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50 lost years?

By Haggai Matsiko

Mayanja Nkangi, Maj. John Kazoora, Godber Tumushabe, Mwambutsya Ndebesa speak of their frustration, fear, and hope

On Oct 9 1962 when Uganda attained her independence, Jehoash Mayanja Sibakyalyawo  Nkangi  was 32-years old and the minister of Commerce and Industry in the UPC/Kabaka Yekka government. In an interview with The Independent, Nkangi now aged 82, recalled his premonition that day. He says as he stood at Kololo Airstrip and watched as the colonial British flag, the Union Jack, was lowered and the new Ugandan flag hoisted up, he was happy but at the same filled with trepidation.

Nkangi is now the chairman of the Uganda Land Board and still wears his signature mane of greying hair neatly brushed back, and his natural style moustache, as neatly manicured as ever with no beard. But the distinguished academic who would go on to serve in various capacities all post-independence governments is unhappy.

He says on Independence D ay 1962, he was happy because the British were gone and Ugandans would go on to manage their affairs whichever way they wanted. “We achieved,” Nkanji says, “and that for everyone should be a great achievement.”

However, he felt some psychological doubt. “I wondered what is going to happen next because of the past I knew,” he says. Sadly, he adds, it did not take two years before his worst fear materialized.

Nkangi says the first sign of what lay ahead happened at Suzana Nightclub, the hottest night spot for African then located in Nakulabye—a Kampala suburb. It started with the usual nightclub fight between a young man and a girl.  But before anyone knew it, prison officers came in and someone was killed. Nkanji says he and others in Prime Ministers Apollo Milton Obote’s young government were concerned at how a simple altercation had turned so violent so quickly and culminated in a death. Could it have happened if the British were still in charge, some wondered? If it did, how would the British have handled it? These were questions whose answers would impact not only on the Nakulabye incident but on other incidents and the reaction of the independent African leaders now in power after 68 years of British colonial rule. Unknown to them, this was just the beginning of troubled times.  Nkangi recounts many incidents and summarizes the turbulent times that, he says, ended in 1986 when President Yoweri Museveni came to power.

Pulling the trigger

Four years after independence, the first president, Sir Edward Frederick Muteesa II, who was also the Kabaka of Buganda, was violently pushed out of power, after then-Prime Minister Obote ordered Maj. Idi Amin flush him out of his palace. The president/Kabaka fled into exile. But barely five years later, in 1971, Obote was violently pushed out by Amin.  And in 1979, Amin was also thrown out. Yusuf Lule came in as president but he was kicked out after 58 days and replaced by Godfrey Binaisa who was also indirectly pushed out and replaced by Obote through alleged rigged elections.

Nkangi who contested the election on the Conservative Party ticket, remembers how Obote retorted when then- Democratic Party’s Kawanga Ssemwogerere, who felt cheated of victory in the 1980 presidential election, complained.

“Ssemwogerere, where were your commanders,” Nkangi mimics Obote and adds:  “Ssemwogerere did not answer but I responded because I knew Ssemwogerere represented all of us, I said publicly that you are now asking where were the commanders, tomorrow the same commanders will ask you who pulled the trigger.”

Indeed, in 1985, Nkangi says, the military junta asked Obote that question and threw him out of power. Tito Okello Lutwa took over before he was removed by the National Resistance Army led by President Yoweri Museveni whom, despite other problems, Nkangi thinks, has superintended over a peaceful government.

Considering that there were no elections and the three Presidents; Muteesa, Obote, and Amin died in exile, Nkanji’s dream now is to see a change in the leadership of this country without blood being shed.

“God should help us,” Nkangi says. He says although Uganda has about 52 tribes, Tanzanians and Kenyans too have tribes but they have not had coup d’états one after another.

“Is it because they are fools? No. The answer is in how they control their ambitions to go State House,” Nkangi says, “ as a person who has gone through independence, what do I want to see? Peace, peace is very imperative.”

