Thursday, October 29, 2009



By Okello Kucima
Monday, 26 October 2009

Today, political scientist and analyst Okello Lucima writes about Museveni and his looming political challenges.

Sometime last year, President Yoweri Museveni reprised the ethnographic genealogies of Uganda’s ruling monarchies. In his adversarial stand-off with the Buganda monarchy, he derisively dismissed the Tooro, Bunyoro, and Buganda ruling houses as “Luo”. Gen. Museveni sounded to use “Luo”, derogatorily. As if anticipating spirited Ganda denials, the president pre-emptively challenged them to contradict him on whether “Wang Kac”, a clearly Lwo phrase, imprinted at the entrance to ancient Buganda palace gate, was in Luganda.

Apparently, unlike the Christian God, and the Chosen Galilean Son, who has been “blind”, “deaf,” and has “absconded” for two thousand and nine years, the Luo Gods were not asleep when President Museveni spoke. Suddenly, a national, regional and international constellation of “Luo Stars”, which would include Kabaka Mutebi of Buganda, began to align in ways that has thrown a gauntlet to President Museveni’s 23 years of unbroken autocracy. Even moderate, perennially neutral voices such as columnists Opiyo Oloya and Onyango Obbo, who have sometimes given the president surprisingly good press over the years, seem to have final drafts of his political obituary on their desktops.

For as long as dictator Museveni has been in power, Joseph Kony, at once and the same time the most famous, infamous and notoriously aberrant, outlier of the “Luo Stars”, has been a thorn at President Museveni’s triumphalist backside. But as far as conventional politics and opposition go, the 1980s and 1990s saw the courageous activisms of The Iron Lady, Hon. Cecilia Ogwal, Hon. Okello Okello, Hon. Reagan Okumu, Hon. Norbert Mao, and compatriot Joseph Ochieno. In academia, Professor Oloka Onyango led the troops. These were times when criticizing the NRM/A was as appropriate as members of the Christian Congregations asking their priests questions, on theological interpretations and canonical practices, after the Sunday sermon. The only critical voice that was expected, but also curtly dismissed, was that of the UPC leadership and Milton Obote in exile.

Fortunately for President Museveni, these groups of internal critics were easy to contain, through draconian constitutional provisions that outlawed political parties, and establish a de facto military government and police state, which severely controlled information and political spaces outside of the ruling NRM/A. As for Milton Obote and his lieutenants such as Messers Ochieno and Yoga Adhola, who were in exile and outside the reach of the dictatorship in Kampala, past national tragedies and Luwero massacres were always conveniently available to hang onto their necks and weigh like a millstone, on their political and democratic credibility scales.

But a year or so since President Museveni mocked Buganda and its “Luo” Monarchy, a vengeful, improvident god seems to have captured his soul and subversively taken control of his fate. Ominously to the east, rose Raila Odinga. Prime Minister Odinga’s rise to the Kenyan presidency was thwarted by open, day light robbery, apparently with the alleged collusion of the Ugandan ruler. President Museveni, like Kabaka Muwanga before him in the late 19th Century, seemed to have worried that a destructive force that might subject his presidency to ruins would come from the east. Therefore, as Bishop Hannington was for Kabaka Muwanga, so was Raila Odinga for Gen. Museveni, and his political ambitions needed to be stopped at all cost.

As if suspicion of a less than enamoured Premier Odinga with Museveni’s uncontested regional and continental leadership pretensions were not enough, the humourless fishermen of Migingo Island on Lake Victoria threw a barren rock into the bubbling political cauldron. The splash, political tête-à-têtes and undiplomatic war of words that ensued between Kampala and Nairobi, drove President Museveni to unguardedly dismiss his detractors as “Mad Jaruos”-translation: his Luo critics are mad people. This was clearly a variation on Karusoke’s classification of northerners as mere “biological substances” deserving no moral considerations.

Just after Prime Minister Raila Odinga rose in the east, another “Luo Star” was rising in the northern horizon. President Museveni’s oracles seemed to have been wrong after all, about an only easterly “malevolent” portend.

Beating the odds, that even Gen. Museveni had recognised and hoped were insurmountable, the ascension of the mere “Junior Senator” from Illinois to the US presidency, foreclosed on Uganda’s equivocations and Enron-like leveraged, democratic defalcations. With Barack Obama in Washington, junior members of the Coalition of the Willing (COW) like President Museveni, suddenly saw their political stock values tumble much lower than they had been trading for under President Bush. Henceforth, they would still stand in line for largesse from Washington, but now they would also be held to account, and expected to give convincing narrative reports of their internal political and democratic balance sheets.

