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The strategy of radical extremism

How a section of those advocating for change is against any public scrutiny of the values and policies

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW MWENDA | On the night of Friday August 31t, one of our top musicians, Bebe Cool aka Moses Ssali, was nearly lynched by supporters of Bobi Wine aka Robert Kyagulanyi, the rising star in Uganda’s turbulent politics. They hurled bottles, chairs and other objects at him. They would have killed him were in not for intervention of the Uganda police. Bebe Cool’s only crime is that he holds a contrary view from theirs.

I have been arguing that Bobi Wine has mobilised a fanatical group of radical extremists intolerant of dissent. Their conduct is akin to that of the followers of Dr. Kizza Besigye. In fact their followers are drawn from the same pool. The rise of Bobi Wine is taking the shine away from Besigye. I will return to this issue another day and argue that I suspect President Yoweri Museveni is behind the rise of Bobi Wine – if not directly, at least deliberately and tacitly.

State orchestrated terror and torture of Bobi Wine and some of the people close to him have created a huge wave of sympathy for him in the country – sympathy I also share. It is also projecting him as a victim of a cruel and intolerant state security apparatus in support of an ageing dictator who refuses to retire. I also share these feelings.

However, the evil behaviour of the state should not blind us to the strategic risks this group of radical extremists pose to the cause of liberty, freedom and democracy in the country. This is even the more compelling because Africa has produced many such millenarian cults presenting themselves as liberators but who have turned out to be worse than the dictators they fought. Museveni’s critics argue he is the ultimate example of this perversion of a liberation movement. Therefore, analysis of the values of those seeking to replace him is critical. It does not make sense for us to trade one corrupt dictatorship with a fascist tyranny.

As Ugandans witnessed on Friday the near lynching of Bebe Cool, as Ugandans saw the pelting of the president’s convoy with stones, and as many Ugandans have suffered physical and psychological terror at the hands of this group, we must raise alarm bells on this group loudly and consistently. This group is made up largely (not entirely) of radical extremists intolerant of dissent. They indulge in unrestrained cyber bullying, lies, forgery, blackmail and intimidation – on the streets, at rallies and most especially online.

More than 99% of this group’s members that I have encountered have been online. However I have lately had the chance to encounter a few enlightened Ugandan intellectuals who support Bobi Wine. This article is a discussion with them. I think these intellectuals have allowed their frustrations with the corruption and incompetence of the Museveni administration and the president himself to cloud their assessment of the risks even to them by this group.

Any intellectual discussion of a post Museveni era must deal with the president’s record of performance and then address the leadership competences, policies and values of those seeking change. On this score, Museveni has actually an excellent record of performance against any indicator we can select. He is weak on values and his policies are increasingly getting out of sync with what Uganda needs. The problem is that his critics are worse on values, horrible on leadership competences and empty on policies.

So their strategy is this: deny facts and insist that everything is subjective and relative, that all statistical evidence is cooked unless it favours their point of view. Make people believe any argument that is favourable to Museveni is not based on facts or conviction but has been paid for. Then keep insisting that there is nothing else happening in the country other than those bad things that are driving people’s momentary anger. Also exaggerate the level of decay in the country to reinforce this distorted version of reality.

The aim is make people believe that only change (and any form of change) can rescue the country from Museveni’s failures. That we should not worry about the leadership competences, policies and values of the most influential leaders of the change movement such as Besigye and Bobi Wine. That to raise questions on these issues is one way of ensuring Museveni stays in power.

They present our politics today as a contest between Museveni on one hand and Bobi Wine and Besigye on the other; that there are no other alternatives available. We are told that people like Mugisha Muntu and others who articulate another vision of moderation are moles Museveni has planted in the opposition; that any third or fourth alternative is a disguised support for Museveni. That one is only a supporter or believer in change if they support defiance and/or people power.

I disagree with this. There is more to our politics than this clash between Museveni on one hand and Besigye and Bobi Wine on the other. There are more strategies of change other than defiance and people power. Uganda has many more alternatives. These may not have much traction in the polarised climate of this moment. But that does not mean they should be ignored or they are not feasible and better. The majority are not always right.

I believe politics should be about values and principles; that the role of leaders is to impart them to their followers; that leaders should not pander to the worst instincts in their supporters. Rather they should appeal to the better angels in their followers.

We are being told that if Museveni’s opponents exhibit fascist tendencies of intolerance and violence, we should not blame them; that we should understand this to be an inevitable result of Museveni’s politics; that when those fighting for change intimidate, blackmail, slander, character assassinate, forge, lie and hurl insults and abuses at those who disagree with them, this does not reflect on the nature of the government they will run when they take power.

In this worldview, all that Uganda needs is change. It doesn’t even matter what means are employed to bring about change; that lies, forgery, intimidation, cyber bullying, blackmail, physical assault should be seen as weapons of the weak fighting a dictatorship. Well I do not agree that the end justifies the means. Rather I believe that it is the purity of the means that should justify the end.

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amwenda@independent.co.ug

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