Thursday, April 21, 2011



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

April 20, 2011

I have nothing personal against Dr. Kizza Besigye but I’m concerned about his brand of politics. There are certain acts you cannot engage in if you want to someday rule your country. There is a level of activism best left to followers to carry out on your behalf. You cannot afford to expose your underbelly to all and sundry. You must strive to be the enigma of Ugandan politics.

Modern politics is very much like modern war in more ways than one. In war, the General remains at the command post and directs operations from there. We are not in medieval times when the general led his troops from the front. The era of smart bombs, guided missiles and unmanned bombers are with us. The real war is in the command post where computers identify targets and locations in any part of the globe. That is what makes the Americans bomb the Talibans and Al Qaida in their caves without stepping there.

The Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran waged a protracted war against Reza Pahlavi the King of Iran for decades. All this time, he never set foot on the streets of Tehran to lead a protest. At his age, he was satisfied with being the spiritual leader of the movement. He became a legendary figure to the young and the old. His name alone was an inspiration to the foot soldiers of the Iranian revolution.

Most revolutionary leaders of our time have a common streak running through them. Nelson Mandela’s incarceration for 27 years on Robben Island made him a mystique. Children born after he was jailed grew up into adults and died in his name in South Africa’s protracted liberation war.

Fidel Castro’s ragtag army that overthrew the Cuban retrogressive regime in 1959 was helped by his invisibility and invincibility. Fidel didn’t have to go to the streets of Havana to prove his gallantry. The same tactic was employed by Mao Zedong the founding father of modern China.

Back here in East Africa, the mystery around Jomo Kenyatta during the struggle helped build his stature to unprecedented levels such that by the time he was being released from prison, the whole nation was ready to receive him as their undisputed leader. The same applied to Nelson Mandela when he walked from Robben Island in 1990. Even his apartheid tormentors were ready to accept him as their leader.

Having been Museveni’s comrade in the bush war of the 1980s, one gets surprised that Dr. Besigye can make a fool of himself under the guise of fighting to bring about a revolution in Uganda. Uganda is certainly not Tunisia, Egypt or any of those countries where mass protests can bring about change.

If you want a regime change in Uganda, you must be ready to do what Apollo Milton Obote did in 1971 when Idi Amin toppled him. You must be ready to do what Museveni did in 1980 when he realized that UPC had rigged the elections beyond recognition. He went to the bush to wage a war from there. He never carried banana leaves and asked ordinary Ugandans to come to the streets to demonstrate against the Obote regime because he knew that such demonstrations would take him nowhere.

Dr. Besigye’s continued street arrests with the attendant humiliation by soldiers young enough to be his children are fast eroding his clout as a respected future president of Uganda.

What he is doing is to reduce himself to the level of his followers as young police men begin to perceive him as an obstinate common street protester. For him to engage in exchange of words with junior police officers, resist orders and then allow them to howl him into a police land rover was the height of humiliation. This kind of humiliation was proof enough that Dr. Besigye is yet to command a critical mass that can shield him from police brutality or arbitrary humiliation.

It also shows that these Besigye Street protests, genuine as they were, were not well thought out and planned. If he had followed the Egyptian or Tunisian scripts, he would have used face book, twitter and mobile phones to mobilize the masses assuming that the authorities had not put a caveat on such media.

As it is, such behavior, even if it has resulted in his arrest together with a handful of his supporters, has not elevated his standing in society. In fact the Besigye that was being manhandled and humiliated by the police looked so different from Besigye the presidential candidate of last February. The candidate was more dignified than the one that showed us an arm in a sling being thrown in to an open land rover.

Dr. Besigye, get off the streets of Kampala; Uganda still needs you for president when M7 retires in 2016!