What you need to know:
- In truth, Museveni has been Mao-ing us for 36 years.
Now that dust is settling over Nobert Mao’s summersault across Uganda’s eating table, I’ll stir my own hot water. Before we go far, I’ll say Mao and I come from the Pawel clan of northern Uganda. He’s my elder and culturally, I shouldn’t be running my mouth about him. But these are upside-down times that require the poking of what can still be poked.
Ugandans have been furious since waking up to news that the embattled Democratic Party President General signed a cooperation agreement with the government.
Many had been suspicious of Mao’s liaison with President Museveni’s yellow regime – his “one-man army” gunning of the Opposition is a recent reference. In describing his political entanglement, people have invoked the colour of the pumpkin to describe Mao - green (Democratic Party) on the outside and yellow (NRM party) inside.
Social media is still foaming over with questions and criticisms and mockery for the candy-tongued, deep-witted minister. Wasn’t he the one who said “there’s no room for watermelons in the Democratic Party” – those who are green (Democratic Party) on the outside and red on the inside?
How could he?
And that’s our longstanding self-delusion, folks – that this is a Mao thing only. In truth, Museveni has been Mao-ing us for 36 years. The incremental and consistent squeezing of Ugandans into a corner until they eventually yield to the regime is only comparable to the tact of a rat. It’ll bite skin off the sole of your feet and blow cool air on the spot to keep you sleeping. By the time you realise what’s up, the rat is fed and off to nibble the next foot.
Interestingly, we’ve bought into the habit of praising Museveni’s power manoeuvers. A political genius, chess master, we’ve called him. And then what? We absolve him of the impoverishment in families. The bigger issue about the interest of the ordinary Ugandan becomes secondary. All the while, cracks keep growing in a country stuck between a rock and a rock. We see them:
•The long record of MPs spreading their palms for the big man’s dollars and in turn, fanning his political pillage.
•Religious leaders vending the gospel to the poor and queuing up for fuel-guzzling cars, houses, and military protection at the big man’s door.
•Graduates spending money they don’t have to secure work in government agencies.
•Young desperate women hauled abroad by cadre-run labour companies, return home without kidneys, eyes, or money.
•Karamoja lining its children on the streets of the capital because government deeply cares about everything in Karamoja, not just its people.
•The elite, comfortable with the bare minimum, leave the bigger picture to the wind.
•Once-upon-a-time thinkers competing at who can lick the old man’s something something cleanest for a piece of the pie, or even that famed cassava.
You know Museveni has Mao-ed us when you realise it’s coming to four decades and we’re not even close to having a critical mass of resistance. Instead, when Kizza Besigye takes the lone walk against rising costs of living, we froth sticky at the mouth with accusations of him disrupting businesses.
You know Museveni has Mao-ed us when right-thinking men and women perform stupidity alongside the stupid to survive. We all know about the poorly paid journalist who side-hassles for the who-and-whos of this regime. We know the cultural leaders who hobnob with shady investors while their people become landless.
Mao’s sin is brazenly dining with the prey where many would rather pick at the crumbs when the big eaters are too bloated to care. Museveni won’t share until he shames you. His disciples will break your bones and fly you abroad for crutches. You’ll think twice before you bite the hand that healed you.
We’ll continue seeing many big Maos cavorting with Museveni. In normal political dispensations, that would point to political maturity. But in the Museveni-led game, he determines the rules, changes them according to how fast his political mood swings. You can go carrying kilogrammes of brilliance or persuasiveness like Mao, but your fall will come. And perhaps when enough Maos fall, Ugandans will feel sufficiently squeezed to rise.
Ber Anena is a Ugandan poet & writer.