In the matter of martyrs and Besigye’s sacrifices

Author: Asuman Bisiika. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

A hero is someone who does ordinary stuff that captures the imagination of his nation or community. That’s why we should remember other Ugandan martyrs who bore witness with their own blood.

In June, Mr Yoweri Museveni will have three (could be four?) events at which he will speak directly to Ugandans. The four events for June are Uganda Martyrs Day (probable), Heroes Day, State of the Nation Address and Presentation of the National Budget. All the four opportunities offer Mr Museveni an opportunity for major policy outlays.

On June 3, Ugandans will celebrate the Uganda Martyrs and on June 9, they will celebrate National Heroes. If it were up to me, I would declare June the Month of National Sacrifice and Patriotism.

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In 1886, a group of young Ugandans triumphed over the power of the state by accepting martyrdom. It was a courageous (actually dangerous) act because even today, over 100 years later, one would have to have a very high sense of self-conviction to challenge the state.

The young men were career state actors in the administrative structures of the Buganda government. Ugandans hold them in awe and reverence; for in their death, they earned the favour of national history and the universal Catholic Church. Their courage earned them the benefaction of charity that comes with the Christian doctrine of ‘bearing witness’ (obujulizi).

The story of the Uganda Martyrs is more enriching and broader than the religious constituency that owns it. The ideas and ideals for which they were killed, ie more liberties and freedoms, were later to form the basis for the contemporary political values many Ugandans espouse today.

Their sainthood was not declared by a partisan panel of Ugandans but by the faculties of the Roman Catholic Church. And for the blood of the Ugandan Saints, the church (which now owns them) made the ultimate sacrifice that has confounded social and political leaders since independence.

The story of the Uganda Martyrs is also a reminder of the human reverence for blood sacrifice. In the good book, there is a conspicuous thread of blood from the story of Abraham and Isaac  to the ultimate end at Golgotha.

But the story of the Uganda Martyrs also reads like the story of a certain Dr Kizza Besigye. He had a career in the government; and loyal to the crown. But in 1999, he challenged the crown and to date still does.

As I write this, Dr Besigye is serving a remand term in Luzira Prison. His case: protesting what he sees as government failure to do something about the high cost of living. For shining a torch on what is clearly a national issue, Dr Besigye is a national hero.

But the definition of a Ugandan hero is well known: a Ugandan hero is a person you kill so he can die for his or her cause. This definition fed well into a tweet by Red Pepper. The man Ugandans pumped to return to street protests was in it alone as Ugandans looked on. Another person wrote: sometimes I wonder why Dr Besigye keeps sacrificing for lazy Ugandans.

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A hero is someone who does ordinary stuff that captures the imagination of his nation or community. That’s why we should remember other Ugandan martyrs who bore witness with their own blood. On September 22 1972, state actors abducted and killed Chief Justice Ben Kiwanuka over what were believed to be disagreements on the direction and process of justice (actually on a particular case) in the country.

The story of Kiwanuka’s death has always inspired Uganda’s Judiciary. But there seems to be some kind of regression on this activist attitude of the Judiciary; witness: the bail terms for Dr Besigye. He chose remand than pay the prohibitive Shs30m cash bail.

Mr Bisiika is the executive editor of the East African Flagpost. [email protected]

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