Uganda’s witch has been edged out by poison

Author, Nicholas Sengoba. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

When the government simply ignores and takes such information lightly it creates a vacuum. Enter the cynics. With social media we get all the conspiracy theories, rumors and outright lies in real time.

They say that in Africa no one dies without a witch. It can’t be nature or an accident. If it is the latter, some spirit must have prompted them to walk instead of drive, which is why they met their death at the Zebra crossing.

There must be some evil force, especially one instigated by those who are envious, or threatened by one’s progress.

If you have followed Ugandan politics for the last few years you should have noticed that increasingly, the witch is being replaced by poison.

Some believe with trepidation poison is now the safest and most convenient route for an assassination or execution.

This paranoia is noticeable at several social gatherings. When one takes a bathroom break they ask for a fresh bottle irrespective of the status of the drink they had before nature called.

At one function a fellow who had ordered an expensive whiskey was furious that when the waiter delivered the drink they did not first show that the seal was intact before they broke it in front of him.

The management of the facility had to pacify them by replacing the drink and reprimanding the waiter.

It happens in almost all spheres. Business rivals contesting for contracts, debtors sorting out the ‘menace’ of their creditors, men and women competing for partners in relationships. It has also been mentioned in cases where spouses are fighting for property as they part ways.

There are all sorts of claims that your cook at home may be paid to lace your food with poison. It may be administered in a health facility or in prison.

Those allegations have sprung up at the parliamentary canteen.

When a high ranking UPDF officer, Gen David Sejusa, fell out with the establishment and fled to exile, he revealed that almost all government officials live with the fear of being poisoned.

He comically alleged that they move around even at official functions with their Chapatis, samosas and mineral water, ensconced in their jackets.

Former Presidential Press Secretary Joseph Tamale Mirundi claims he has been poisoned but has survived on many occasions.

He also alleges in a video clip that went viral that the former Speaker of Parliament, Rt. Hon Rebecca Kadaga, survived poison after the President of Uganda intervened and ensured she received very costly treatment abroad.

The latest claim is the one by the father of the former Speaker of the 11th Parliament Jacob Oulanyah L’Okori. Oulanyah, who officially died of cancer, an ailment he battled for quite some time, purportedly confided in his father that he was poisoned. 

Mzee Nathan Okori, Jacob’s father’s claim has been re-echoed by NRM CEC member Godfrey Ssuubi Kiwanda who over the weekend claimed on a popular talk show that Jacob Oulanyah had confided in him on his sick bed, that he had been poisoned but that he should keep the secret to himself.

The human mind has the habit of believing things that keep cropping up repeatedly even when they are not substantiated. Many times people are quoting a person who can no longer corroborate the allegations as is the case with Oulanyah.

The instance of Oulanyah should act as an eye opener in the way the government handles information, especially of these sorts of issues that are in the public domain.

When one looks at social media platforms of most brands in Uganda that provide services, like MTN, Airtel, etc. the amount of effort, time and resources invested in ensuring clients get feedback, is very admirable.

One must bear in mind that some queries are outrageous, rude, malicious, ridiculous and outright lies. But they patiently respond to the customer who is ‘always right’. I read one where a caller asked for the phone number and picture of one of the girls in the call centre because he wanted to date her! He got a polite ‘no’.

The trouble with government is that there is a tendency to simply ignore or act like they are not accountable. But the ‘cancer’ of the rumour keeps spreading until it becomes ‘fact’.

The Observer had a headline on August 4, 2021 that read ‘Museveni probes Oulanyah ‘poisoning.’ It reported ‘...that the President has ordered a specialised security team to investigate the sudden slump in Oulanyah’s health a few days after assuming office’.

There should either have been a denial that there was an investigation or the public should have been given a periodic update on the progress - of course with the patient’s privacy in mind.

The same should have happened with the allegations of Tamale Mirundi and Gen Sejusa because they concern important people (state assets.)

All these people should have been interviewed to assure the public that the allegations are either false or that there is something being done about it.

Giving feedback is part of accountability. The responses are a favour clients provide to an institution to help them improve.

When the government threatens to punish those who make such vital allegations the public is bound to be suspicious. Does an allegation of poison mean that it was done by the government that is now defending itself? Can’t such a claim point towards an enemy of the government trying to kill people and make the government unpopular?

When the government simply ignores and takes such information lightly it creates a vacuum. Enter the cynics. With social media we get all the conspiracy theories, rumors and outright lies in real time. 

By this time the government either has to act like it does not owe anyone an explanation or goes on the defensive blaming the Opposition for everything bad which has become cliche.

That is how we have found ourselves here, with poisoned minds that are in fear but still none the wiser!

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues

Twitter: @nsengoba

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