Opondo’s gratuitous attacks on Paul Ssemogerere

Author: Moses Khisa. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Not too long ago, Opondo physically assaulted Kampala Lord Mayor, Erias Lukwago, on live television! In the past, he has been involved in acts that, barring the impunity of a regime functionary or if this was a country where the law is enforced seriously and rigorously, would likely have had him criminally indicted.

Mzee Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere rested last week at the very ripe age of 90. He lived a long and distinguished life of dedicated public service.

There have been enough befitting tributes written especially by people better qualified and well informed to comment on Mzee Ssemogerere, so that’s not what I intend to do here. In the few encounters I had with him, including an hours-long interview for my PhD work, back then while in graduate school, I learnt a great deal from him about our chequered political history.

Any public figure must be scrutinized even in death, but this must be even, fair and just. But then earlier this week, the New Vision newspaper published an opinion titled ‘Ssemogerere: A pseudo democrat, quisling schemer rests’, written by Mr Ofwono Opondo. The title summarises the tone and tenor of Opondo’s rather incendiary and, quite bluntly, despicable article.

The piece is a litany of personal attacks and denigrations, misrepresentations of Ssemogerere’s career in Ugandan politics and a barrage of insinuations laced with distorted and cherry-picked facts. All gratuitous and directed at a departed person who cannot exercise the right of reply.

Among other slanderous statements, Mr Opondo refers to Mzee Ssemogerere as ‘a cowardly and calculating quisling who collaborated with fascists when convenient’. Given Mzee Ssemogerere’s known record as a patriot and statesman, Opondo’s article reads utterly surreal.

The apposite thing would be to treat what is clearly a shabby tirade with utter disdain and ignore it for its sheer cheapness and bad taste. But the author is not just any random street person; he is the official spokesman of the government of Uganda and the Executive Director of the Uganda Media Centre, the government’s information clearing house.  One has to wonder what it is that motivates a whole government spokesperson to write a vitriolic opinion that smears and character assassinates the person of Ssemogerere, a widely respected and revered Ugandan whose standing compares with very few.

In the same vain, while free speech and expression is a fundamental freedom to be protected and defended, you have to wonder if the editors of the newspaper were serving the cause of free speech by publishing such an unhinged and ill-tempered piece of writing that repeatedly attacks someone’s characters and public record, particularly when the person in question is departed and cannot answer back.

The many personal attacks directed at Ssemogerere can only point to Opondo inability to actually make an assessment based on merit and facts. Engaging in personal attacks is a clear sign of lacking a persuasive argument and basing one’s assertions on strong evidence.

Mr Opondo is well-known for his combative and rusty tongue when going after real or perceived opponents of his ruling masters, especially our president-for-life, Mr Museveni. It is very well within his right to call out and question those who challenge his boss, but having done all that against Ssemogerere for more than two decades, since 1996 when he challenged Mr Museveni for the nation’s topmost job, why does Opondo still find it worthwhile to smear and denigrate a departed person?

It is one thing to have the right to do something, like expressing an opinion; it is quite another to do the right thing. Exercising one’s right is not always the right thing. And yet here, we are talking about a spokesperson for a government now increasingly off the rails, trampling on citizens’ rights including the right to free speech and expression through draconian legislations, arbitrary arrests, detentions, reported rampant kidnaps and torture.

Not too long ago, Opondo physically assaulted Kampala Lord Mayor, Erias Lukwago, on live television! In the past, he has been involved in acts that, barring the impunity of a regime functionary or if this was a country where the law is enforced seriously and rigorously, would likely have had him criminally indicted.

There is a certain level of thuggery, and even criminality, which has become a central hallmark of the current rulership in Uganda. The spokesperson of the government appears to, in many ways, embody just how decayed and unaccountable the system of rule in place has become. The big picture is that we are a country worn-out by decades of misrule and in urgent need of soul-searching to find a better path forward for a viable Uganda. We need dialogue and reconciliation, not divisive rhetoric or cheap points-scoring. We are a fractured society in need of stitching and nursing carefully and diligently.  The words and writings of Ofwono Opondo can only serve to pour gasoline on an already combustible social and political outlook. That he is the government spokesman just underlines the sad and perilous situation we are in.

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