On February 24, 1966, when Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana was toppled by a military coup while on a state visit to Vietnam, many people looked to a “lesser luminary” to replace him as Africa’s spokesperson.
The man who was mentioned as a potential replacement for Nkrumah, or Osagyefo (which means redeemer), was Milton Obote.
Obote, a great admirer of Osagyefo, based his actions on Nkrumah’s ideas regarding centralised governance and maintaining an Afro better suited to a Boney M. dance party than a presidential portrait. Obote and Nkrumah were contemporaries; along with other African luminaries such as Patrice Lumumba (DR Congo), Amilcar Cabral (Guinea-Bissau), Ahmed Sékou Touré (Guinea) and Léopold Sédar Senghor (Senegal) to name but four.
So, naturally, Obote’s belonging to an exclusive club of such distinguished African leaders made him feel superior to every other Ugandan who had a pulse at the time.
Then, a man who once served as a lowly intelligence officer in his office, challenged Obote’s father of the nation mantle.
This man, Yoweri Museveni, was not known for any of the magical oratory the independence leaders, Obote inclusive, used to cast spells over their subjects.
Museveni couldn’t translate Shakespeare into any local dialect, as Nyerere had, nor could he be deemed “a commander of arts and letters” as Senghor was. Indeed, it remained contestable, at the time, whether Museveni could pronounce the word “letters” without his Rs getting in the way of his Ls.
A 1970s Museveni, who wore Coke-bottle glasses, hoped to out-visionary visionaries like Obote? Puh-leeze!
Obote saw Museveni’s ambitions as a joke, and his willingness to fulfil them as the punchline. Then, the “Ba Chali Bange” brigade threw up a leader swathed in so much red; we thought he was the dancehall sensation Red Rat.
However, he went by the name Bobi Wine: the ladies wine. Although Bobi Wine, real name Robert Kyagulanyi, was a self-made overachiever with a poetic sense; Museveni was appalled.
By defeating Obote, Museveni saw himself in the same mould as the great independence leaders. He was maybe even greater, as his militarism reshaped the geostrategic considerations of the Great Lakes Region in the image of his megalomaniacal designs.
So Museveni was not to be trifled with.
But Bobi didn’t care; he felt he could replace Museveni.
This audacity alone was an affront to Museveni’s self-image in the same way Museveni’s opposition to Obote was considered an insult to the man from Akokoro.
Tomorrow, when some Instagram warrior manages to change a regime by posting a picture of his lunch; Bobi will comment derisively: “What is this? Nga, we were beaten and killed in the streets.”
This is because Obote, Museveni and Bobi’s ‘beef’ come from the same grill.
They all fail to see that national interests, rather than men, must be what shape our destiny. All three men are mere mediums of divergent thinking, not personifications of the same.
Sadly, they believe(d) otherwise by personalising their politics. So we have been forced to focus on their personalities, instead of the character of their policies.
This has led us to evaluating our national questions purely through the lens of “us” against “them”.
That’s why when Museveni removed Obote; he couldn’t remove “Oboteism”.
Similarly, Bobi’s belief in “removing a dictator” instead of removing a dictatorship will ensure we’re trapped on a treadmill of ignorance and inertia.
That’s because when we look at political contestation as a clash between who’s right and who’s wrong, our bipolarity robs us of the diversity found in life’s shades of grey. We are thus hog-tied by the politics of identity, instead of being identifiably liberated by it.
Mr Matogo is co-host of the RX Radio satirical show: Hear Me Out.