The Pearl is damaged with little hope for repair

Friday November 20 2020

Benjamin Rukwengye

By Benjamin Rukwengye

Once, while we were discussing match-fixing in global sports and the legend of Wilson Raj Perumal – perhaps the world’s most notorious match-fixer – a journalist friend told us a funny story from Uganda.

Apparently, just before kick-off in a lower league match, the centre referee turned to players of one team and said: “No matter what you do, you will not win today.”

I wondered why the team went on to play even when they knew the result – regardless of effort they put in. The explanation was that the players had no option. Playing is how they get paid. Refuse to play and they would lose their income and get docked points. Fight and they would get banned, probably for life, and clobbered by the police. The only option is to play and wait for your day.


It is Wednesday afternoon, and I am seated in a bank’s parking lot, typing out an email. My boda guy, Swaib, calls and I wonder why, because he just set off on an errand a little while ago. He was out delivering creative learning products to a colleague who was out of stock for our clients.

“Boss, bantomedde!” He says, in a quiver, to mean that he has been hit.


I ask if he is okay and he says he has wounds and his bike is damaged, although  it can still move. It is he that tells me about the revolts in town, following the arbitrary arrest of presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi in Luuka District. In the ensuing high-handed police response, Swaib had been hit by a speeding motorist who was escaping the chaos.

After the call, I sit, motionless, for a moment, wondering what the point was? Why were we holding an election when it was clear that those in power now, would not cede it even if they lost the vote? This week’s column was intended to call out the leading candidates – incumbent President Museveni, and the NUP candidate Kyagulanyi – for how irresponsible they and their supporters are acting in the middle of a pandemic.

President Museveni, had said holding the election under the circumstances would be madness, and yet had gone on to let it happen. Let it happen – because for all intents and purposes, he controls the Electoral Commission and everything around here.

Probably because of the personal danger that Covid-19 poses to him as a septuagenarian, he and those closest to him will wear masks and social distance, but he wont rein in his minions as they go about the country willy-nilly, prancing about and probably super-spreading.

Kyagulanyi, on the other hand, couldn’t be bothered with wearing a mask. It is not clear whether this is because of how hard it is for one to breath, literally, when police are clobbering and teargassing you at every turn, or because he somewhat reasons that his age offers some protection from the virus, or the fact that he’d get first class medicare if it came to it.

Bottom line is that the two leading candidates are acting irrationally and risking the lives of all of us all along with it.

I was thinking about all this. About Swaib. About the people at the rallies who are in the direct line of coronavirus. About the citizens that police are killing and disabling because they oppose the master. About what this means for the future, and if things will somehow eventually work out for the good. I was thinking, and wondering what the point of this charade is, if all it does is take innocent, poor (pun) lives.


So when does it end? What does the end look like?

Well, unfortunately for us, it probably doesn’t end, and nobody knows what the end looks like. Because you see, like in the case of the ill-fated team, someday – because this is what usually happens – the club owner might worm his way into the higher echelons on football administration, and he too will likely repeat the cycle against other clubs, with some vengeance. Or he just might decide that he can’t do this anymore, and call time on the entire venture.

In realpolitik, elections will get stolen by the current guy. The Opposition will get battered. Citizens will get killed. Some activists will give up on the fight, and those who hang in long enough are more likely to repeat the cycle than not. It’s tiri.