Listening to Mr Yoweri Museveni speak can be deeply depressing. Reading his writings can be quite nauseating.
His New Year’s message, broadcast across many outlets on the orders of the head of the Uganda Communications Commission, Godfrey Mutabazi, did not disappoint. Mr Mutabazi, it should be pointed out, operates with an unmistakable authoritarian streak, gagging the media at will, all in the service of our mighty ruler.
One thing has become crystal clear: Mr Museveni has no regard for the people he rules – Ugandans. It’s possible he treats us with utter disdain because we have little regard for ourselves and for the country we call home.
The condescension in his tone, the sardonic attitude in his assertions, the casualness in conjuring up falsehoods all speak to the total disrespect for the public and the mockery of the republic called Uganda. It keeps getting worse the longer he stays in power.
The New Year’s message included a declaration for the admiration of American president Donald Trump. Well, Mr Trump was recently recognized and ‘honoured’ for producing the lie of the year 2017. It is little wonder, therefore, that our own Ugandan ruler, who commands an uncanny knack for endlessly repeating worn-out falsehoods, should find a hero in the American president.
The difference, though, is that the astute American media can relentlessly expose lies by American politicians. And save for the intractable partisanship that so afflicts American political life, most people will be less inclined to buy into the lies. Not in our dear republic.
Mr Museveni needs to be advised a little bit if he is to perfect the world of Trump politics. To fully embrace the Trump world of ‘alternative facts’, Mr Museveni needs to get a little innovative, perhaps then some of his conjured-up falsehoods may ring persuasive. As matters stand, it’s been all ad nauseam – same old, tired and quite predictable.
The long and winding New Year message had a litany of what we have heard all too often. Perhaps the most absurd is the talk about Uganda of 500 years ago!
Mr Museveni seriously believes there was Uganda 500, yes, 500 years ago which was betrayed by chiefs who didn’t fight to defend the nation in the same way our liberators of 1986 fought for our freedom from ‘swine’ rulers.
Come to think about it: If the head of state keeps repeating this falsehood, teachers of Ugandan history at different levels must put up with a difficult task of explaining to students the true political history of Uganda.
Easily the most disturbing self-congratulation is that of ‘sacrificing’ to rule Uganda. Please note, we are alluding here to ruling, not leading. We are told the ruler in chief has been working for the last 52 years for no or little pay.
But why? Because he has a somewhat sacred agenda to liberate Africa and a messianic mission to especially transform the East African region. No personal material benefits from ruling the country for the past three decades. Forget about him being greedy for power and seeking material aggrandisement. His only greed, as he put it, is greed for sacrifice.
Thus, the 317 ruling party members of parliament who recently betrayed the country and assaulted their own consciences deserve to be saluted for playing a crucial role in making sure the ruler is not encumbered by a needless provision in the constitution.
In the same spirit in 2005, we were reminded in no uncertain terms by the First Lady that it was Uganda that needed Mr Museveni as he was so important that he was not in need of the job of president. Elsewhere, citizens would boldly call out this blunt condescension, but this being Uganda, life goes one…
There is the bit of who is an agent of foreign interests. The usual punching bag is the political opposition and the independent media. New additions are civil society organizations and the religious leaders.
Apparently, these disparate actors are all in cahoots with external interests, primarily Western powers and organizations. This may well be true. But there is another more cogent yet inconvenient truth.
Mr Museveni has been easily the leading agent of Western interests not just in Uganda but on the African continent. From embracing Western dictated economic policies to fighting America’s military wars on the continent and more recently backing off the anti-homosexuality law in the face of Western pressure, Mr Museveni should surely be the last person to call out others for working for the West.
On the strength of his track-record, he has excelled in this endeavour. It is a sad spectacle. As we usher in a new year, we are treated to the same old dose of condescending falsehoods and misleading narratives.
What should we expect in the year ahead? Another rap? Be prepared for more lectures on how we have been saved by the singular ruler most disinterested in being president yet will break the bank to buy his way to cling on.
Best wishes for 2018 to all who read this column, and to the great Observer team that make this possible.
The author is an assistant professor of political science at North Carolina State University.