By A Correspondent
Glued to their seats in a classroom that was the biggest in this rural primary school of Bubangizi, were parents fearful of what was going to befall their school since the lanky undergraduate of political science at Makerere University had decided to say what everybody had on their minds but could not publically say about the District Education Officer of Bushenyi.
Bushenyi District was then composed of 6 large counties of Igara, Ruhinda, Sheema, Buhweju, Kajara and Bunyaruguru. Schools in the whole of Bushenyi District were literally the ‘one farm or garden of the then District Education Officer’. He characteristically could ‘spear off a few classes’ if the Headmaster offered a spear and shield not a ‘horned animal’ to him, the Guest of Honour at school inspection meetings. The year is 1975, and the lanky young undergraduate of political science causing unease with his mouth, is none other than Saverino Kahinda Otafiire.
At the head of the small podium, is the Bushenyi DEO together with various local Education Officials and they have all stopped munching away at the roasted and fried chicken and meat. They are listening with disbelief as Otafiire has stopped them in their tracks with his very appropriate ‘dress down’ of the DEO’s corrupt and gluttonous tendencies. The man they hold in ‘awe’ is under verbal artillery of the kind none had ever dared on him.
Thirty minutes, Otafiire is not done yet! His descriptions of how inept, incompetent, corrupt, greedy and gluttonous the DEO is, is becoming more graphic and precise. Among the parents where Otafiire is standing, some have shed off their initial fear and are murmuring words of approval and encouraging him on. Others are almost ‘soiling themselves’ because what is going to befall the beloved school of their children is simply unimaginable. This DEO is well known for his penchant to applying his own school inspection guidelines including closing schools indefinitely.
The unthinkable happens. Instead of hearing out Otafiire to the end and then characteristically ‘spear the school’, the DEO stands up spilling and splashing the food and drinks on the table everywhere including on the laps of his Education staff, and abandons the meal, the meeting and Otafiire on the floor! He cannot bear it any longer and he makes for his vehicle – a Land Rover- overwhelmed and at loss.
“Empitsi ekanyampira ibare, eti “ohurire nobu ohunami nobiha nakutoneka kyata we.” Otafiire tells the retreating DEO. Literally, Otafiire is telling the DEO that although he has remained mute as if he has not heard anything, the remarks have stabbed him hard. Clearly Otafiire is having a field day because he says all this through bursts of laughter and choking with mirth!
The school was never ‘speared’ (closed) and nothing happened to Otafiire. His fame grew like wildfire and he became a household name because of his fearlessness. He became a hero to many especially the youth. Political science, the course that had reportedly inspired him to be bold and pro-peasants, became the ‘destination every child in the school wanted to pursue in future’. His name and fame somersaulted ahead of all promising young men and women of Ruhinda County. He was briefly lost on the social ladder to appear again and this time, it was said he was working with President Amin’s Office! Then came the 1979 Liberation War. Otafiire came back to visit the school and it was whispered that he was now a ‘liberator’, with Tanzanian bodyguards in tow.
Not many could explain his ascendency to these heights and since that time he only climbed. Climbing to prominence, he has done and his ‘maverick use of his mouth’ has grown too. Up to some time, all learnt to accommodate, and sometime appreciate him for what he was. And then the dip set in. The pro-people revolutionary man became involved in elective politics and sought to represent Ruhinda every 5 years as Member of Parliament.
He acquired taste for material things. He started acquiring assets, tracts of land, cows and cars. As his appetite for assets and material things grew, his revolutionary credentials began to recede. He stopped ‘covering his trail’ by using middle men in buying assets especially land, and openly started dealing with matters of asset acquisition in person. The cattle he had acquired began to destroy peasants’ crops with impunity. At the national level, his name began to appear in every newspaper issue connected, wrongly or rightly, to scam and corruption.
The biological transformation from a lanky young man to ‘heavy bully’ has been accompanied by an astonishing transition from a revolutionary pro-people to a ‘land baron’ with appetite for yet more land. The manner of acquisition does not matter- just more land.
The latest in the village of Kati, is destruction of a farm of a neighbour who took him to court in 2009 over malicious trespass. On 19th June 2011, he did two things – bought a piece of land in Kati C and, supervised the ‘destruction and the carrying away of fencing materials’ to his home of a farm of his neighbour in Kati A &B cells. Once he was done with visiting destruction on this farm, he called this neighbour and threatened. “Koragire ekiwakora….” (Should you dare do anything…). The poor man whose farm was vandalised had nothing to do but to report to police.
Like the proverbial fox, he now does it during daylight. “Akeshoni Kahweire” (no more humility). It does not matter that everybody is seeing, he does not give a hoot. If the patriotic lanky undergraduate of the 1970s was to meet the ‘heavy’ Otafiire of today, there would certainly be a ‘real battle of words’ and it is not definite who would ‘out-utter the other’! What is definite though is that the lanky Otafiire who ‘appropriately dressed down’ the inept, corrupt and greedy DEO that day in 1975 and saved the school from a fate that awaited it, is no relation to the ‘heavy’ Otafiire that has completely lost himself in acquiring assets at all costs.
The DEO, now long dead, he so graphically stripped before quaking parents, must be having a huge laugh in his grave.
The possibility that you and me will ‘transform’ from our current humble status to ‘primitive acquisitionists’ is real and frightening. With no fulcrums left, there are possibly only two possibilities – acquisition and unregulated quest for assets and power, or damnation. Without a strong state, culture, party or religious institution to rein in, regulate and check individual ambitions, we can all be the Bushenyi DEO.