Sunday, January 26, 1986. The siege of Kampala is over. The guerrillas of the National Resistance Army (NRA) have seized power. They are received as conquering heroes.
It is the climax of a five-year war fought because the most recent national election was stolen. Never again shall our country be subjected to election rigging. The nightmare of a people denied their fundamental rights have been vanquished. A new day is upon us.
Here in Toronto, members of our branch of the external wing of the NRM are ecstatic. Though our contribution to the struggle has been infinitesimal, we bask in the glory of our collective triumph.
We read from The Ten Point Program, a set of principles upon which the new nation will be built. It is a sacred document for a secular new nation. We already know it by heart.
The central promise of the Ten Point Programme is the restoration of genuine democracy, free of corruption and free of manipulation of the population. It is the prescription for resolving Uganda’s disfigured politics.
Museveni’s inaugural speech on Wednesday January 29, 1986 triggers intoxicating euphoria at home and abroad.
“Nobody should think that what is happening today, or what has been happening in the last few days, is a mere change of guards. This is not a mere change of guards. I think this is a fundamental change in the politics of our country……….. The National Resistance Movement, I think, is a clearheaded movement, with clear objectives, and with good membership, with good membership. I think it makes a very big difference from the situation in which we were, where the very people in power were they themselves encouraging evil, instead of trying to combat evil. I think this is a slightly different situation.”
In the absence of fax machines, mobile phones, let alone Internet communication, the text of the president’s full speech takes days to reach us via snail mail. When it finally arrives, all are in agreement that it leaves no room for doubt. Our man has spoken the truth. The groundwork has been laid for an irreversible fundamental change in the land. We walk with a new spring in our gait and eagerly tell Canadians about the new dawn in Uganda.
In the excitement, I have not given currency to what my friend told me when I visited him in Los Angeles, California in April 1984. One of the reasons for my trip to LA was to spread the gospel of the NRM.
My friend, then a graduate student at UCLA, came from a family that had been deeply involved in the FRONASA struggles of the 1970s. He had good reason to be part of the NRM struggle.
Instead he told me point blank that Museveni might not be what he appeared to be. At best he was a political chameleon.
My friend’s opinion was informed in part by what he had learnt from impeccable sources, including some of Museveni’s closest Tanzanian political associates who had been his classmates at University College, Dar es Salaam. They were now doing graduate work at Stanford and other American universities.
One of the Tanzanians had told my friend: “God forbid that Museveni should seize power in Uganda. You may live to regret it.”
Another Tanzanian had told my friend that Museveni was “ a composite of contradictions.”
To the Tanzanians and other people my friend had spoken with, Museveni’s claims of inclusiveness, social justice, the rule of law and democracy were a façade – some verbal tonic designed to hoodwink the gullible into supporting his personal agenda.
Incidentally, Museveni had told the Tanzanians that his political hero was the nineteenth century Rwandan expansionist King Kigeri IV Rwabugiri.
My friend arranged a get together with some Ugandans in Los Angeles. I discovered that about the only people at the meetings who were on my political side were Arthur Bugaari and Sam Rwakoojo. (Sam is now the Secretary of the “Independent” Uganda Electoral Commission.)
It is 1985 now and as the suicidal coup d’état by Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa and the NRA’s conquests propel Museveni towards power, my friend remains relentless in cautioning me to restrain my trust in my man.
I am certain that my friend is wrong. Hopefully he will soon discover the truth about our leader.
However, thirty years on, he has the last laugh, albeit a painful one. A people’s dream of freedom has become a nightmare of a hijacked state. The euphoria of liberation has given way to palpable anger at a ruler who superintends a state that has been merged with him. The Ten Point Program has been consolidated into just one, namely, L’Etat, c’est moi (I am the state.)
He owns the money, the oil, and the army – the entire animal that was skinned with the blood of thousands.
Today the great advocate of unfettered democracy and time-limited leadership enters his fourth decade in power. He is propped up by a militarized police, heavily armed militias, vast amounts of cash and patently false promises used to buy and manipulate an impoverished population. King Kigeri IV Rwabugiri would be very proud of him.
It took me six years after 1986 to discover the truth of what the Tanzanians and other sources had told my friend. It took me another six years to abandon the delusion of helping change from within the NRM.
So I understand those who are charmed by a ruler with a knack for seducing sober people into a great political romance. I was once there. So were Col. Kizza Besigye, Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu, Maj. Gen. Benon Biraaro and Gen. David Sejusa. And so was the Rt. Hon. Amama Mbabazi.
In good time, Tingasiga, the political chameleon’s true agenda will become evident to you and to all who are entranced by the superficial colors of economic progress built on quicksand.
Letter to a Kampala Friend
By Muniini K. Mulera