There is one family friend that we often reminisce about with laughter in our family recollections.
This generally warm young man, who used to be our immediate neighbour, often joined us to play cards; which in most cases were his. When he was winning, he would sing and dance annoyingly while he mocked his victims.
But on many occasions when he lost and you did the same, he would cry foul and threaten or indeed collect his cards. He had a little disability in the legs; so, he would limp away in anger with his cards and disappear into the banana plantation that covered their house.
What often followed was him climbing their big jackfruit tree, and making sure we heard the big jackfruits he was throwing down. When we didn’t go pleading with him, he would then return with pieces of the fruit, asking that we play again.
As he grows older and less popular, President Museveni’s evolution in political behavior reminds me a lot about this old friend of ours. I have mentioned it here nostalgically before how Museveni was my childhood hero that I held in high regard. I would even give up my school porridge for a newspaper cutting of his picture.
Whereas some few readers responded that they never trusted him from the very beginning, I am more inclined to believe that those were a small minority. Museveni was such a compelling enigmatic figure that you would listen to him and forget a fork in your mouth. Many always looked forward to his eloquent proverb-spiced speeches that sounded quite promising for the country. We loved his characteristic sort of stammer too.
There were some glitches here and there in his leadership, but, with the exception of a wide section of northern Uganda that was afflicted by war and with some historical scores to settle with him, Museveni had the goodwill of many Ugandans.
In 1996, in his first electoral contest while president, whereas Dr Paul Ssemogerere presented a formidable challenge, Museveni did not have to rig a lot or spend sums of money in buying voters. His rallies filled organically. Even though his star was not as bright as in the late 1980s, he still commanded wide appeal.
But, just like the sun runs irreversibly to set, his aura has been declining since then. The ending of the war in the north could have significantly helped not to bend the curve sharply downwards, but the public mood has generally been growing unfavourable.
This is best demonstrated by his own behaviour, which clearly shows his awareness that he is selling an expired product. It bothers me intensely to watch my hero claiming back one by one of his initial scores into the drain! Museveni’s greatest earlier achievements were in trying to build institutions such as the army, police, legislature, judiciary, and building security around the country.
It was not all that polished, but there was clear indication of some level of commitment to make things work. As we speak now, the militarised regime police may only appear admirable in the public eye if dipped in a lake of detergent; CMI is turning into a fascist agency; parliament often follows the smell of money, even if it means burying the country at a fee; the judiciary tries but is staggering as if it swallowed something that disengages the nerves of justice; the army remains largely disciplined but increasingly partisan and tribalised.
It was almost improbable in his early years for President Museveni to be heckled. Songs in his praise were sang voluntarily and with charismatic passion. But now you mostly have to facilitate people to sing those songs in competition with the unpaid opposition chants.
He didn’t have to transport people from one area to another to constitute a rally. We would fall over ourselves to watch him speak.Our Fountain of Honour did not have to move with biscuits, brown envelopes, and bags of money wherever he went; splashing them at one group after another as though at an Igbo showbiz party.
But, unfortunately, that is how he can find audience now. The disturbing irony is that it is the money sucked out of us that is being abused while recipients clap euphorically.
No wonder that opportunists who have studied his panic are now making a living by coming up with various money-minting schemes of ‘neutralising the opposition’, especially Bobi Wine.
There are mercenary online firefighters, international image cleaning agencies, rented radio callers, mercenary musicians, mercenary diaspora neutralisers, youth demobilisers, mercenary alternative ‘role model’ advertisers, etc. And it will only get worse.
More than ever before, the road to 2021 is going to be paved by bags of money, state violence, and other ugly political manoeuvres - such as those already seen in the suggested imbecilic electoral reforms.
Never did many of us imagine that we would live to see Museveni panic this much in the face of the possibility of embarrassingly losing power to a young musician from a ghetto - a ‘boy’ largely a product of the former’s failure to know when to let go. Could anyone predict that, under his paranoia, freedom of assembly by those opposed to him would eventually become criminal?
Never did many imagine that under our hero, who fought a long costly war to reinstate democracy, a young man fit to be his third child would be arbitrarily stopped from holding music concerts for being a political threat to him.
Indeed, as quipped by the late Paulo Kafeero; okuwangaala kuno kutulabisa ebintu (living long makes us see a lot)! We thought that at last Uganda had gotten a hero whose name we would, like other countries do of theirs, forever sing without hesitations; but here we are, chocking again. Fundamental change gradually cascading into detrimental change!
The author is a teacher of philosophy