But as Uganda makes 50 years, and unlike Nkangi, many people who are frustrated blame President Museveni.  Some say, despite liberating Uganda from the turbulent past and offering hope, Museveni who was touted as one of Africa’s new breed of leaders by the western countries—has instead reversed the achievements made. Now many say that Uganda has lost the 50 years because it has been betrayed by its leaders. Of Uganda’s seven leaders, Museveni has been in power for 26 years; more than half the years Uganda has had since it attained independence.

The rude man

One of these frustrated Ugandans is Museveni’s erstwhile liberation was comrade,  Maj. John Kazoora who, just two months to the jubilee celebrations, launched a 241-page book titled: Betrayed by My Leader, that details his life story through the events that have shaped Uganda since independence. Although the book is mainly centered on his contribution to the 1981-86 liberation war, it runs through Uganda’s political history since independence.

Throughout the book, Kazoora reveals how the government, especially President Museveni, its leader who he refers to as his leader, betrayed him by doing the same things that they had joined the guerrilla war to fight against.

The book ends with a poignant question: “We might have won the war but did we win the cause?”

Kazoora had a passion when he joined Museveni to fight Obote. He writes that although his first encounter with Museveni was not very good—Museveni then leader for Front for National Salvation (FRONASA) shouted at him and his friend Abel Karegyesa at Kamukuzi in Mbarara where they had gone looking for his uncle, Serwano Kabogorwa, and ways of joining the struggle to oust Amin. “Kabogorwa is not here—go away,” Museveni shouted at them, something that disappointed Kazoora and forced him to ask at the quarter guards who that “rude man” was, only to be told it was Museveni.

However, later Kazoora grew to like Museveni—and admired his “bravado” so much that as a University student he became the UPM chairman for Nkrumah Hall, which he led before Joining him in the Bush together with his two friends Karegyesa and Maj. Gen Benon Biraaro. Kazoora later served under Museveni in different capacities before they fell out.

Kazoora says Museveni should not be compared to other brutal leaders like Idi Amin. But, he says, the expectations that Ugandans had in him, have been dashed.

He recalls how Museveni, while campaigning on the UPM ticket in the 1980 presidential election, said that people should no longer use guns but microphones.

“But today I see journalists are arrested for using their pens,” he says.

Kazoora notes that when President Museveni launched his UPM campaign in on June 13, 1980, it was at the City Square in Kampala.

“But today no one can even step there,” Kazoora says. City Square, now called Constitution Square is barricaded and guarded 24/7 by police to block opposition political leaders from holding gatherings there.

Kazoora decries the rate of unemployment which has soured to over 80% amongst the youth under Museveni, he laments the health sector, the poor state of hospitals across the country, and the rampant corruption.

For Kazoora, it is a shame that President Museveni who used to say that Ugandans did not get independence but a flag in 1962, has sunk billions into fixing and renovating Kololo for the independence celebrations at a time when he is frustrating  plans to increase the health budget.

“Are people happy about health or UPE whose products cannot write a sentence in English?” Kazoora asks, “are people happy about the infrastructure, this is our city of 50 years but there are potholes everywhere, so are we celebrating potholes and floods?”

Kazoora says that although some people claim that they do not see the betrayal he writes about, he believes he and many Ugandans were duped.

“ Surely somebody promises you clean leadership, unity and peace,” Kazoora asks, “is Uganda more united than it was before, if you are going home and your children have no food, is that peace?”

Although the main frustration against Museveni stems from the poor service delivery and corruption, many have him for undermining institutions. Opposition leaders have on several occasions been arrested on trumped-up charges and detained without trial.

In 2007, he ordered the siege of the High court by a military outfit, the so-called Black Mamba, to re-arrest opposition leader Kizza Besigye, an act that Justice James Ogoola likened to the murder of Justice Kiwanuka by Amin, in his famous poem The Rape of The Temple.

On two occasions, 2001 and 2006, the courts admitted that there were glaring electoral multi-practices in the presidential race but were compromised by the president and could not overturn the elections due to the president’. Museveni went to the bush because UPC rigged elections in 1980.

