It’s Treason! Reflections under a Dictatorship
By Bradley Christopher from inside Uganda, August 25, 2018
August 13, 2018, was the final campaign day for candidates vying for the Arua Municipality MP (Member of Parliament) slot in far NW Uganda. The post fell vacant after the assassination of theformer area MP, apparently for peddling Mr. Museveni’s “life presidency” project. National television networks in Uganda had camped in Arua for days, frequently airing live reports as the country followed every twist and turn in the hotly contested race with held breath.
As has become tradition in Ugandan politics, aspirants invite ‘bigwigs’ from Kampala to boost their ratings and amplify their message. The heavier the bigwig, the better. Contestants from theruling NRM typically invite Mr. Museveni, who has ruled Uganda for 33 years and counting. But after three decades in power, he has run low on lies and characteristically reminds his audience “where he brought the country from,” promises a local youth or women’s group a few million shillings (couple thousand U.S. dollars) and warns them of faltering government services should they not vote his candidate of choice.
Opposition-leaning candidates on the other hand could count on Retired Colonel Dr. Kizza Besigye. He is the poster child of political opposition in Uganda having challenged Mr. Museveni 4 times for the presidency, losing each time in elections marred by intimidation and worse. Since his maiden run against Mr. Museveni in 2001, he has lived and experienced everything imaginable that an opponent can be subjected to under a dictatorship, including trumped up charges of rape and treason (the favorite pet charge), as well as countless grave assaults, detentions and imprisonment. He has endured deep personal loss—as when his younger brother was carted off to prison on hispolitical account under a phony charge of murder, assaulted in detention, denied medication, and ultimatelydied in prison. This lengthy CV has endeared Dr. Besigye to the Ugandan masses and a mere rumor that he will be in town easily raises huge crowds. Just so we are clear, this fact has not changed. But then enter Bobi Wine!
Bobi Wine, until early last year, was just like any other Ugandan pop star. That he was successful in the realms of music and acting in Uganda is uncontested; I dare say he is an accomplished poet as well, although his poetry is more often interwoven in his music rather than stand-alone pieces of art. Born Robert Kyagulanyi Sentamu, 12 February 1982, Robert shot to the limelight in the early 2000s with a new version of Ugandan pop on a music scene that had been hitherto dominated by Congolese music. His songs, even from early days were songs of justice, frequently advocating for the betterment of the ghetto youth. That pattern remained consistent with the crowning moment in July 2017 when he was elected area Member of Parliament for Kyadondo East beating his opponents by the biggest margin by any current MP in Uganda, in an area barely 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Kampala City Center.
Again, just so we are clear, both NRM (National Resistance Movement), Mr. Museveni’s party, and FDC (Forum for Democratic Change), Dr Besigye’s party, fielded seasoned politicians against him, but he and his “people power” message sent his opponents to a crushing defeat. He has since delivered three more parliamentary victories to the “opposition” in a period spanning less than six months, throwing his “people power” support in turn behind the 2018 victories of Paul Mwiru, JinjaEast (March 14), Asuman Basalirwa, Bugiri Municipality (July 27), and Kasiano Wadri, Arua Municipality (August 15).
As the sun set on August 13, and Mr. Museveni’s armored convoy snaked out of Arua town, he knew his candidate of choice, an additional parliamentary rubber stamp to his dictatorship stood no chance. The voices of thousands of young men and women that came out and chanted “people power, our power” had not only thundered through the streets but also ripped through the heart of the dictator.
Under the cover of darkness, the army sealed off hotels where the opposition candidate and strategists were, brutalized journalists, stole their equipment and belongings, arrested scores of MPs and their staff, shot dead Bobi Wine’s driver, and released a photo-shopped picture of a shattered hind window of a presidential convoy SUV, apparently stoned by “people power” supporters. What a shame!
Almost a fortnight later, Bobi Wine’s driver is now buried; a widow and eleven orphans left behind, MP Francis Zaake, was brutalized and dumped at Nsambya Hospital, left for dead. He continues to receive treatment there. And Bobi Wine, due to the injuries he sustained while in custody, can’t walk unaided. After a short stint in the Court Martial, he has since joined 32 others atthe Gulu civil prison on charges of, guess what? Treason!
But as one born and raised in Uganda, awed by her natural beauty and cultural riches, yet troubled by the long history of political violence and corruption, I cannot help but ask, in these times is it treason to press for change? Or is the real treason to maintain one’s power and wealth at the expense of democracy, justice, and civil freedom? Many Ugandans are asking the same question. And the voices get louder each day.
Bradley Christopher is the pseudonym of a friend I met third-hand while in Uganda several years ago. Unsettled by recent events in his homeland, he reached out to me asking if I might help him offer an inside view to those on the outside. This is one such view. ~David
For further reading, these two articles provide helpful news reports of the recent events: