By Richard Kikonyogo
Re-institutionalising the future; Uganda’s current enigma
Andrew Mwenda’s spirited, one sided, and futile defense of former president Milton Obote’s ‘legacy’, however sincere, must be treated with a healthy degree of caution, due to the potential loss of objectivity which arises out of an admittedly close relationship between himself and his subject matter.
Obote, it is almost certain, is the most polarising character in Uganda’s pre and post colonial history. Even more so than another former president, Idi Amin Dada, who most people generally agree was a man prone to extreme methods of control, in keeping with a quite limited understanding of the likely repercussions of his actions. Obote, because he was more literate than Amin, has invited less acceptance of whatever pathology he may have been a victim of. Driven by what many suspect to have been a brittle but deadly inferiority complex and his unavoidable proximity to Buganda Kingdom, Obote seems to have believed Buganda to be the glittering manifestation of everything he felt was undeserving of the prestige that he so nakedly sought for himself.
Buganda, being quite fully formed and intact as a governance unit, compounded still unutterable envy by inconveniencing Obote’s desire to re-invent himself to be like other Independence ‘leaders’, who fictiously modeled their new personas on dubious ‘father of the nation’ archetypes, however farfetched. The only problem then, was that Buganda, or rather, Kabaka Sir Edward Muteesa, eventually felt that he no longer needed or wanted the man’s fabricated patronage.
Elected Prime Minister at Independence, in a ‘free and fair’ manner, Obote soon managed through allegedly serpentine manipulation, to unconstitutionally appoint himself Head of State. Yet such a dramatic change in the arrangement of our country’s political constitution, needed to have been put to all the people in a referendum. It is not as if Obote was unfamiliar with the concept of referenda when it suited his agenda. This failure to abide by basic democratic principle makes it appear as if Obote had all along coveted the ceremonial position of President, to add to his already executive power.
In mistakenly grabbing at and acquiring the titular Presidency for himself, Obote felt it simultaneously necessary, that in case Muteesa, the elected President of Uganda, was to re-emerge or contest the validity of such unorthodox moves, he, Obote, would have to vindictively destroy the essential fundamentals of the populous Buganda Kingdom. He felt the kingdom gave the Kabaka the socio-political springboard to successfully oppose his machinations. Alas, the dark side won the day, and the inconsolable sorrow which many felt then, has never subsided.
Mwenda’s piece quotes Obote speaking in 1963 thus: “I hold the view that however nice one may feel as complete master in one’s own house, the time has come, indeed almost overdue, for African independent states to surrender some of their sovereignty in favor of an African central legislature and executive body with specific powers over those subjects where divided control and action would be undesirable.”
If ever there was good evidence of a megalomaniac on the loose in Africa, this quote which Mwenda uses to heap praise upon Obote’s ‘Pan Africanism’, this was it. As early as May 1963, Obote was quite egregiously seeing himself as, “complete master in his own house”, the house which ‘he owned’, and of which he was a ‘complete master’, presumably, being Uganda. Needless to say however, Idi Amin eventually begged vehemently to differ.
If Obote’s loose admissions were not enough of a red flag, and a warning of awful things to come, then one can instead marvel at the contrary reasoning which would encourage a man who had been part of the quite lengthy agitation for Uganda’s independence, to suddenly offer up a part of our nascent sovereignty to an as of yet formed, centralized, ‘African’, legislative body, within six months from October 1962, of Uganda having gained its apparently precious freedom. Mr. Obote did later on exhibit his total disdain for the types of legislatures he was fancifully advocating for in foreign capitals. Because of this almost immediate absconding from his primary duty and care to Uganda, and to Ugandans, Obote brought damaging consequences upon himself, and a near murderous ruination to the country at large. First, he was unceremoniously dumped out of the office he had extorted from Ugandans and possessed as a personal property, by a charismatic, barely literate, hulk of a tyrant, who took unapologetic advantage of Obote’s hypocrisy, and of the absenteeism which resulted from his costly Pan African affectations.
Second, Obote gained the eternal scorn of the majority of the people of Buganda Kingdom, without whose active endorsement, leadership in Uganda can and could only steadily descend into dictatorship.
