By David Lewis Rubongoya, graduate of Harvard and Oxford, lecturer of Constitutional Law
I watched Kahinda Otafiire speak about the dangers that lie ahead if we entrust the future of our country into the hands of people without tested leadership experience, political acumen and a strong intellect.
Unlike most people who dismissed his remarks, I personally agree that in ideal terms, politics should attract the best of society- people well equipped to give strategic direction to a nation like ours in the 21st century. In Uganda’s case, the need for competent leaders is even higher, given our turbulent history, the persistent economic stagnation, and the evident simmering tensions between tribes, classes and religions. One would be right to say that we sit on a time bomb whose explosion can be stopped or delayed by a sober, patient and capable political leadership.
What Kahinda Otafiire did not mention however, is how we ended up here. In my own assessment we face a tough trajectory. We are placed between a rock and hard place. The dominant forces in the NRM have bastardised politics so much so that the opposition has not been spared of the same traits!
Kahinda Otafiire and his ilk must therefore be reminded that it is the NRM which turned politics in Uganda into a joke. Whatever is happening and that which stares us, is nothing but their making and legacy.
In the early 1990s, the NRM had the best crop of leaders in whose hands our nation had been placed. As we grew up, the names frequently mentioned on radio stations were the likes of James Wapakhabulo, Francis Ayume, Noble Mayombo, Eriya Kategaya, Miria Matembe, Cosmas Adyebo, Specioza Wandira Kazibwe, Wilson Kanyeihamba etc etc. At that time, people ascended to political office on account of their values, virtues and intellect. It is that crop of leaders who debated and enacted the original 1995 Constitution. At the time, Parliament could engage in real debate on issues- to a point that powerful ministers were censured. An examination of the Parliamentary Hansard and court decisions emerging from that period paints a picture of a country which had been placed on a steady path despite some problems.
Then corruption set in. Many of those intellectuals who held positions of leadership started using them for personal enrichment. Kahinda Otafiire himself, a man who was by all means a respected intellectual, was named in scandal after scandal- from plundering the Congo, to irregularly giving away public property, and being accused of massive land grabbing. He rubbished whoever questioned him, at one time wondering what a swamp was doing in town; – pretending that he has not seen how developed countries maintain swamps, streams and rivers in their urban places for conservation ecology, tourism and beautification.
Anyway, it was at the hands of intellectuals like Kahinda Otafiire that scandal after scandal rocked the nation. Trillions were lost in corruption! President Museveni took it a notch higher and started paying MPs to pass controversial laws that would benefit him- starting with the amendment to remove term limits. He did not stop there- he announced that an unintelligent NRM MP was far better than an intelligent opposition MP. The NRM MP was free to sleep throughout- as long as he or she woke up every once in a while and voted for the Movement! By the time Evelyn Anite went on bended knee years later, and passed the sentence against Amama Mbabazi, intellectual debate had long flown through the window.
As corruption grew and leadership positions became ‘eating positions’, the struggle to acquire political positions became a matter of life and death. People had to do all manner of ridiculous things to enter into politics- bribery, violence, theatrics and even witchcraft! Politics became highly monetised both in terms of acquiring positions, as well as getting dividends out of those positions. The population, which had been effectively impoverished, and watching how their representatives went in there to eat, lost any appetite for ideas. You either gave him a bar of soap and a sachet of waragi or forgot his vote!
As expected, the intellectuals who cared for their reputations could not engage in these despicable actions. They were gradually sidelined in public discourse. Respected lawyers, doctors and other public servants found that they had no home in this toxic political environment. They returned their energies to their private enterprises, while many others resorted to seeking greener pastures abroad.
The intellectuals who desired to remain in politics had to behave stupidly in order to survive. To understand this point, one does not need to look further than examining the unfortunate conduct of Uganda’s successive Attorneys General (and by extension, the Directors of Public Prosecutions).
Politics was therefore by and large left to shameless people who were driven by personal gain and not conviction or patriotism. Master opportunists, manipulators and other undesirable characters flooded the August House as they did other positions of leadership. The ruling party encouraged this state of affairs by pulling down anyone whose ideas were contrary to those of the status quo- beginning with the sacking of ministers who opposed the lifting of the presidential term limits. It became normal for a minister to come out and admit that they signed contracts worth billions of shillings without reading them! It became clear that most leaders were incapable of understanding, let alone managing complex public affairs. Politics became a complete joke! Traditional opposition parties were not spared of the problems highlighted above- corruption, opportunism, intimidation, etc. Factionalism became factionalism. National interest was sacrificed at the altar of personal gain. The actors became too comfortable in this place.
It was at the apex of this situation that the People Power movement emerged and took them by surprise. It is therefore not surprising that Kahinda Otafiire does not realise that the people who support this movement are not just following a musician- they are pushing back against the system created by the NRM. This wrong analysis does not begin or end with Otafiire- President Museveni thinks that the best way to respond is by appointing the likes of Butcherman, Full Figure and Catherine Kusasira as presidential advisers and envoys. This can only worsen the situation. My advice would be that they ask themselves how we came to this point.
As Kahinda Otafiire highlights the lack of intellect and political acumen as a danger to Uganda, he should be reminded of what the Holy scriptures say – “You hypocrite. First remove the log out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.”