If you have been away from social media and the news headlines, you might be surprised that upon your return, there is a new voice of activism - Sarah Babirye Kityo.
Kityo, a former youth member of parliament (MP) and the reigning president of the Uganda Netball Federation (UNF), is currently battling charges of false accountability and fraud and has even had one or two sojourns in the safe custody of the state. Following her December 1 successful bail application, Kityo is out and loud and has morphed into a fearless crusader against impunity.
Over the past week, her wiry pained face has dominated our social media feeds as she steps up the ante to tell her side of the story about the woes of UNF funding. She claims she is being witch-hunted for attempting to do right for netball in Uganda. Kityo, whose lean frame lends her the look of the classic underdog going up against Uganda’s ravenous black hole of corruption, has many Ugandans aggrieved on her behalf.
Taking advantage of the wave of support, Kityo has been busy on her social media feed. Her X (formerly Twitter) page shows she joined X in June 2023 and has 55 posts as of December 3. She kicked off her first post on June 16 with a video captioned, “We are being punished for refusing to account for what we did not receive.”
Majority of the 55 posts are about her side of the story including Bible verses and appreciation to those who have supported her. Yet, her past ‘sins’ present a conundrum for us, her newest supporters caught up in the emotional angst of the story. She allegedly does not come to this fight with clean hands.
As the bazzukulu say, the receipts are here - thanks to the long memory of the internet. Kityo was a youth MP on the ruling party ticket in the 2016-2021 parliament. Parliamentary records show that she was one of 317 MPs who voted for the controversial and bribe-packed removal of the presidential age limit.
When she lost the parliamentary contest for Bukoto East in the 2021 elections, she was one of several losers who viewed the voters’ freedom of choice (not to choose her) as a personal affront. The Observer noted that Kityo, who had been courting the area’s constituents since 2018 with numerous visits and generous donations of tents and chairs to villages in the area, quickly withdrew her donations after her defeat.
Today, Kityo finds herself on the other side - not the sunkissed yellow side but the withering yellow side of the regime. Those who have shunned Kityo argue that the likes of Kityo should face the full onslaught of the system they have nurtured as enablers of the ruling regime and, therefore, its excesses like corruption.
Political scientist, Frederick Golooba Mutebi writing on why such leaders should face the music, commented, “If you allow your dog to bite your neighbour’s children, one day it will bite yours. It is silly to complain when it eventually does.”
Perhaps the curious case of General David Sejusa offers some insights for both camps - for and against Kityo. Sejusa, one of the regime’s mustached bush war historicals, carved out a reputation as a no-holds-barred fire starter. When he fell out with the regime for raising the clarion call about a nefarious First Son project (which the regime strenuously denied but today the project is in full unapologetic bloom - sigh), some of the opposition was understandably wary about Sejusa, given his record. Human rights reports document abuses that happened under Sejusa’s watch during army operations in the 1990s during the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency in Northern Uganda, coupled with his fearsome reputation as coordinator of the intelligence services.
If the lion having fallen out with the big cats, now joins the antelopes it previously hunted, to advocate for a vegetarian lifestyle, should the antelopes receive that lion with open paws?
In response to this dilemma, Sejusa in a 2015 CBS radio interview when put to task about his checkered history with the regime, responded, “If you meet a lion in a vehicle, what you do is different from meeting a lion on foot. This is a struggle for survival. The fighting trend has changed...”
Sejusa to his credit ended the interview on a fairly repentant note, “I have tried to clean up myself, because many people misunderstood me. I have made some mistakes. I thank whoever has accepted my apologies.”
A 2013 Citizen newspaper article titled, Questions raised over right time for one to confess sins, on Sejusa’s fallout with the regime, broached the dicey question of how the rest of us should receive those who have fallen out with the system they created.
The article noted that it is not uncommon for some who have fallen on hard times to suddenly acknowledge that indeed the country’s governance is on the wrong trajectory. Interestingly, when the hard times pass, several have been known to rush back into the warm mollycoddling of the regime they had denounced.
Thus, the article concluded that we should not judge such people by when they fell out of favour but by their actions thereafter. Therafa, time will manifest if Kityo is as innocent as she claims.
In the meantime, the real underdogs in the fight pitting Kityo against the ministry of Education and Sports and the National Council of Sports are the She Cranes, Uganda’s female netballers, who have made us proud by flying our national flag high through the lowly sport of netball.
Let our interest in Kityo’s tugging at our fatigue over corruption not overshadow the real underdog we absolutely must fight for - the She Cranes.
The writer is a tayaad muzzukulu.