in Namutamba.

Nagenda took the matter to court and lost twice to The Monitor. The Monitor’s Kyazze Ssimwogerere then rubbed it in with an  embellished story claiming that it had taken the judge’s assistants several hours to clear his desk of the books he read, to ‘pass this wise judgment’.

Nagenda wrote off The Monitor  as a ‘hooligan publication’. From then on, no single entity and its associates was the topic for tongue lashing in his One Man’s Week column thanThe Monitor.

Although he would later praise  The Monitor and grant them the interview in which he famously branded Museveni an autocrat. By this time Nagenda had seen a curious  side to Museveni which prompted him to move on covertly to the surprise of his peers.

For instance Augustin Ruzindana once said Museveni ‘left them’ in Mozambique and went to Europe to solicit arms. They later heard that he married Janet Charlotte Kataha.

Bidandi Ssali in 1980 as Secretary General of Museveni’s UPM party only knew that he had gone to the bush after Museveni led the attack on Kabamba.

Museveni did the same when he changed his audience and Nagenda found himself in unfamiliar territory. This would follow him to the end.

Twitter: @nsengoba


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