Even as the surprise new power in Washington, and the other one-half of authority in Nairobi, were less than enthusiastic towards the twenty-three year fixture in Kampala, there was very little they could go on to directly shore up democratic internal opposition to the dictatorship. The conventional political opposition in Uganda was more than content to accept and play within the arbitrary rules Gen. Museveni had set for them. Hence, instead of taking proactive actions, Uganda’s opposition made a virtue out of the formalism of court challenges and reactive politics. They were more than satisfied with symbolic moral victories they could draw from sympathetic words of one or two minority judgement rulings in their favour, despite the fact the status quo remained as Museveni intended.

That was until, mysteriously, a third “Luo star”, Olara Otunnu, for long maligned by Yoweri Museveni, hurtled out of his straight jacketed diplomatic orbit at the UN, and began to speak more candidly and with political overtones for the world’s children, as well as about the democratic deficit and retail politics in his homeland.

As the former UN diplomat retched up his criticisms of Gen. Museveni for plunging Uganda into a “deep national crisis”, and embarked on a nation-wide tour to proclaim a new national democratic consensus, the Kabaka of Buganda, Ronald Mutebi, seemed to have reached deep into his being to summon up the characteristic “Luo” spirit of resistance to injustice and personal humiliation, to tell President Museveni, enough was enough.

After three or more years of suffering in silence as he saw his Kingdom being dismantled piece by piece, and acre by acre, the Kabaka finally put his foot down over Kayunga. The rest, as we will forever remember as the Kabaka Riots of 2009, is history.

If anyone had doubted the Baganda royals were “Luo”, Kabaka Mutebi did give them food for thought. He did not wilt in the face of terror. Instead, he gently and softly spoke truth to power, as did his “Luo” ancestors before him, who never were given to suffering personal humiliation and injustice passively.

Clearly, the intersection of national, regional and international politics, and their aggregated consequences, including the recent Kayunga stirrings in Buganda, must make Gen. Museveni wish that he had not taunted and woken up the slumbering “Luo” gods and “Luo” mettle in Kabaka Mutebi.

As the dynamics of international, regional and national politics begin to change, the quandary for President Museveni immediately is that it is difficult enough to be expected to begin to learn to work collaboratively and horizontally with other partners like the Kabaka as equals. It is equally humiliating, if you were Yoweri Museveni, and you had gotten used to hierarchical, command and control military style of leadership—especially if you were the one barking the commands. Because all of a sudden, you must now find creative ways to make nice with President Obama, Prime Minister Odinga, Kabaka Mutebi, as well as delicately offset the infectious impact of the diminutive Ambassador Olara Otunnu who, pound for pound, is certainly hitting ten times above his weight division (if physique counted for anything in politics).

For President Museveni, knowing you are no longer the favourite “new breed” of African leader in Washington; or recognising that Nairobi is no longer the home away- from- home that it once was in the 1980s for the once lanky guerrilla leader, do make for a lonely and isolated living at State House. However, such is less sleep-depriving than the spectre of having to simultaneously fight political enemies in the White House, Nairobi, and Mengo or stomach the extremely galling prospects of the “dead” UPC rising from its ashes like the legendary sphinx; as Olara Otunnu, with the smile of a Cheshire cat on his face, cheekily shakes his magic wand around the country.

So when President Museveni, in frustration blurted out the famous “ those mad Jaruos” at a press conference in Dar es Salaam, he did not have in mind the hapless Kenyans in the slums of Kibera, Nairobi, or angry western Kenyans, who had uprooted railway lines and blocked commercial road traffic to Uganda. Neither did he mean the pesky Kenyan fishermen of Migingo Island. The president was expressing deep anguish at the networks of influential “Luo” figures in politics, the press, academia, civil society and international diplomacy that have descended on and encircled him nationally, regionally, and internationally, like a wounded prey.

This is not to say it is some global Luo ethnic ganging-up against President Museveni. But rather that the Luo are known to be honest, just and fair in their dealings with others, and always on the right and just side of history. Their most recent history in East Africa is littered with heroes like Tom Mboya, Robert Ouko, Archbishop Janani Luwum, Erinayo Oryema, and Oboth Ofumbi, to mention but six.

The ultimate conundrum is: Having stirred the hornet’s nest with his own two sickly hands, can the “Lubengo” porter with shining pate, bundle and carry-like a valiant contestant in the “World’s Strongest Man” competition- the combined weight of three Os, an M, and a throne, across the finish lines, and ahead of the pack, in 2011?

Okello Lucima