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Impunity is not how we build a better Uganda

COMMENT | Olivia Nalubwama | In recent days, yet another embarrassing video of a geriatric African president failing spectacularly trended online – 89-year-old Cameroonian president Paul Biya lost his marbles for an excruciating three minutes during the December 2022 USA-Africa Summit.

In the video, he farts, looks around seemingly unaware that the rapt audience in front of him is not a figment of his aging imagination. It is a terrible thing to behold another’s failings so openly.

Biya, who spends most of his time abroad in far nicer and European countries, rules with an iron fist and has been in power since 1982. From 1975 to 1982, he was the prime minister until his predecessor resigned from the presidency, citing ill health.

But Biya, Africa’s second longest- serving president, is not about to let pesky ill health or old age get in the way of his uninterrupted presidency. Despite a violent secessionist conflict in parts of Cameroon, Biya is seemingly on course for another run in 2025.

Regaled by his supporters in extravagant superlatives that would make Donald Trump swoon, his more rabid supporters are clamoring for Biya’s 51-year-old son to succeed him. Cameroon, like Uganda, also has a constitution that governs political contestation of the presidency.

But by now, we know constitutions here are just feel-good documents to sanitize impunity. Before Biya, it was South Sudan’s 71-year-old president Salva Kiir trending in a most pitiful sight. In a video that made uncomfortable viewing, a smartly decked-out Kiir is caught unawares when his bodily functions escape without his consent.

The discomfort of the people around him pretending not to notice, shiftily looking everywhere but at the mortifying vulnerability of President Kiir, is palpable. Not even on your worst enemy would you wish such misfortune.

Reuters on January 7 reported the arrest. of six journalists over the leaked video. In this era of shareable technology, the arresting authority should focus on containing the president’s leaks. The arrest of the journalists demonstrates the inflexible nature of clinging to power.

The longer one clings to power, the more entombed they become in that power, shielded from the reality of their subjects. One has to wonder about the inner circles of Biya and Kiir, especially after those videos. Does their privilege allow them to see things for what they really are – rickety boats on choppy waters with no life jackets onboard?

Imagining a post-Museveni era for Uganda is an exercise in robust optimism. Our imagination shudders for President Yoweri Museveni over the madness holding the country together. Thus, we turn to the ‘movement’ promoting Museveni’s son as the third-best thing since the Ugandan holy grail of cooking sizzling onions and tomatoes in hot oil.

If you must know, the second-best thing is the sun-kissed year of 1986. The General Muhoozi Kainerugaba (MK) Movement has all the tantalization of a political entity, yet at its helm is the First Son, a serving army officer in unconcealed contravention of the Constitution.

The MK Movement is simply reaffirming the way the Ugandan state works – according to the whims of the presidency. Disturbingly, the movement’s vocal promoters who argue that MK is just what the doctor (or witch doctor) ordered for Uganda, are pleasurably in bed with impunity.

MK, like millions of fellow Ugandans, has expressed his desire for a better Uganda. Isn’t that what we all want – a better Uganda? But will his unobstructed impunity build a successful Uganda? A successful Uganda will work for every Ugandan regardless of one’s access to gamba n’ogu or their visceral loathing of the opposition.

A successful Uganda does not render the majority of Ugandans quisling spectators in their own land. A successful Uganda will promote peace and national reconciliation because our history demands it. If trending with unabashed impunity, mobilizing politically without a single drop of state-sponsored harassment is how the MK movement organizes, then this movement might be the biggest threat to our opportunity for a peaceful transition.

The far-out country of New Zealand reminded us that being mortal is who we are; behaving as if we are vibranium- powered immortals is for the delightful fantastical world of movies.

On January 19, the 42-year-old prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Arden, in an unexpected move, announced her resignation from office, reported The Guardian. With no bodily functions visibly failing her or allowing party minions to coalesce around her toddler offspring, Arden’s reasons for stepping down are so mundane that in Uganda we might even say she resigned ‘bya just.’

In her words, “I’m leaving, because with such a privileged role comes responsibility – the responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not. I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.”

That is it. It’s that simple. When will our politics in Uganda be that simple?


Olivia Nalubwama is a “tayaad Muzukulu, tired of mediocrity and impunity”






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