The events leading to and after the August 15 bye-election in Arua municipality found me in Mecca where I had gone for pilgrimage with 800 other Ugandans.
Pilgrimage is the fifth pillar of Islam and about four million Muslims visit the holy city annually. To concentrate on pilgrimage which is called hajj in Arabic, I switched off my cellular phones and stayed away from other communication networks.
I, therefore, learnt of the events unfolding back home from other pilgrims who kept connected to Uganda especially through social media. I didn’t follow the Arua events in their chronological order.
The first news that I was made to consume was that Mr Museveni’s convoy had been stoned. Images of the body of Yasin Kawuma, who had been shot dead, followed shortly before the fake news of MP Bobi Wine’s death.
These events became a distraction as many Ugandan pilgrims took to social media in search for updates. Images of a brutalized Mityana Municipality MP Francis Zaake threw us into a sombre mood. Those with smartphones summoned others to look at the images. We all agreed to intensify prayers because our country was on the brink.
Without boring you with what you already know, let me share with you what I think are some of the lessons.
First, I think those of us who naively believe and continue to work for a peaceful transfer of power must as of a necessity return to the drawing board.
The violent crackdown on innocent people that Museveni himself knows never stoned his vehicle should be a wake-up call. Museveni knows that Bobi Wine, Zaake, Paul Mwiru, Gerald Karuhanga, Kasiano Wadri and all those hapless women from Arua never even touched a stone.
Why then did he order his men to descend on them? That is what we must interrogate. A colleague of mine who was part of Kasiano Wadri’s procession and saw the August 13 events unfold tells me that the likes of Bobi Wine never even saw the stoning because they were ahead of the long procession.
I am now told that when Museveni was informed that his convoy had been stoned, he told the convoy commander to “wacha washenzi.” (don’t bother with fools) That he didn’t want to react like Milton Obote did at Nakulabye.
But the same Museveni, his aides tell me, ordered the SCF to arrest those “hooligans” after boarding his chopper to return to Kampala.
Since the alleged stoning had taken place long time ago, I think Museveni was now dealing with an imminent loss to Wadri.
But most important to note is the fact that SFC has now come of age. From 500 soldiers called Presidential Protection Unit (PPU) under Akanga Byaruhanga to more than 2,000 troops under Maj Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba to now over 20,000 men and women under Col Don Nabaasa.
This illegal outfit whose creation didn’t follow the Constitution and the UPDF Act is truly a personal enterprise that will be called upon to prevent any challenge to the Museveni regime.
That is what I think should occupy the mind of all democracy-seeking forces in and outside Uganda. The rise of Bobi Wine is being marketed as a solution to the violence of Mr Museveni, which I think is a wrong diagnosis.
I am personally excited with the emergence of another key player in the struggle to free ourselves. The dictator has descended on him like he has done with Dr Kizza Besigye for the last 18 years.
The internal discussion should be how to respond to this violence, and not who will be the next opposition presidential candidate. How we deal with a personal army ready to kill to protect its master is where our focus should be.
Lesson number two is the massive loss of popularity by Mr Museveni. This is partly because of the demographic factor. Uganda, I am told, has the second youngest population in the world. You can’t blackmail them with the Amin-Obote history rhetoric that made Museveni a darling.
These ones have been aided by the growth of social media as a mass media. Young people by their nature are very daring, especially the Ugandans with no jobs and almost no future.
How Museveni intends to respond to this challenge is what we in the opposition must study. He used violence in the 2000s and it backfired.
He then went in for money, allocating himself Shs 97 billion annually just for donations. Like we saw in Rukungiri, the population is getting used to his money. It is the reason violence, which is always the last resort by all dictators, is now being contemplated.
There is absolutely no doubt that Museveni is a frustrated man. The Arua, Bugiri, Jinja, Rukungiri by-elections didn’t affect his numerical strength in parliament but they are a scare to all those NRM MPs who voted for the removal of the age limit.
The MPs voted for Museveni’s continuation in the hope that he would guarantee theirs. Three constituencies (Arua, Jinja and Rukungiri) in particular have sent strong messages. I hear he now wants to take his MPs to Kyankwanzi to reassure them of his protection.
The author is Kira Municipality MP and opposition chief whip in parliament.