General Kale Kayihura’s disappearance from the public eye a couple of weeks ago had Kampala talking.
Most Kampalans hoped Red Pepper’s reportage was accurate, at least this time.
Kayihura too was silent for a frightening while, and when he chose to respond, it was a classic act: “I am touched that people are really concerned about my life when they don’t see me around, but I am fine,” Daily Monitor reported Kayihura simply appreciating the love Ugandans have for him!
Afande Kayihura must be aware, however remotely, of how hundreds or even thousands will dance to his grave were he to pass on today. For his work as head of the police force – a force that is competitively more brutal than any other in Uganda’s police history – a sizeable number of Ugandans, especially in Kampala, pray the gods treated him like flies to wanton boys!
As the tabloids continued merrymaking about his ‘poor’ health, the good general must have fancied the idea that disco halls would be filled, beer depots emptied, and pregnancies made were news of his illness confirmed. And worse if the ailment was terminal (God forbid)!
There have been many deaths of public figures lately: big investors, renowned politicians, celebrities, etc. Although death is a terrible thing to wish unto anyone, you will not miss hushed voices wondering why it has not visited men like Afande Kayihura or President Museveni.
Ironically, it is those who wish others death that have, instead, died! Many Kampalans believe that were President Museveni to die or those tirelessly propping his government, perhaps conditions would get better.
Especially in a condition of increasing cost of living, general poverty, anarchy and more police and military-aided land grabs, this longing for the president’s death continues to gain a prayerful constituency. “Oh God, of the next lives you recall, let there be President Museveni!”
It would be foolhardy to condemn anyone’s right to prayer as worship is a constitutional right. However, I choose not to enjoin those praying to the Almighty to kill our president and inspector general of police. My contention is not that the deaths of these two men does not change anything.
Of course, a lot would change. My argument is that what needs to actually change in the Ugandan national psyche and character will not change just with their deaths.
In fact, Kayihura and President Museveni have offered Ugandans an opportunity to rethink their national character and workmanship. Let me explain: for any visitors, the easiest thing to tell about Ugandans more broadly is that they lack that rough spirit of struggle and sacrifice.
That doggedness to continue knocking and striving; the resoluteness to withstand challenges. They are generally flippant and are pleased with small things – cars, women and good food – and not nobler items such as the future of their children.
In fact, the idea of prayer, rather than reflect their faith in God, speaks to a culture of passiveness, lack of collective resolve bordering on idiocy and cowardice.
This passiveness has a history. If colonialism gave us the modern state, the anti-colonial struggle should have given us identity and character. Countries where the anti-colonial struggle was fierce have cultured into serious champions of their destinies. They never wait for manna from heaven.
They are uncompromising and play at the frontline: Kenya, DRC, Sudan, Nigeria, Ghana, Arab Africa, etc. In Uganda (and perhaps all British protectorates) the anti-colonial struggle was weak and half-hearted.
Buganda, which would have championed the fight for independence, not only collaborated, but was also obsessed with going separate ways. In the end, the entire country sat back until the British, on their own accord, felt they could not sustain colonialism.
Acting like colonial lords of sorts – militarily enforced land grabs, a mafia army of comprador elites, a parliamentary despotism – the government of President Museveni has given Ugandans an opportunity to redefine their character. The challenge for our organic intellectuals and political activists is to mobilize and excite Ugandans into active politics. The campaign to amend the Constitution for Museveni to continue ruling is a defining moment for Uganda.
It is a moment for consummate and active participation. Please do not wish for Museveni’s natural death. Nor wish for a Tanzania to come to your rescue.
This is the same argument against foreign aid – reducing beneficiaries into passive onlookers, and, by extension, perpetual beggars. Fancy a former President Museveni alive in the countryside as a safeguard for national character.
The author is a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research.