Kyagulanyi’s age story resonates with most Ugandans

Presidential hopeful Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine

Presidential hopeful Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine

Male Mabirizi’s scrutiny of Robert Kyagulanyi needs to be viewed objectively as it sets a new standard.

Kyagulanyi’s narratives, however, are credible, commonplace, and fit well with the realities of his contemporaries.

Male took exceptions that Kyagulanyi, either by omission or commission, misrepresented his actual age in his legal documents as recorded at Uganda National Examinations Board and subsequently with Electoral Commission during a by-election in 2017 for a parliamentary seat.

This matter is important because of its political clout without it being a matter of moral turpitude. Male picked on a perfect target in Kyagulanyi, who is aspiring to lead Uganda as president. We should be able to scrutinize all our leaders, including Mr Yoweri Museveni.

As such, an enabling institutional measure should be established for this to happen. Unfortunately, the current regime is itself a total contradiction – riddled with the corrupt and contempt for a moral society. This makes public scrutiny of our leaders cumbersome, politicized and bitterly contested.

Under this military rule, accountability is considered taboo and the rampant acts of corruption are treated as acts of patriotic dispensation. The Male vs Kyagulanyi fiasco, therefore, is itself a new normal and a standard that may be set too high for current political leaders to even understand – that is if Male succeeds in destroying the political career of Kyagulanyi.

When Kyagulanyi stepped on the podium to explain his circumstances, he reminded many of us of our Ugandan-ness and African-ness. Many Ugandans do not know their actual birthdates because most were born in their communities, and not in hospitals.

Kyagulanyi was born when Museveni was already terrorizing people in the bushes of the Luweero triangle. Many of the mothers suffered and delivered in bushes as health services were disrupted. Many of the women of the 1980s suffered terribly and they remained illiterate.

Since a child’s birth is treated as competence of womanhood, fathers are seldomly involved. In any case, fathers in the 1980s were either in jail, in the army, in refugee camps, with rebel NRM or in exile. So, there are many Kyagulanyis out there who do not actually know their birth dates, and that is not a crime.

But Kyagulanyi’s story struck another code with me and my friends with whom we have dissected this matter.

Kyagulanyi was born in a humble background. A mother with 10 children. She was probably illiterate or semi-literate. His father had over 30 biological children. Polygamy is a fact of life in rural Uganda and in every African society.

Even when the current middle-class has adopted a certain level of sensitivity to polygamy, polyandry remains a fact of the African family set-up as an undeniable fact. The impact of that is the drain on family resources which penultimately denies children education, and more so, the girl-child. Fathers strive to educate their sons, always.

In Uganda, formal education was taken very seriously in the 70s and 80s, but birth registration was not. When I worked in rural districts of Pader, Kitgum, Lamwo and Gulu, I found it hard to discuss immunization schedules with the mothers.

These days they have exercise books where the nurse or doctor scribbles their medical jargon and instructs the women verbally when to follow up after giving birth. I think Unicef has enabled more births registration in health centers, but many still happen at home. Illiterate mothers simply never bother with birth dates; they plan for their children’s good health and education.

I also studied in Ugandan schools and I was lucky because my mother was a schoolteacher. I saw many kids alter their age and names in P7 just before being assigned a PLE index number or when repeating PLE.

What I found strange with Male’s inquest is the sense of vitriol with which he is pursuing this case. I find that Kyagulanyi’s contradicted life story is the true reality of many Ugandans including Mr Museveni’s. I know so many Ugandans who have switched names and masked their ages.

The reasons a heterosexual male masks his age and changes his names are usually noble – to benefit from an opportunity in which uneven circumstances had denied them.

Often, it has to do with education or tax evasion, but hardly to seek a political office. If Kyagulanyi altered his age to unfairly benefit from an election opportunity, I would fault him. If he had altered his age to gain an advantage to enter government sponsorship at a university or benefit from affirmative action, I would have definitely faulted him.

The author is a Ugandan scholar, political analyst and social critic based in Toronto, Canada.  

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd