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Will Museveni’s medal politics win the north and east?

By Patrick Kagenda

Not many Ugandans know the name Ferdinand Oyono. It is an important name to know in the context of the 190 medals that President Yoweri Museveni handed out Jan. 26 in Mbale on the occasion marking the 24th anniversary of his capturing power.

Oyono, who is Cameroonian, wrote a powerful book about the politics of medals. The book is titled “The old man and the medal. In it, the protagonist called Meka, serves his government well. In return the government decides to reward him with a medal. Unfortunately, by the time the government reaches this decision, Meka has realised that he made a mistake to serve the government so well. He in fact detests the medal. Oyono understood African politics well. He first became an ambassador in 1965. He later served as minister in various portfolios until 1997.  He was again appointed ambassador in June 2009. He, therefore, understands the politics of disillusionment.

The Mbale medals were unique at three levels. First, the number was the biggest ever. Secondly, for the first time Museveni awarded medals to his foes, including leaders of the regime that he toppled whom he had previously referred to as swine. Thirdly, it is the first time that the medals were given to people from predominantly one tribe the Bamasaba/Bagisu.

These factors, coupled with the presence of former Kenya president Daniel Arap Moi, the talk of post-election violence, and the venue of Mbale have got tongues wagging.

Mbale is significant in Museveni’s political life. In his book, Sowing the Mustard Seed, Museveni narrates how in 1971 he set up guerrilla camps in the Mt. Elgon area with the help of Ikuya Magode and Maumbe Muhwana. It is also in Mbale, Museveni narrates, that he lost one of his friends, Martin Mwesigwa in a firefight with soldiers of Idi Amin’s government.

Many in Mbale regard Magode and Muhwana as central to Museveni’s ascendance to power. They are therefore vexed that the duo has not prospered as other Museveni bush allies have. They are disillusioned and may not welcome Museveni’s belated recognition of their role. In fact, Magode has become one of the more vitriolic commentators against the excesses of the Museveni regime.

The history of medals is equally interesting. Alexander the Great is said to have awarded the first medal to a religious leader of the Jews who helped him win wars. Later, in the Middle Ages, powerful Europeans gave medals as gifts to people whose support they either had or desired. It was a sign that the giver prized the support of the receiver.

It, therefore, is obvious that Museveni is courting the north and east. Will they detest his medals?

It is an insult to former president Tito Okello, and his army commander Bazilio Okello for Museveni to honour them on the day he overthrew them from power,” says Chris Opoka Okumu, Secretary General of the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), It is an insult to the dead who he once ridiculed and described as killers.”

Opoka says Museveni has no clear policy on recognising past Ugandan leaders and heroes.Â

If Museveni was serious, he should have recognised them on Independence Day but not on January 26 the day of his triumph.  If he is serious why did he leave out people like Lt. Namiti (RIP), Lt. Kato (RIP),Lt.Dr Kapalanga now professor for  medicine at the New York State University who crossed lake Victoria from Tanzania, and a host of the other young men at the time who attacked Rubongi barracks and went back to Tanzania?  Why in the Save Uganda Movement does he recognize only Col. William Omaria and leave out Eteker Ejalu, Akena P`ajok, and others? Why did he leave out Kikoso Maalum`s Brigadier George Nyero now leaving in Washington?

Kikosi Maalum was aligned to UPC.

The honoured included both combatants and non-combatants from fighting groups that ousted General Idi Amin who took power after a military coup against the Obote I regime in 1971. Amin was ousted from power by a combined force  led by the  Tanzania Peoples Defense Forces (TPDF) and Ugandan exiles under the Kikosi Maalum that was pro  late Ugandan president Apollo Milton Obote, Front for National Salvation(FRONASA) under current Uganda  President  Yoweri Museveni and Save Uganda Movement that was under the late Eteker Ejalu.

In the Kikosi Maalum (Swahili meaning Special Force) all who were awarded medals are long dead and included the late former President General Tito Okello Lutwa, Gen. Bazilio Olara Okello, Major General David Oyite Ojok, Brig. Smith Opon Acak, Col. Tony Otoa save for Maj. Gen. Zed Maruru who is still alive, while in the Save Uganda Movement former minister in the Obote II regime, Col. William Omaria was awarded the Kagera medal.

Opoka says Museveni decided to take the 24th NRM celebrations to Mbale as a way of wining it back from the opposition.  Over 50% of those awarded were Bagisu/Bamasaba. Question: Will Museveni now start awarding medals on a tribal basis in every area he visits? In the 2001 election, Museveni sent out one million letters to individuals appointing them as his campaign managers. He later boasted that it ensured that he had one million votes in the bag. Is he prepared to give out one million medals this time?

Mbale was a strong base for the Fronasa and quite a number of them lost their lives in the area,” he says, it is growing more opposed to the NRM and he is getting worried to lose it like he has done Busoga and the west that are beginning to get off the NRM radar.

Mbale town has been an opposition stronghold since son of the soil, James Wapakhabulo who had been speaker of the national parliament and perceived NRM insider, died in destitution. Museveni’s anointed in the area, Wanjusi Wasieba, has been rejected several times. Museveni’s visit there was significant because his party looks set for another walloping by the opposition. Its flag-bearer John Wambogo is battling party-mate Shinyabulo Mutende who is standing as an independent in the NRM.Â

Another interesting talking point is the presence of former Kenyan president Daniel Arap Moi. Moi was awarded the Nalubaale Medal for civilian activists for his contribution to the political struggle against dictatorship in Uganda. Museveni referred to Moi as a freedom fighter.

Significantly, Kenya was in 2007 embroiled in post-election violence.

Political pundits claim Museveni invited Moi because Moi is a very good propagandist and besides, Moi still has some respect among the African leaders though on the international scene he is weightless.

The irony of this invitation is that Museveni invited Moi on the NRM`s 24th anniversary the very years that Moi spent at the helm of power in Kenya,” said one.  It might be a bad omen.

Another said Moi’s presence is significant because he mediated the peace talks in 1985 between Museveni`s NRA rebels at the time and the Lutwa government whose delegation was headed by ambassador Olara Otunnu, who returned recently to challenge Museveni.

The return of Otunu into Ugandan politics could have pushed Museveni to seek Moi`s advise considering the fact that Otunu has a lot of international friends even in Kenya.

Museveni’s international star is dimming. The recent Congressional directive to US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to  closely monitor and report on the 2011 election might snuff it out if the usual rigging, violence, and voter intimidation occurs.

In any case, people claiming knowledge of diplomatic etiquette say Museveni veered off the mark during the medal awards ceremony.  They say, Museveni who first decorated his chief guest Daniel Arap Moi was later decorated with the Kagera Medal, (given to people for their military contribution to the liberation of Uganda) by the Ugandan Chief of Defense Forces, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima.

Museveni does not know protocol because Moi as the chief guest should have decorated Museveni instead of his junior Gen Aronda Nyakairima, one diplomat said. Who cares about such things any way? After all, what is in a medal?

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