Dear Mr President,
I really hope this letter gets to you because lately, we never know how to. We miss the days when you came to our parents’ homes and asked them to put their lives down to fight for this idea, this seemingly great idea of a nation.
Many of them believed you and walked the death-path with you, they got shot in places even you may not be aware to ‘resist’ (you called it ‘resistance’) bad rule.
But now they can’t talk to you as they did then.
No one can comfortably shake your hand if they are not a dignitary or at your invite. You are sheltered in bullet proof glasses when you appear in public, guarded by two perimeter walls of our own brothers and sons, the ones you call your soldiers.
When you travel, you are sandwiched, in a convoy of 30 or more cars, driving at break-neck speeds. The roads are closed to let you pass, the people are stopped from their work, the world literally stops. We didn’t know that you would this until we saw it. We knew the stout young man that trekked the bushes and herded on the milk of our cows, we remember the man who held a cattle grazing stick and a gun at the back as he spoke to our fathers and mothers and told them how this resistance meant everything for them.
We remember the crooning gospel of better to come, the preaching of how governments made people disappear, how checkpoints were robbery ATM’s and how we needed to fight that. Quite honestly, we now remember it even clearer than we’d ever before. That gospel of governments making people disappear?
It’s the talk of the villages now, we whisper to each other in bars about our suffering for the fear of our thoughts being heard, we quickly remind each other of the chests of money that will be required to bail ourselves out if we speak what we believe, if we speak about how we feel, if we speak about how we don’t like where we are going.
The checkpoints are on our homes now, they always come – your men. They come to our homes, through our phones and computers and ask what we are doing. If they like it, you are left, if they don’t you could almost end up on Aswa bridge bleeding out. They say they are sent by you. They say they act for you. Mr President, do you know these men? Have you stopped them from speaking things you don’t believe in?
Remember how you’d joke with our fathers that Grace Ibingira joke? The one of how he would be flown to Karamoja for a ‘crime’ he committed in Kampala? Well, Sir, the men who say they work for you recently lifted this man, the one who always nursed your wounds, you recall him? Yes, that one with glory eyes, they took him to Moroto (Is that Karamoja?) for a ‘crime’ he committed in Kampala.
Even harbeas corpus couldn’t save him. You know how Obote didn’t respect court decisions, you know how he’d have his way. The men who say they work for you, they have taken it a notch higher, they come and surround courts and arrest the people who have been released by court. They say they don’t believe that justice has been served.
Mr President, when you kneel to pray tonight, as you did on many nights with our fathers, pray for the Son of Kachope, one of the people we fought with in the Western axis, his son, the one who went to law school, yes that one, he was arrested by the men who say they work for you, they say he was putting on a T-shirt that they thought wouldn’t make you happy. These men, they say they know the things you like. Who are they to you?
Mr President, I’d like to ask, how do you find sleep? How do your eyes close? Because on our side, they barely do; our wives are in hospitals giving birth to the next generation, just that we are not sure if the baby and their mother will survive. We worry that we may not find drugs in the hospitals when we fall sick so we don’t fall asleep and entail in the luxuries it carries. We stay up and work four to five jobs to keep afloat. We are under-employed and unemployed but that is hardwork.
Do you know what hard work is Mr President?
When you journey in your 30 vehicle convoy with leather cushion seats and enter AC powered offices to argue on funny statistics, do you call that hardwork? When you address six rallies in a day and meet people with all ailments, do you call that hardwork too? Have you missed a meal recently? Have you not had money to actually buy meal anytime recently? When did you last pay rent dues? Have you stared at your salary printout and seen the taxes take 30% of it?
Mr President have you woken up to go to your office and found it demolished recently? Mama Nakawombe did, her vegetables were even squashed in the process. The ones who did it said they did it for development. They say you sent them.
Mr President, have you paid school fees and tuition recently? Have you seen how the prices have sky-rocketed? While at it how many of us can line up for a 5mn shillings prize to buy suits and pilawo? We could use a breather.
Mr President, the people are saying, you nolonger listen. People are saying you live in a world of your own. People are saying that the statistics you throw around are not the picture of their homes.
One last request Mr President, can your men not come to my house? I can come and explain myself for this one. I can tell you stories of how in 1995 we agreed that we could say some things without fear of retribution. Don’t treat my family to the trauma of looking for me from here to Moroto. You just have to call and I will be at hand to talk.
But if it is true that you sleep with all this, then truly, you are not the man my father met years ago. You are not the man who’d sleep with all this going on.
Mujuni Raymond, the author, is a Ugandan journalist