Many that comment on veteran journalist Andrew Mwenda, start by nostalgically reminiscing how they used to admire his journalistic prowess, courage to bluntly speak truth to power, and argumentation abilities.
Then they proceed to bash what he is today. On the contrary, I was an admirer of Mwenda then, and I admire him even more today.
I wish I had the courage and ability to reduce my entire world to ‘Besigye and his fanatic followers’.
Life would be much easier where I didn’t have much to think about beyond one man’s doings and flaws. So, every day I would wake up without the burden to think, but to simply wind and whine about Besigye in my justification of the other. How simple and beautiful such a life would be!
Honestly speaking, thinking is tiresome. So, if I narrowed my thought space to Besigye, and maybe Bobi Wine, what a wonderful retirement that would be! I would smoke Besigye, breathe Besigye, belch Besigye, and dream Besigye. No hustle. What for? Aren’t we always advised to be focused in life?
I wish I had Mwenda’s love and nook for statistics. What a relief that would be in life where I could reduce everything to statistics, especially on those few moments when I wanted a commercial break from the subject of Besigye.
The fun in engineering statistics! The God-like powers of simply commanding your head that ‘let there be statistics,’ and they instantly get manufactured, exactly the way you want them.
Oh, the power of torturing statistics until they confess to my truths! Then I would back them with random citations. What an awesome way to distract my opponents in argument with exhilarating nothings, then lose them in labyrinths of sophistical circumlocution and forests of statistical maneuvering.
In his appropriately titled classical book How to Lie with Statistics (1954), the (then) journalist Darrell Huff observes that ‘there is terror in numbers’.
I sincerely admire how Mwenda mastered Huff’s principle in statistical deployment: “If you can’t prove what you want to prove, demonstrate something else and pretend that they are the same thing.” You see, in sophistry, what matters most is winning an argument.
In ancient Greece, the art of sophistry is said to have been introduced by a group of itinerant teachers that came to be known as Sophists. Unlike other philosophers then, they taught for a fee. What they taught was not how to arrive at the truth; rather, how to win arguments by hook or crook.
A sophist would argue with a straight face in defense of the idea that 2x2 = 22, and probably beat their opponent through complex confusion.
Similarly, today they can negotiate safe passage for ideas like: corruption is good for economic growth; land grabbing fosters development; over-taxation is necessary for the provision of social services; longevity in power doesn’t affect economic development; etc.
I envy Mwenda’s botherless wrongness. Sometimes life is so boring and frustrating in the real world. There are times you wish it was all a fantasy. As in the philosopher Rene Descartes’ methodical doubt, you want to believe that maybe we are just being deceived by some malignant demon that all we see is real.
I want to fly away into my own realities. I want to be a magician. I want to be the dung beetle that rolls its ball of dung all its active time without caring what others think.
I long for total liberty to throw up, be it in private or public. I want total freedom. I want to be a goat, to freely raise my tail all time for all to see the beauty and cleanliness of my ‘coffee maker’.
I wish to break free from my past. No one should hold me hostage to what they knew me for before. I want to use my life to prove what a bitch history is. I should be allowed to shout back at history: ‘shut up, what do you know about the present? If you think you are wise, how come you couldn’t tell what I was to become?’
History is a wiseacre; it speaks when it should be collecting what to archive. And, like Besigye and his deluded fanatics, it’s intolerant to difference.
There are so many things that I wish to be that society just won’t allow in its desire to freeze me in time and hold me onto its own aspirations. I want to be a rally car. Yes, with the liberty to make a 320 degrees turn without anyone questioning why I did so. I want to be a housefly, where people wouldn’t have to nose into what and where I ‘eat’.
Good heavens, give me the status of a female anopheles mosquito, by which even those who will be displeased with me will not be able to ignore me. Except if they don’t mind malaria!
I long to be the master of my intelligence. With no one expecting that I owe the nation any returns on account of their estimations over my intellect. May it be that nobody loads me with moral obligation to speak for victims of what I defend. For I was born alone, and maybe my interests.
For all this I pray, through your magnanimous inspiration. Keep it up, my dear Mwenda. When you are done digging your grave with your teeth, invite me for a drink, please. Then I will tell you a thing or two about the role of appetite in human history. I love you, old man of the spin clan.
One request to end with, though: if you may, please, frame this tribute and hang it somewhere in your bathroom - so that every time you are naked in there, it reminds you of something.
The author works with the Center for African Studies at Uganda Martyrs University, Nkozi.