Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My Nairobi Diary - Part 2

Wednesday July 22, 2009
I set my alarm for 7.30am and it goes off. I slowly stretch and get out of the bed. Again, I stick out my head, waiting for signs of migraine, but none is visible. This Tusker Lager thing seems harmless. After the bath I dash for breakfast and I am seated, waiting for our last presenter, Enoch-Ebeh, the Cameroonian country representative of AFSC in Burundi. He is a nice guy who has bailed me out. Realising how I was freezing during yesterday’s morning session, he offers me his jacket. We board the lift only to realise that he’s the guy in 305, the room next to mine.
His paper focuses on media as an instrument of peace building in Africa, asking what needs to be done differently. The greater debate is centered on how the media can be used as an early warning mechanism in the face of conflict. The big question is whether in attempting to pass a warning, media won’t be seen as actually instigating chaos or worse still being rubbished as trumpeters of doom where there is none. That is exactly what some of our Kenyan colleagues told us; reports of machetes being bought in large numbers were ignored, until the bloodshed began.
As the discussion draws to a close, we form a team to draw up a communiqué to be presented to the Information minister who will be chief guest at our dinner tonight. This document will also serve as our agenda going forwards. I am chosen a member and our facilitator, Rosemary Okello, chairs the discussion. We, in summary, agree that the media has not performed its peace-pushing duties to the maximum and we can do more. We also agree to form a forum that will unite journalists in the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Region in this cause; we call this the AMANI Media Forum. Amani is Kiswahili for peace. We zero on BBC Somali correspondent Daud Aweis as the chair and Kenya’s Jane Godia as secretary. I am picked to be Uganda country representative, basically tasked with setting up a chapter in Uganda.
The organisers give us some two hours to go to town and be back in time for the dinner. My bubbly friend Bob Wekesa, the president of the Kenya Journalists Association, opts that we go to the nearby Sagret Bar. Here we meet Karanja, one of the guys who has been translating during the workshop. I again settle for my Tusker Lager, Bob takes White Cap as Karanja orders for a concoction of spirits. We discuss the post-Moi Kenya and whether it is true the Kibaki regime has failed. One thing they agree on is that Kenya is freer and more democratic. Wekesa observes that never before have Kenyans enjoyed such freedom like they do now. They of course ask me for my take on the Museveni regime and I tell them it is a mixed set of fortunes; on one side appearing free but on closer examination having all signs of a dictatorship and obviously stinking corruption.
We are back in time for the dinner and like I feared, the information minister (Poghisio) doesn’t turn up. In his place is his deputy, Rtd. Maj. Godana. A young-looking fellow who tells us about his conflict experiences in Somalia and Yugoslavia. He reminds us about the role of responsible media and hands over certificates.
We are done and I opt to go sleep. I have to get up at 5.30am since the cab will be here at 6am. And our flight is scheduled for 8am.

Thursday July 23, 2009
I am up by 5pm. At 6am, the call from reception comes through. The cab is here. I find Hellen waiting for me at reception. Faesal is back to pick me, but his cab breaks down. He immediately calls back up and we have an elderly gentleman pick us. Along the way, he tells us a now familiar Kenyan story. His children studied in Uganda for their A’ levels at the St. Lawrence Schools. Because of the higher rates charged on East African students at Makerere, he opts they join Kenyatta University. But for the last three months his sons have been at home after the university was closed following a violent strike.
“That is the problem with Kenyan universities. Our children never finish courses in the stipulated time,” he laments. “I am sure instead of the three years; my son will finish eight years at university. I wish I had paid the high fees at Makerere and he finished in time.”
We are silent, since Hellen and I seem not to know how to respond. We are soon at the imposing Jomo Kenyatta airport and its check-in. The process is fast. I pass the duty-free to see if I can get a copy of President Paul Kagame’s recent biography, A Thousand Hills. I am told it has run out of stock, the same response I got in Entebbe. In fact I am told the publisher has run out of copies.
As we wait to board, I meet senior editor Odobo Bichachi of the Independent magazine. He is en-route from Sudan, Khartoum. Shortly, we are joined by Apollo Buregyeya, my former Mitchell Hall chairman at Makerere, who now lectures at the technology faculty at the same university. He is from Cairo, where he’s been doing some research. We are soon engrossed in the debate on race. These two guys tell me that racism is worse in the Arab world than it is in the West. Apollo tells us that the Arab lady who cleans his hotel room in Cairo, looks down upon him because he’s black. I find that hard to fathom but Bichachi re-emphasizes the point. He talks of how Arabs look at Black Africans as lesser beings; we discuss the Gadaffi turn-around to Africa after being snubbed by the Arab world and his crocodile attachment to black Africa.
We then board, the JKIA skyline is littered with Kenya Airways planes, once again making me shudder at the thought of Entebbe’s sight—50 minutes later. Again Capt. Corros pilots us, this time it is KQ411 flight. My seat 6F is next to the window and I am glued to the clouds. The guy next to me is in a striped suit, reading the UK’s Daily Telegraph. He holds a Kenyan passport; he could be one of the young budding entrepreneurs, running around the globe cutting and selling deals. Next to him is a lady, whom I can’t exactly place either in the upper youth bracket or late teens. She ignores calls for electronic gadgets to be switched off and continues listening to music from her i-Pod as the plane ascends.
Close to 10am, we land at Entebbe, Esu, this good driver, welcomes me and I hit the asphalt, dreamily, to Kampala.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

