The big buzz on Wednesday was the high-powered police and military assault on the offices of the recently launched National Unity Platform (NUP) party in Kamwokya, Kampala. There was a lot of strong condemnation by critics, and slavish justification by regime propagandists.
The many ever politically passive if not indifferent Ugandans, commenting on social media platforms, expressed shock and consternation. This is where we have to locate a big source of the problem.
The idea that any Ugandan who has closely followed even a modicum of our national politics in the past decades is remotely surprised by the macabre and chilling action of our State coercive apparatus speaks, so loudly, about why we are in the current mess.
It is our collective failure as a nation to pay attention and reject blatant abuses when on open display. There is an unmistakable complicity by many of us Ugandans, including those who in principle, distaste or even outrightly oppose Museveni’s rule, never mind those who work for the system or are hangers-on in need of picking some material crumbs.
There was absolutely nothing new or surprising about the raid and siege on NUP offices. We have been here before, countless times. This has been the modus operandi of what is essentially a military dictatorship. It is a system of rule draped in civilian garb, and has a ruler who primarily believes in displaying muscular militarism to project and retain State power.
For the umpteenth time, Dr Kizza Besigye has made this point and sung himself hoarse, often derided by even sections of those supposedly opposed to Museveni’s misrule and chided for ostensibly being no different from the man he seeks to unseat. Laughable. That hordes of AK47-wielding personnel could be unleashed on the offices of a political party, supposedly to search and recover ‘military and police stores,’ was in all likelihood aimed as what we have previously been treated to.
First, to put on display the military might of the regime and make a statement to the Kamwokya crew about what it means to threaten the ruler’s power. Second, remind the public about how power in Uganda is secured and sustained – through the might of military force, the bullet, not the ballot.
This latter signpost speaks to Ugandans planning to cast their votes next year for any candidate, other than our ruler of 35 years: That exercising their right to determine the next president will be of no consequence.
Brother Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, deserves strong salutations and fervent commendations for rising to the political occasion.
He has been nothing short of courageous and intrepid in daring to challenge a military autocratic ruler by appealing to and mobilising Ugandan masses, particularly the young people of this dear country, whose future is in peril.
I previously wrote in these pages that in short order, Mr Kyagulanyi had succeeded in attracting ecumenical support in a manner that had caused paranoia among the rulers and disquiet in Opposition ranks. I made this observation perhaps more than a year ago and since then, a lot of water has gone under bridge. My views have evolved. I hope that the thinking and strategy of Brother Kyagulanyi and indeed everyone working with him too will change, especially in the wake of such blatant misconduct as witnessed Wednesday.
As I argued last week, and should like to repeat for emphasis, it is illusory to imagine that the NUP and its presidential candidate will substantially unsettle and reset the button away from our current political mess through an election outcome. It is nothing short of hubristic or perhaps naivety to think that Mr Kyagulanyi has what it takes to unseat Mr Museveni through in next year’s election. I suspect that Mr Kyagulanyi and his handlers recognise this.
What then is the game plan? Some outspoken and laidback NUP fans have made the case that the party will become the main Opposition party and takeover Opposition leadership in Parliament. A rather strange ambition. So what? There are some actual perks and inconsequential power that come with that status. Fair enough.
But if becoming the main Opposition political party in Parliament is indeed NUP’s ultimate goal, then I do not see how much of a difference it makes in tackling the crux of the political problem we face: a life-presidency and a decayed system of misrule. We need deeper soul-searching and imagination.
Mr Khisa is assistant professor at North Carolina State University (USA).