About me.

Andrew M. Mwenda is the founding Managing Editor of The Independent, Uganda’s premier current affairs newsmagazine. One of Foreign Policy magazine 's top 100 Global Thinkers, TED Speaker and Foreign aid Critic

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Uganda’s political masturbation

The death of Nabenda and the attention it has attracted shows how distant from real issues our political discourse has gotten

The death of the Woman Member of Parliament for Butaleja District, Cerinah Arioru Nebanda and the resultant hullabaloo around it reflects the crisis of the political class in Uganda.

It confirms Prof. Mahmood Mamdani’s assertion that every form of rule shapes the form of resistance to it. The NRM has ruled Uganda largely through corruption, lies, subterfuge, false accusations and manipulation. Those who seek to remove him from power employ the same tricks. Yet a meaningful struggle against the ills of a deeply entrenched corrupt system like that of the NRM has to be – first and foremost – a struggle over values. Without a framework of the values around which resistance is organised, we run the risk of removing Mobutu but not Mobutuism.

I would have been surprised if the NRM government, knowing its extreme incompetence, negligence and disorganisation, came out acting responsibly and in a well-organised manner to articulate a coherent case of how the MP died.

In fact had it done so, I would have suspected it of having a hand in her death – for we must remember that although the NRM government has consistently proven its utter incompetence and mediocrity in almost every big and small agenda it has initiated, it has been remarkably skillful in the one thing it seeks above all else – regime survival.

Therefore, it could only have killed Nebanda if the MP posed – not just a tactical or even strategic threat – but an existential threat to its survival. And precisely because regime survival is its most highly developed capability, it would have managed the information flow around Nebanda’s death with dazzling skill.

Thus, even though the government does not often kill its critics, where I have suspected that it has done so, it has always handled the issue with remarkable thoroughness to cover its tracks leaving little clues of its deadly hand.

Therefore, as the government fidgeted, contradicted itself, panicked and bungled up all communication regarding Nebanda’s death, it confirmed to me that it had no prior plan and knowledge of it.

This was classical NRM when dealing with matters other than regime maintenance – because whenever and wherever an issue of citizen interest that is separate from power-retention has come to the fore, the NRM government has exhibited remarkable indifference, incompetence and apathy. The regime only moves when there are existential threats to its power.

Nebanda did not, and could not, by any stretch of the imagination have posed such an existential threat. And this is where I painfully have to agree with President Yoweri Museveni: if anyone suggests that his government killed Nebanda, that person is leaving in an imaginary world.

Why would government kill her: because she made some noise against an oil bill? The Museveni regime does not kill critics. At most, it just ignores them; often, it buys them off; sometimes, it intimidates them; and on occasion, it blackmails them into silence. Let us deal with the NRM we know, not the one we want to imagine.

That Museveni’s critics would rally around Nebanda’s death to discredit him shows how equally opportunistic they are. They tend to pick fights with him where they should just ignore him i.e. on minor issues that mean little to the ordinary citizen like the death of Nebanda.

They avoid confronting him on issues where they should fight i.e. matters that affect our nation in a fundamental way – like on the delivery of public goods and services to ordinary citizens.

Having failed to organise effectively to remove him, they have retreated to the world of make-believe. For instance, whenever he disappears from public view for a few days, rumours circulate like wildfire that he is dead or critically ill.
Thus frustrated at their inability to remove him, they cling unto such false hopes – that somehow, nature delivers to them on a silver platter that which they have failed to do through political mobilisation and organisation.

This only shows the poverty of our opposition and elite class; its avoidance of reality and its obsession with quick fixes. Indeed, they behave like a man who fails to get a pretty woman to consent to go to bed with him and retreats to having an imaginary relationship with her in his dreams.

Nebanda was just any other ordinary and opportunistic Ugandan politician caring more about her career than the destiny of the people of Uganda. For instance, she was a staunch DP at university. When she went to run for parliament and found that NRM is the most popular party in her constituency, she changed.

In fact this fundamental weakness in her political principles was clear to Museveni. He said at his press conference that one time she asked him for “something” (I suppose money) and he had promised to help.

There are many issues that concern the lives of the people of Uganda, which never gain the attention of those who pretend to oppose Museveni. Two years ago, The New Vision, of all newspapers, reported that an audit of western and central regions had exposed the existence of 103 ghost hospitals.

Government had spent years sending medicines, paying staff on top of initially procuring land, constructing the hospitals and equipping them. There was not a whisper in public debate on this issue. Yet 26 mothers in Uganda die in childbirth every day because of a disastrous healthcare system characterised by theft, negligence and indifference.

Also, 80,000 kids die every year of preventable diseases. In 10 years you have a death toll of 800,000 kids, equal to the Rwanda genocide. Not once has anyone in our parliament or media or so-called civil society made this their moral crusade.

I can go on and on giving examples of public policy failures in our education, agriculture, infrastructure, judiciary, pensions, energy and other sectors that are destroying the hopes and dreams of the young and the poor, which never find space in our political discourse. Instead, our politicians and other elites fight petty battles in Kampala unrelated to the daily struggles of our people. This crass opportunism bby the political class shows why 42% of the electorate kept away from the polling booth in 2011; and why the 58 percent who cared to vote insisted on doing so only after they had been paid. Happy New Year!

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