With the Ugandan presidential re-selection now concluded, various local and foreign observer teams are issuing their preliminary reports.
The reports we have read so far are characterized by people speaking in tongues without interpretation.
The Bible says that if anyone speaks in a tongue, someone must interpret. We therefore volunteer a free service to the selection observers and heads of state that will soon be sending congratulatory messages to the Ugandan ruler.
I am especially moved to do this because one of the foreign observers and three of the local observers are my very dear friends. Perhaps they will assist their teams to call things what they are.
Many reports refer to the election as having been flawed. The English dictionaries tell us that the word flawed refers to something being blemished, damaged, unsound, defective, distorted, faulty, inaccurate, erroneous, incorrect, imprecise, misleading, fallacious or imperfect in some way.
Imagine a doctor deliberately and knowingly doing things to a patient with intent to do harm. For example, a doctor wants to sexually abuse a patient. He administers heavy sedation to her and proceeds to rape her. He is caught by several eyewitnesses who report him to the local regulatory college. Does the disciplinary committee find him guilty of committing irregularities? Of course not. In their findings, the disciplinary committee of his college of physicians would state that the doctor had engaged in severe malpractice, strip him of his license to practice and ask the police to charge him with criminal conduct including rape.
Used to describe last week’s Ugandan presidential selection, the word flawed is only appropriate for speech in tongues. The correct language to describe what happened is that the so-called election was massively stolen by the incumbent’s agents. No, come to think of it, the correct statement is that Ugandans were victims of a massive armed robbery.
A common “flaw” that the observers invariably report is that the ground was not level. In common English usage, this phrase refers to an inequitable situation that gives a person or groups an unfair advantage over their competitors.
To an African boy like me who grew up playing soccer on terribly uneven ground, the expression does not invite ready recognition of the imbalance of opportunities among the competitors. An unlevelled playing field rarely stopped the disadvantaged team from scoring serious goals.
When a presidential candidate unleashes upon his competitors the might of public money, heavily armed military and partisan police, illegal militias, a partisan electoral commission and the entire state machinery to undermine their reach, the level is not just unlevelled. It is upside down.
When the news media houses are bought, threatened, manipulated and otherwise rendered impotent, the correct word to describe the Ugandan political field is not simply unlevelled. It is a rocky inferno, one which spared the president because he floated above the ground in an air-conditioned balloon.
The observers should simply and accurately report that the main opposition candidates (Kizza Besigye and Amama Mbabazi) were forced onto a teargas-filled rocky inferno with explosives raining on them.
To obfuscate mattes further, the observers refer to the exercise as having been marred by many irregularities. To begin with, when wrong things happen in the majority of polling stations or even the majority of districts, they cease to be many. They become innumerable, incalculable and too widespread to have been unintended errors.
However, it is the word “irregularities” that needs interpretation. Told to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, guardian of the English language, she would immediately consider that the “elections” were fine except for some indiscretions, misdeeds, anomalies, wrongdoings, loopholes, peccadilloes, abnormalities, inequalities and such other innocuous-sounding little things that she would graciously consider excusable human foibles.
However, invited to interpret these tongues for Her Majesty, I would tell her that the word “irregularities” really means that the selection was characterized by widespread criminal acts by state agents. That is the phrase that ought to appear in the reports, with the necessary legal actions taken to address the criminal conduct.
Election observers do not have a monopoly on this misuse of words. Even respected media houses in Uganda and abroad have informed the world: “President Museveni wins re-election,” or phrases to that effect.
Now let’s think together, friends. A university student, in collusion with corrupt chaps in the academic registrar’s office, is a beneficiary of altered examination results. His academic transcripts which should indicate an F (fail) in most subjects and an E for effort, now show that the fellow is an A+ student.
Do we say that he has passed and qualified for the award of an honors degree? The correct statement, even as we enjoy his “graduation” ceremony, is that he has been awarded a degree – wink, wink. There is a subtle but critical difference.
My journalist friends should also do us a favour by stating things as they actually occurred. Museveni was not elected or re-elected president. He did not win the contest, for there was no contest. He was declared winner by the electoral commission. The headline: “Museveni wins” is false. The headline “Museveni declared winner” is correct.
Soon we shall read congratulatory messages from other countries’ leaders and rulers. The Kenyan president has already weighed in “on behalf of the people of Kenya” in a message that claimed that the people of Uganda had loudly spoken.
Many Kenyans and Ugandans are angry with Uhuru Kenyatta for saying that. I am not one of them. First, one gets angry when one expects to hear different words from our Kenyan brother. Surely with Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto being a member of the Museveni campaign team, did anyone expect Uhuru to say anything different from what Kale Kayihura and Badru Kiggundu are merchandising? I really have no problem with a man congratulating his own team. The only quarrel Kenyans should have with him is that he has claimed to speak for them. Are those early symptoms of the King Louis XIV syndrome? The seventeenth century French King is immortalized by his declaration” l’etat c’est moi (I am the state.)
Second, is Uhuru not right that Ugandan people have spoken? Ugandans have spoken with their votes for change. Notwithstanding the innumerable criminal acts that forced opposition candidates and their supporters into a political inferno, Ugandans still massively rejected the ruler at the ballot box. The regime’s court dancers can say whatever they want, but THEY know that theirs is a song of fiction. Museveni lost.
A large group of Ugandans, albeit a minority of the population, have also spoken. These are the president’s supporters. When Museveni was declared the winner, his supporters spoke with a louder silence than the ritual two minutes’ of silence that the NRM rulers observe in memory of those who died so that they could enjoy the fruits of power.
In the next few weeks, arrangements for celebrations will be made. Revelers will be bused in. Guns will be everywhere to ensure the happy crowds are not disturbed by disgruntled, misguided citizens who dream of freedom. But it will be akin to celebrating a marriage to someone else’s spouse that you kidnapped at gunpoint.
President Kenyatta and others should be availed videos and photos of police, soldiers and crime perpetrators laden with pre-ticked ballots, accosted by citizens who spoke loudly in condemnation of the crime. They should speak to some of the brave staff members of the Electoral Commission whose reports to us affirm the farce that the exercise became.
Now, there is another word that needs interpretation. A farce is a comedy that features absurd plots that are ridiculously unbelievable. The Ugandan drama floats between a farce and a Shakespearean tragedy.
I would have called Museveni’s latest act a Pyrrhic victory. However, that word is mild and needs interpretation. It is a stolen selection, one that should make Museveni’s supporters think back to 1980.
I, for one, have been asking the Lord to forgive me for all the things I said about Paulo Muwanga, Milton Obote et al following the selection on December 10, 1980. I wish I could swallow those words.
By Muniini K. Mulera
MUNIINI K MULERA·SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 21, 2016
Dr. Muniini Mulera is a Ugandan born medical doctor based in Toronto, Canada