The Igbo have a saying, Chinua Achebe tells us, “They stand in the courtyard of the coward to point to where the brave used to live.”
Exactly, the brave would have died a long time ago, living nothing behind, and if one asked about them, the coward — supposedly the more cautious one — is one to point to where they once lived.
Yes, they only ask about the brave ones, the supposedly reckless ones, who are naturally poised to leave behind a name: a legacy. Chinua Achebe’s most famous character, Okonkwo, would rhetorically challenge his pacificist relatives at a clan meeting: “If a man comes into my hut and defecates on the floor, what do I do? Do I shut my eyes? No! I take a stick and break his head. That is what a man does.”
Written in the thick of colonialism, Okonkwo’s challenge is a classic anti-colonial posture. So, the Eritreans would say, “better to die like a lion than live like a dog.” Yes, a dog might live longer, but it is a dog, entirely dependent on the generosity of its master — who sometimes, might not be kind.
Until recently, Uganda’s opposition legislators, people that are supposedly charged with resisting President Museveni’s excesses, simply shut their eyes. It is not just Museveni’s crimes, but the humiliation that comes with them, making seemingly serious people – men and women of dignity – look like little country hounds.
Consider the humiliation that comes with drones and disappearance of opposition supporters, while these legislators continue in parliament like all was normal. Consider the wanton detention and murder of Muslims. A long list of humiliations. How have dignified persons — like my friends, the Mathias Mpuuga, and JEEMA president Asumani Basalirwa — continued to act like all is normal?
I can imagine the other interests at stake, but the humiliation that comes with pursuing these other interests is undeniable (and actually compromises those other interests).
MUSEVENI’S FISHERMEN, ZAAKE’S FISHING HOOKS
If any people took their roleplays seriously, it was President Museveni on the one hand, and MP Francis Zaake on the other. Museveni would begin by appointing — and describing it — a cabinet of fishermen and fisherwomen. In truth, Museveni appointed actors and actresses, folks such as Robinah Nabbanja, Agnes Nandutu, Monica Musenero, Chris Baryomunsi, Mary Goretti Kitutu, Persis Namuganza, Matia Kasaija, even new recruit, comrade brother, Norbert Mao.
And many others. If there is anything a great many of these folks are known for, it is their beautiful lives of humour and playfulness. They joke too much. Museveni knew that in this People Power opposition-led parliament, he needed fighters, humourists, renowned hecklers and noisemakers.
But then, folks in the opposition didn’t get this at all. (or decided to pretend, because pretending makes financial sense). Except one man, the youthful legislator from Mityana.
It is my contention that at the end of the day, Francis Zaake — for all his arguable youthful recklessness — has earned himself the naming rights of this 11th parliament. (He has stiff competition from comrade brother, Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda). But chroniclers will remember this as Zaake’s Parliament.
This will not be because of his spectacular debating credentials. Not at all, but, rather, having understood the nature of politics ahead of him, and embraced his role with absolute resolve.
For the entire time, Francis Zaake has demonstrated absolute understanding of the job assigned: fight back, heckle back, cause and be in trouble, and continue to put Museveni’s actors on the defensive. In sum, this has remained the only way to get anything meaningful done.
As Zaake’s party president put it sometime back, “if parliament was not coming to the ghetto [which is all of Uganda] then the ghetto has to go to parliament.”
Consider, for example, Zaake rightly and proudly announced that he had deliberately spoiled his vote during the speaker elections. Yes, this was while his colleagues shamelessly shunned the opposition-leaning candidate, Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda for the NRM- party speaker (We were told their pay-outs included flimsy things such as a suit, mbu for swearing in, and in other cases, some paltry $250). What humiliation!
Zaake did not stop at just spoiling his vote. When his colleagues started donning three-piece suits, he settled for the symbolism of his election: the red beret, the red suit, and often, single-handedly chanting the release of all political prisoners.
It didn’t take long before the cost of activism caught up with him. Quickly, he would be battling one case of indiscipline over another from folks with bloated egos when the entire county is in pain: dead businesses, potholes, joblessness, abductions, murders, etcetera!
Indeed, recently, straight from winning a court case against the speaker of parliament for his suspension as Parliament Commissioner, he is in trouble again over a random, hitherto little-known colleague, Juliet Kinyamatama. This is true to the spirit of his role.
Mpuuga inspired: It is fair to say— although many would disagree—that Francis Zaake’s persona has finally infected his opposition-leaning colleagues. In boycotting parliament over many unanswered questions — missing persons, detentions without trial, murders, kidnaps, Acholi land grabs, etc.— it is arguable that Zaake’s colleagues are picking cue from his rebel example.
Even if this might be faked, and happen for a small time, it’s symbolic import needs to be recognised.
The author is a political theorist based at Makerere University