By Edward Ssekalo
Sophistry, as defined by the Google Dictionary, is “the use of clever but false arguments, especially with the intention of deceiving.” A person who reasons with clever but false arguments is called a sophist. If you were doing a test and were out of time, you could as well summarise the definition of sophist as Andrew Mwenda. Even if there are a few others like him scattered all over social media, Mwenda is the poster boy of the art of sophistry in Uganda at the moment.
I once admired Mwenda by the way. As a student I followed him with religious devotion, witnessing his transformation over the years from a young journo who moralised, to a more mature commentator who analysed and finally to a former journalist turned businessman that uses his platform(s) to demonise any person who dares to remind us that injustice is a thing to be frowned upon; something to be RESISTED. At other times (most times), his energies will be expended on anyone that presents as a substantial threat to Mr. Museveni’s blood-fuelled hold onto power. Once it was Kizza Besigye. Now it is Bobi Wine.
Yet, I am not here to discuss Mwenda. I will instead respond to some of the fallacious arguments in his “Between Museveni’s frying pan and Bobi Wine’s fire”. First though, I will get one thing out of the way: as expected Mwenda retrieves his anti-Opposition talking points early on, brandishing his much-loved ‘radical extremist’ label which is reserved for pro-change supporters as a tool to blackmail.
As a comms professional, I know the power in disarming the person you are challenging by assigning derogative tags. It is supposed to give you the early advantage. I, however, will embrace that label. If Mwenda believes that by me voicing my displeasure with the state and style of governance of my country I am a disgruntled, talentless, unemployable, radical extremist, I will wear that label he has assigned as a badge of honour.
SO, WHAT DOES BOBI WINE STAND FOR?
The flaws in Mwenda’s piece are first shown up where he argues that “Bobi Wine’s only qualification as an alternative to Museveni is that he is critical of the status quo.” That is a most absurd assumption, because there are hundreds of Museveni opponents on the political stage. Does Mwenda stop to think why some and not others get traction in their campaigns for change? For one that passes himself off as ‘intellectual’, Mwenda should do some thinking, and show evidence of it when he writes.
He continues that “Our ‘intellectuals’ don’t care what [Bobi] stands for, the values he represents, the policy alternatives he proposes, the leadership abilities he has exhibited, the alliances he is cultivating and the organizational ability he has demonstrated.”
If Mwenda isn’t exhibiting willful ignorance, then I would suggest he does a simple Google or Facebook search. It is laughable to impute that Bobi Wine has yet to demonstrate leadership abilities (a man that was so influential even Mwenda’s friend Kale Kayihura turned to him to engage ghetto youth- that was before Bobi was even MP). Mwenda then questions the alliances Bobi is cultivating (he obviously hasn’t heard that Bobi Wine has allied with three different political bases in the last one year and which bases emerged victorious in by-elections in Arua, Bugiri, Jinja and Rukungiri). And then the winner: he dares to question Bobi Wine’s organizational ability. Seriously? A man that swept a by-election competing against an FDC incumbent and a generously-funded NRM candidate in Kyadondo East? Do you start to see the definition of ‘sophist’ in these claims by Mwenda?
Nonetheless, let’s address the suggestion that it is not clear what Bobi Wine stands for. Long before he joined the political fray, Bobi Wine identified himself as one for freedom and justice (political, economic and social), and one whose desire is a Uganda that works for all. Here is one of his quotes from last year: “Our aspiration is to live in a country in which every Ugandan is equal, free and dignified. Where every life is valuable. Where no one is above the law. Where no one can kill a Ugandan and sleeps sound[ly] – knowing that they are protected by the state.”
Bobi Wine does not need a fancy 10-point program, framed, to make these points (besides, we know how well those who came with 10-point programs and blackboards have turned out 32 years later). The millions of Ugandans he inspires know it too. He doesn’t need to identify as Marxist or clothe himself in the elitist “liberal democrat” dress the Mwendas pretend to champion for us radical extremists to agree with him that we need change.
For crying out loud, when Salim Saleh joined Mr. Museveni in their Bush War I bet he couldn’t even spell the word ‘Marxist’, let alone explain the ideology. I would bet the likes of Elly Tumwine and Abdul Nadduli followed Museveni to the bush because they had had enough of the status quo, or, quite possibly, sensed an opportunity to enjoy a life of largesse if their gamble paid off.
If Mwenda were truly the impartial analyst he purports to be, he should at least acknowledge that Bobi Wine has shown an admirable ability to read the political mood and recognize that there is a growing shift from a belief in parties (at least for pro-change Ugandans) to a growing faith in non-partisan/cross-partisan initiatives. It was that vehicle that delivered Kyagulanyi the MP. A similar approach delivered Emmanuel Macron to the French presidency, just saying.
IT’S THE YEARNING FOR FREEDOM, STUPID!
So, like Saleh was in 1982, many 22-year-old Ugandan youth today relate with Bobi Wine’s struggle for their freedom if not to do anything else, at least to WhatsApp and share their nudes in peace, without the unnecessary impediment of OTT tax. That freedom has been taken away by a government that taxes them unjustly, and impoverishes them slowly but steadily by yanking out of their hands the power to make a living as ‘hustlers’ online, or as Mobile Money agents offline.
Mwenda, these Ugandans don’t need ideologies. They don’t need a mastery of macroeconomic policy. All they need is to hear words of inspiration and Bobi Wine provides those, like a good leader does, or should, and like your sugar daddy Museveni once did. If Bobi Wine needs top class economists to guide his policy, Uganda has enough of them, and at least he has shown that he is willing to seek and use expert opinion. That cannot be said of Museveni (anymore). The likes of Bobi Wine signify vanguards in Ugandans’ daily struggles for freedom and justice; social, economic or otherwise. It’s the freedom, stupid!
The one submission Mwenda made that I truly believed was honest (even if it reeked of ignorance) was the one that about Bobi Wine having to reward his supporters with jobs if he became president. If that is an idea coming from Mwenda, it shouldn’t be surprising at all. He has been around Museveni for quite a while now that the only standard he knows is the one Museveni has set, (which is also why it difficult for him to envision a Uganda where security agents don’t brutalise citizens).
But back to the point on jobs; as an analyst, the easiest way to attempt to predict what kind of president Bobi Wine would potentially be should have been for Mwenda to examine how Bobi Wine has run his constituency of Kyadondo East. But who needs the facts on the ground when there is an anti-Opposition demonisation template to feed ‘Bobi Wine’ or ‘Kizza Besigye’ into and hit the ‘Post’ button?
*The cry baby antics about being cyber-bullied were truly laughable though. If one calls you out for the intellectual fraud you are, don’t turn around and claim it is cyber-bullying. Or should we expect that you will advise your daddy to create a division of social media police to whip us (pun intended) into line?