The East African | Between Besigye and Museveni, Uganda’s struggles are far from over

Posted January 24, 2015 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Inside Politics ~ 2,447 views


besigye book 2

By GAAKI KIGAMBO — Longtime Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni spent most of last year undercutting the influence of Amama Mbabazi, hitherto his right hand man for four decades, because he perceived him to harbour serious ambitions to unseat him.

Mbabazi’s decision to respond with silence to every assault his former colleague aimed at him — from dropping him as prime minister up through to ousting him as secretary-general of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) — discomforted both friends and foes alike.

Those most frustrated by it all could not help but compare Mbabazi with Dr Kizza Besigye, Museveni’s erstwhile friend and political enemy, and ridicule Mbabazi for lacking the spine to take on the Ssabagabe, or king of kings, as President Museveni once called himself.

Museveni instigated and successfully led a five-year guerilla war beginning 1981 that both Mbabazi and Besigye were central to. Mbabazi anchored the external wing while Dr Besigye treated the rebels’ wounds and fixed their broken limbs.

In 2001, Mbabazi famously rebuked Besigye for “jumping the queue” (forcing his way up in the succession line) when he broke with the NRM that he helped to found, and declared his interest in the presidency.

Besigye would go on to articulate the clearest, most forceful, consistent and unrivalled criticism of Museveni’s excesses of all the people who, according to one of the pre-press handouts for Daniel K. Kalinaki’s book Kizza Besigye And Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution, have risen to challenge the president’s personalisation of the state.

What then is Besigye’s true place in Ugandan politics, where he has prominently featured in the past 15 years and counting, that he should be the standard against which to measure anyone who thinks of himself or herself or is thought of as fitting the bill to unseat Museveni?

What happened to the “revolution” of 1986 that was heralded by the armed struggle he was a big part of and which Museveni couched in that lofty phrase “fundamental change?”

In what practical ways can Ugandans start to forge the new politics that is necessary in order to foster national equality regardless of the citizens’ heterogeneous persuasions?

These appear to be the leading questions Kalinaki sets out to find answers to in his 336-page book.

Kalinaki’s is the second book that uses the political fortunes of Besigye as its primary material in the study of contemporary Ugandan politics under its longest serving leader to date, pre- or post- the country’s Independence.

Dr Olive Kobusingye, Besigye’s sister, wrote and published the first in 2010, titled The Correct Line? Uganda under Museveni. Tightly scoped, as its subtitle suggests, the 213-page book is notable for its sharp sarcasm and juxtaposition.

Each chapter begins with an excerpt of Museveni’s own political statements before he assumed power. The text then probes to see if he actually put his money where his mouth was. The majority of reviewers found this self-published work a convincing examination of the stillbirth his much-touted “fundamental change” suffered.

Museveni first talked of “fundamental change” when taking his first oath of office on January 29, 28 years ago.

He assured the country that the war he had waged to arrive at that moment, aimed at turning Uganda around was in ways few people who had not been a core part of its conceptualisation, could visualise.

The transformation that lay on the horizon, he added, would be of the kind that would make Ugandans forget all their previous adversities under administrations he likes to describe as “primitive and backward.”

Many educated young men and women like Besigye and his wife Winnie Byanyima, who could have moved on to illustrious careers abroad in their different fields, had found the war effort that would reshape the country irresistible. They saw it as their contribution to posterity.

Dr Kobusingye is persuasive in her main argument that every time Museveni sought to entrench his hold on power, especially from 1996 onwards, all he had to trade off were his publicly declared pre-1986 principles.

Her book drew much public interest after the state tried and failed to block its importation and sale in the country, saying that it had “security connotations.”

Kalinaki’s book, also self-published and 123 pages longer, is not very different, if at all. Oddly, he makes no reference to Dr Kobusingye’s book at all.

Apart from the central theme, anyone who has read both books will immediately be struck by the use of juxtaposition of words and actions (even if Kalinaki’s excerpts are taken from multiple sources).

The only reason neither gives Museveni, whom both indirectly portray, the right of reply is that he has already told his story in his 1997 autobiography Sowing the Mustard Seed.

For Dr Kobusingye, one may argue that such balance offered her no rewards given her filial connections to her protagonist and the adversity “their” antagonist has visited on their family — especially the loss of a brother as a result of trumped up charges.

What is one to say in this regard about Kalinaki, presently the managing editor for regional content at the Nation Media Group, which owns The EastAfrican?