Legislative failure

But it is Museveni’s control of parliament that irks many who say that although parliament should be independent and be able to check other arms of government, as we celebrate 50 years, Uganda cannot talk of an independent parliament.

Godber Tumushabe, the Executive Director, Advocates Coaltion for Development and Environment says that the review of the constitution to remove term limits was one of the simplest but most regrettable mistake by the 7th parliament while the 8th parliament was written off as a rubberstamp—it set free all the ministers that were involved in corruption scandals.

Tumushabe says that the 9th parliament can be compared to the sixth parliament in terms of creating sanity and holding the executive accountable. Like Kazoora who says the 9th parliament sounds like lightening but hits like a dove, Tumushabe says it excites but at the end withers away.

“I have observed parliament,” Tumushabe says, “they identify critical issues, they make noise about them and it ends there. There is a lot of fear that has engulfed parliament.”

Tumushabe credits Museveni for inheriting a sinking ship and curving out a governing body.

“The semblance of governance that we saw between 1987 – 96 was very transformative,” he says, “For once, some of us saw this country almost moving to the first world.”

However, he notes that in 1996, Museveni changed his agenda and decided that he wanted to stay longer in power. “Museveni is not keen on rules, he finds institutions an inconvenience,” Tumushabe says.

Military state

But Makerere University Historian, Ndebesa Mwambutsya, says that the parliament has very peripheral powers and that Uganda is still largely under a militaristic system 50 years after.

“God forbid but if something happened to the president, it would not be the parliament to sit and decide who to succeed him like was the case in Ghana and Malawi,” he says, “my biggest guess is that it would be the army High Command.”

He says the militarization trickles down to the street,

“Citizens independence is not there,” he says, “internal freedoms are not there.”

To the don citizenship means not only territorial belonging but participation and determination of issues, including the economy.

He says under Museveni, the state is hell bent on capture, control and domination. “Ugandans are still subjects, they are no longer controlled by the British but they are controlled and dominated by the leaders,” he says.

He dismisses the argument about development being more important than freedoms, saying that controlled development and guided democracy is not sustainable giving an example of Ivory Coast that was once touted as Africa’s hope but has since become a theatre of conflict.

Mwambutsya adds that although independence itself is an achievement worth celebrating, it is not meaningful to people’s lives because it has not added value to their lives.

“People budget for Christmas and Easter but they do not plan to celebrate independence because it means nothing to them, they do not associate with the symbols like the symbols because they mean nothing to them,” he says.

Jiggers and worms

Kazoora, Tumushabe and Ndebesa all agree that Uganda lost the 50 years.

“While we have made many steps forward, we have made even more backward,” Tumushabe says, “if you are looking for stories to celebrate, we are not short of those but that is not how we should be spending our time.”

“If we were a serious people,” Tumushabe says, “we would be looking to have Museveni, Besigye, Otunnu and all the leaders in one room, bargaining a grand plan for Uganda.”

To him, the future of Uganda will be defined clean leadership, statesmanship, and meritocracy. He says, unfortunately, the kinds of decisions that Museveni needs to take – like reducing the size of the parliament and cabinet and staffing the public service not with cadres but with cadres with people of merit, are inconsistent with regime survival which is Museveni’s biggest preoccupation.  Tumushabe says the time is now for citizens to get up and claim, and defend their space if they want things to change.

As we concluded the interview, Kazoora, recalled how Museveni, while campaigning in Mbale on June 29, 1980, said he was ashamed that people were going to the moon while Africans were eating worms.

Nkangi too said that it is a shame that Ugandans could die of jiggers 50 years after independence unless we have imported kikwaso, a needle to prick them out.

Looking back, Nkangi told The Independent, if I make it to Kololo again on October 9, 2012, I will have the feeling that we have lost time, we could have done better, but the good thing is that Uganda is still here.

“I should encourage Ugandans to say this is our country,” he says, “You know, I would like to see a Uganda pulling its own internationally, secure and proper statehood, doing most of the things herself and economically flourishing.”

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