Looking at the direction in which Uganda is, I hear an echo of Shannon Alder’s words: “Most misunderstandings in the world could be avoided if people would simply take the time to ask, What else could this mean?’ ”
Yes, what else could the post-election mood in Uganda mean? What else could the voting patterns mean? What else could all this anger mean? What else could it mean that the rest of the world looks at Uganda as a country in a political sickbay? What else does it mean that people live in fear of being ‘picked’ at night for being opposed to government?
What does it mean that a government that says it won an election acts paranoid? It is only a few days since the election results were announced. While our previous elections may not have been devoid of violence and tension, this one could have been unmatched by any.
An election where by the time of polling over 100 of the lead opposition candidate’s support team are in jail for no legally sound reason is a special one. An election where at the time of tallying and announcing results the entire country is totally without internet and is effectively disabled from verifying what the Electoral Commission chooses to randomly announce is of its kind.
Meanwhile, military choppers are flying over the city and soldiers are almost more than civilians in the city! The list could go on. Meanwhile, with all the unfair play all through the campaign period and voting, added to the immense privileges of incumbency, what could it mean for an incumbent to score a paltry 58 per cent?
It is as though they were trying to fill a heavily leaking container. Even the mischievous ingenuity of the Electoral Commission could only control little of the ugly picture. NRM’s performance brings to mind the Cinderella fairy tale. The girl’s stepmother would smear her with cow dung and then carefully make up her own daughter.
She would then sit them on the roadside and ask passersby, ‘who looks more beautiful’. One after the other, passersby would say, ‘although the other one is smeared with cow dung, she still looks better’.
This would make the mother mad! The behaviour of the president and some of his officials after the announcement of the tinkered yet still embarrassing results was quite telling. The president was obviously jittery. Perhaps it was a combination of guilt and shock.
He could have carelessly overestimated his popularity, especially in the Central region. On the other hand, it was also a bit shocking that he expressed contentment with the poor performance. Had he hoped for worse, generally? Would this mean that he is now aware of how he has broken the heart of Uganda?
Would the Museveni of the early 90s celebrate a 58 per cent? Only a student who is aware of his incapacity would celebrate scoring 58 per cent in an exam where they copied. He went ahead to castigate Buganda for having voted in a ‘sectarian’ way.
Some of his officials put the blame for the party’s worst-ever performance in the region on the Katikkiro and Catholic clerics. Here again is another moment where they fail to ask what else this performance could mean, before pointing fingers. That is if they are not in denial.
Is the assumption that people in Central region are so naive that they could only do what Catholic and Buganda officials told them to do? Is this to undermine these voters, as to say that they are incapable of independent assessment? The arrogance of such a conclusion is in the inherent attitude that where people do not vote for NRM, there must be a problem with those people, and not the party.
Therefore, instead of trying to understand why people turned against them, they ask: ‘what is wrong with these people?’ This is the attitude of a violent husband that still complains with entitlement as to why his wife acts distant. He comes back home belching from his pork-filled belly, asking his hungry family for hugs and warm water.
He thinks he can control the starved house by keeping it in fear of his violence. I don’t think the current mood is good for anyone. A ‘victor’ who acts in constant fear that people are out to contest his victory, even blocking them from seeking redress from the courts he controls, is not a happy victor.
Even if we may say that there is peace after the elections, many of us can easily tell that the conditions of the said peace are not sustainable. We seem to be in the state of what the Nigerian singer, Asa, expresses in the her song Jailer “I’m in chains, you’re in chains too; I wear uniforms, and you wear uniforms too; I’m a prisoner, you’re a prisoner too Mr Jailer. I have fears, you have fears too”.
Is this the kind of country we want? One can jail their opponents and harass whoever threatens his authority, but until when?
The ironical side of oppressing adversaries is that the oppressor as well locks himself up in fear of what their victim could do to them if they found the means. As I keep repeating, the observation of the American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, summarises this tragic dialectic: “No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck”.
The language of threatening opponents is not going to take us anywhere. For no matter what the level of threat, you may silence one opponent, but through that very action you create more opponents, dissent and anger. When persecuted victims look to be silent, don’t count that for triumph.
If you focus on giving yourself answers that make you feel good, the real answers might come in a disastrous form.
The author is a teacher of philosophy.