One would expect him to be impartial by dint of his 16 years of experience as a journalist that he has racked up at privately-owned, and one can assume independent, publications where he has spent his working life to date.

The absence of neutrality mostly affects the book’s declared purpose: of contributing to the debate on how to build an inclusive and accountable country.

As it is, that discussion will have to wait until a book Kalinaki says is required that looks at the same issues he does through Museveni’s eyes finds a writer.

Kalinaki’s book scarcely presents any robust inquiry about the reality of the “revolution” itself. The subtitle qualifies it as fact, and then here and there it appears in single quotations only to lose them at the very end.

Say that one was to accept that what happened between 1981 and 1985 (or 2006 when the guns fell silent for the first time in the last battleground in northern Uganda) was not a mere war driven by a narcissistic hunger for power.

Still, one would need to ask whether it was part of the continuing broad quest for change in Uganda that goes back to the pre-Independence struggles (since the author scours the country’s history to colonial times).

Or, if it was decidedly new, unique, and independent of all past struggles as its propagators like to present it as the very foundation of the sovereign entity known as Uganda.

Those who fail to temper their praise for Museveni have been heard calling him the father of the nation — a reference coined for men who received the reins of power from the departing colonial administrators half a century ago – as if Uganda never existed until he started his war.

Lest someone says this is a mere splitting of hairs, Kalinaki’s book is an exercise in intellectualism. Exercises of such a nature thrive on sorting fact from claims and/or assumptions.

The Igbo proverb long instructed that a man who does not know where the rain began to beat him cannot say where he dried his body.

So a nation that is still at odds with its past can hardly work out the coherent and solid future that Kalinaki says today Ugandans owe the generation that waits to replace them. As a well-crafted and engaging narrative, the book excels as part biography of a man who has dominated opposition politics that fate and circumstance propelled him into and who evidently commands the author’s admiration.

This excellence is down to a gripping writing style and, as one reader noted, Kalinaki’s smart choice of a subject that still animates the interested public in spite of the fact that it has been around now for a decade and half.

He does a commendable job of gathering together in one volume bits and pieces of Besigye’s life story that appear in all sorts of places. He fleshes them out and gives them a wider context that is only possible in book form. There are endless anecdotes to sustain the reader’s interest, whether what is under exploration is an episode of intrigue, infighting, manipulation, or outright betrayal.

What emerges is a more complete picture of a man most people only know by his boldness, rumbling voice and intimidating stature. The Besigye one encounters in Kalinaki’s book is a private, caring, accommodative, straightforward and highly perceptive man who has made the best of what life has presented him.

The story about his prescience that Museveni would scrap presidential term limits and seek to rule indefinitely, six years before it happened, is well known. What is not known is from where it draws.

For nearly all his time in government, Kalinaki reveals, Besigye had always internally challenged the sort of impunity, inequity and injustice that is all too common today.

He had first confronted it in 1982 when he joined the war. Then, what shocked him most was the relative luxury senior rebel commanders lived in compared with the rank and file fighters. Besigye claims Museveni had justified it as necessary to aid them in strategic thinking and better planning.

His questioning of such double standards nearly got him court martialled. He felt the commanders’ behaviour reprised that of the pigs in George Orwell’s classic Animal Farm – the only reading matter the author says he had gone with to the bush.

It would have been interesting for him to probe a little more why Besigye chose this book.

Kalinaki’s evaluation of the enduring impact of Besigye’s opposition to Museveni can be hardly disputed by level-headed people. As he rightly concludes, more than anyone else, he shattered Museveni’s aura of invincibility.

Until he took aim at it, Kalinaki writes, Museveni had succeeded in creating a myth around himself as the sole saviour, liberator of Uganda, the ultimate and irreproachable architect of its rebirth.

“Besigye has served to show how much Museveni and the NRM are part of Uganda’s political problems,” he notes.

For this, he has paid the highest price. Museveni has thrown the kitchen sink at his onetime physician and chief ideologue.

In 2008, Museveni infamously remarked that he had personally hunted and killed his animal (read Uganda) so nobody had a right to force him to let go of it.

How to help both men, by forging the new politics that the author says Uganda needs, is a task that must consume anybody who feels an ounce of attachment to Uganda whether they have actually read the book or merely heard about it.

Kalinaki may not quite have written the book he set out to but the one he produced deserves all the praise it gets. It enriches the scholarship on Uganda’s history that cannot have enough books written about.

About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.


Be the first to comment!

Leave a Response