Registering his opposition to Britain’s sale of arms to South Africa and the effect such would have on the situation in the then Rhodesia, Mwenda quotes Obote as saying: “The policeman in this particular case, is the British government which has sovereign power and has both moral and legal duty and obligation to ensure that crime is not committed in a territory under its control and to ensure that those who commit a crime in its area of patrol do not become the beneficiaries of their acts and that the innocents are not victimized because of the crime of others.” One can only imagine how amazed the British would have been to hear such convicted talk from Obote, the very same man who it is reported, against all that is moral or legal, successfully appealed to them but a mere ten years previous, to turn a blind eye to gross human rights atrocities which had been committed against Kenyan Nomads, by the one and the same, Idi Amin, in the months leading up to Uganda’s independence. And what of the moral and legal omissions which had begun to characterise Obote’s own cascading misrule in Uganda generally?
Mwenda, not best known for his coyness, is remarkably silent about this unsavory aspect of the Obote administration, quite as if silence automatically means that the heinous events which were unleashed in Uganda by Mr. Obote, either did not occur, or somehow, strangely, do not and should not matter in the appraisal of the man. Mwenda is similarly silent about the ‘much improved’ state of affairs in today’s Zimbabwe, where Zimbabweans, thank God almighty, are ‘free at last’.
In all this, I find nothing much to admire about Obote, beyond his theatrical talent for exceptional opportunism, manifesting through the crafty hijacking of broad moral issues, such as “freedom of all oppressed peoples”, a sentiment any halfwit could discern and agree with in principle, without necessarily adhering to any specific political ideology, least of all, the still broad and maneuverable, ‘Pan Africanism’.
Instead, I get a sense of a man on a mission to forcefully erase his own perceived shortcomings, at the cost of everything that was worth protecting in his own country. Such a description is usually reserved for one considered a Pharisee, a traitor to all but himself, than to a patriarch. Except in Obote’s case, he went ahead; filled with intellectual vanity and insecurity, to betray even himself. It seems apparent, in my speculative opinion, that Obote tried and failed to use undemocratically acquired relevance within spuriously premature continental bodies, and ‘Mulungushi Clubs’, as a means to bolster his wayward intentions, demonstrable even before independence, the better to illegitimately misgovern Uganda without sanction.
Iconoclast on rampage
Indeed the more one contemplates the ill motive of a young man who could dare to unilaterally ‘abolish’ a centuries old institution, Buganda Kingdom, older than the established church or Islam in the country, older than the infant Uganda itself, the more one realises that Obote was but an irresponsible iconoclast on the rampage.
Sir Edward Muteesa on the other hand, a gentleman, was unfortunately too one dimensionally focused on what he erroneously considered to be his primary responsibility, Buganda Kingdom, which fact disastrously colored his royal judgment on national and security matters. Subsequently, it left him naively vulnerable at home, and exposed and without ideological allies who mattered abroad.
In a world dominated by the illusive search for the elixir of social justice, it was always unlikely that monarchy would illicit prolonged empathy from many quarters. Kings and queens have always been a dying breed and Obote seemed more than gleeful about dishonestly facilitating their hooded executioners!
Museveni’s greatest test
President Yoweri Museveni has avoided both Obote and Muteesa’s errors by understanding that his international stature is but a derivative of the acknowledged credibility of his domestic agenda, which against inherent parochial instincts, he has grounded in a believable nationalistic outlook. This, by definition, and given Uganda’s history, has won him international and domestic support.
In the process, Museveni has achieved leveraged longevity, which has enabled him to stitch together regional and continental substance, and a slowly expanding international admiration, as a pragmatic and now experienced African asset, and as a variably reliable, progressive, and increasingly self assured ally on the ground.
The wild success of this approach has, for some time, left Museveni without peers in his own country, but in exponential danger as well, of disintegrating into believing too much in his own favorable press. Museveni’s greatest test going forward is about the need to keep his eye firmly on the history, which is replete with astonishing treachery, privileged aloofness, and disastrous self-delusion.
A failure to take decisive heed of some concerning human rights developments in the country, and to be seen to be blasé about rampant socio political disorganisation, and corruption, could leave Museveni one day waking up to having irretrievably damaged perceptions regarding his life’s work, his legacy. It would be better if he re-institutionalises the future whilst there is still the time and the goodwill.