In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, there is a story of a maverick colonial missionary, James Smith, taking over from the more careful Mr Brown.
Achebe narrates that while Brown was gentler in his approach to spreading the gospel, Smith was openly aggressive and loud. Smith “saw the world as a battlefield in which the children of light were locked in mortal conflict with the sons of darkness.”
Concluding about Smith’s otherwise terrible approach, Achebe recalls a Yoruba saying, “as the man danced, so the drums were beaten for him.”
If a man danced a furious step, the drums went mad. If preaching the gospel in Umuofia were a dancing competition, Smith’s aggressiveness was a furious step upon which the drums went mad. Achebe notes that all the over-zealous converts [idiots, extremists, sycophants] who had been subdued under Brown’s restraining hand now flourished in full favour under Smith.
Not too long, the village was on fire. Achebe’s indictment here is that drummers never determine the drumming and dancing but, rather, watch very closely the dance steps of the lead dancer and thus their drumming.
If politics were dancing, then the lead dancer is responsible for the entire picnic. Junior dancers and drummers tend to choreograph themselves after the lead dancer. Let me tell a story to vividly demonstrate where I am going with this Achebe-Yoruba imagery.
Sometime in March, posters of socialite Shanita Namuyimbwa – aka Bad Black – as a potential NRM candidate for the Kampala central woman member of parliament seat circulated in the city.
The beautiful socialite appears in dark blue against a white background with two yellow stripes below and above her head. Namuyimbwa is showed as standing for “peace, unity, and transformation for prosperity” – an old National Resistance Army (NRA) tagline.
Later, Bad Black distanced herself from the posters, announcing that she has never had any interests in politics. We may never know what really happened after she had declared her intentions to run on the NRM ticket. Being a cunny businesswoman, there are lots of possibilities. But the fact that Bad Black could fancy – or her name could be mentioned – standing for parliament is telling enough.
Why couldn’t she, one may ask.
Reports that Fresh Daddy plans to stand for a seat in Luweero are circulating. More and more hitherto apolitical fellows have mouthed their ambitions for parliament. In a not-too-distant future, Uganda’s parliament will have honourables not limited to Kato Lubwama and Judith Babirye, but extending to Khalifa Aganaga, Geoffrey Lutaaya, Flavia Namulindwa, Full Figure, comedian Swengere, etc.
Two caveats are in order here: (a) I mention the names above for they are the easily recognisable low-brow apolitical artistes simply seeking to cash in on Uganda’s lucrative politics. But there are more accomplished nincompoops in the present parliament too obscure despite playing in the big league.
(b) I do not include Bobi Wine because of an intellectual bias, not a personal one: for years, Bobi Wine has crafted himself an identity of a consummate activist or political artiste – giving his compatriots discourse on different societal issues.
But how did we get to this point where low-brow entertainers, sycophants, celebrity thieves, and other clowns dominate our politics? We will return to our story of the lead dancer to answer this question.
In the 1996 and 2001 election, presidential candidate Muhammad Kibirige Mayanja taunted incumbent Yoweri Museveni that his refusal to leave office was because he had never held any other job outside politics. Mr Kibirige Mayanja lost both elections and every time he lost, he comfortably returned to his job as director of planning at Makerere University.
Moving into the 2006 election, Museveni responded to pushing through a law that required public servants to resign their jobs to stand for political office. To return to their jobs in case of loss of an election, one had to wait till the jobs were advertised, that is if they were still available, apply and compete for it openly.
In truth, the spirit was to deny livelihood to political opponents after loss of the election – specifically Muhammad Kibirige Mayanja. It was a furious step – and the drums went mad.
Three things have happened: (a) Since the smartest young men and women tend to join public service after university, they have been locked in public service for the fear of loss of livelihood in case they lost an election is too much to countenance.
(b) politics has thus become a life-and-death affair as the few brave ones who join have to fight blood and tears to win. Losing is not an option. To this end, politics has not only become dangerous, but frighteningly commercialised.
(c) The third consequence has been not only leaving politics to persons only in the private sector (mostly lawyers and merchants), but also creating space for idiots, thieves, idlers and comics. These ones have nothing to lose, and once in parliament, it is simply an opportunity to eat. The drums went mad.
The author is a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research.