My Nairobi Diary

MONDAY JULY 20, 2009
Esu, my affable driver, picks me from my Kireka neighbourhood at 6am. It is a chilly morning but we have to get up early to beat the jam on Entebbe Road. I get to Entebbe Airport at about 7.30am, a few minutes before check-in. The last check-in point, which usually should be very through, does not look so, because despite holding only hand luggage, I make past way it with a deodorant spray in my bag. This naturally would not be accepted on board.
At 10.30am, our Kenya Airways flight, KQ411, is airborne. We are taken through the usual reminders, seat belts, switch off mobiles etc. The pilot is Capt. Corros and I must say I love the voice of the head stewardess. It sounds melodious as she wishes us a safe flight and promises continental breakfast. I am on seat 10F, next to the window and a seat beyond me, is a grumpy-looking man, who is dozing away. Probably this was a connecting flight for him, having travelled from much further. “Are plane flights better than road, I ask myself?” Apart from speed, I still think roads are good. You closely view the scenery, people, and can buy roast maize or chicken. Planes only give you the clouds view and no gonja (roast banana).
I am jolted from this reverie with announcement of breakfast. As it turns out, the continental offer is a glass of apple juice (looks like Splash) and some buns. As usual, the meager offer only stimulates your appetite, but again, remembering that we are just on a 45-minute flight, means I can gorge myself upon arrival in Nairobi.
As we close to touch down at Jomo Kenyatta Airport, Nairobi, there is an obvious contrast with Entebbe Airport. The fleet of Kenya Airways planes with their “Pride of Africa” banners strike you to the face. You can see a country proudly represented in the skies. The nostalgia for our own Uganda Airways affronts me chokingly. How did our government just choose to sell off everything that gave us some form of identity? And just last Sunday, our paper reported that now the airport was gonna be sold off to some one-month old Chinese company. Could the guys who keep telling us that we shall one day wake up and find ourselves mortgaged probably be having a point?

Initial impressions:
Service at JKIA is fast. And it is of course a very spacious port with greater activity. My cab driver to Kivi Milimani Hotel is Faesal (he writes it that way, but pronounces it “Faysal”), a chubby, bubbly man, about 30 years. Driving a “Harmonies”-owned cab, he quickly engages me in conversation. “Nairobi is cash-strapped,” he tells me. “We are trying to scrap through. I don’t know if we shall make it.”
“Maisha hiko hivyo kila pali,” I tell him in Swahili and he jolts to attention. He is visibly excited that I can speak Swahili and that becomes our communication mode, though he keeps punctuating his talk with English. As we get stuck in jam on Mombasa Road, near Nyayo Stadium, he tells me about the conflict between the government and Coca Cola over the re-branding of the stadium; a story I had read about a few days ago in the Daily Nation. He uses the opportunity to tell me how corrupt the government is and how it never allows noble projects thrive.
I ask him why there is jam in the mid-morning and he tells me that for that specific road, the vendors bribe the traffic cops to create jam so that they can vend their ware. “Some idea to sell to our vendors back home,” I think.
As we begin snaking to the city, he asks me about Esther—the lady who emerged victor in the Project Fame contest last year. I tell him I don’t know much though I had read in the papers that her album recording at Gallos Studio in South Africa was delayed and when it was finally done, it never impressed her and she has never launched it in Uganda. I tell him that once in a while I read her escapades in the tabloids—and he quips, “She was a beautiful girl. I loved her curves.” I use the chance to brag that that is a quality running through 90 per cent of Ugandan women—and he seems to fall for it.
We are finally at Kivi Milimani Hotel. The receptionist looks sleepy, Job, is his name. His feminine voice is unmistakable. He tells me I will board Room 306 and gives me the keys. 306 is a fairly spacious room. Well-carpeted, a Vono spring bed, 21-inch TV, with a nice bath tub without the rubber closure for the water escape. I wonder how I will be able to fill the tub with water for a bath. The balcony overlooks the swimming pool, but I wonder who can go to the pool, when Nairobi is freezing. July is a cold month in Nairobi and the temperature now must be doing 10-16 degrees Celsius. In fact, I feel the cold biting through me, and my stomach is rumbling.
I go to the reception and inquire if any other participants to the seminar have arrived. I am told I am the first and others are expected later in the day. I ask if I can have lunch and I am told the conference organizers had said this would be half-day boarding. So, I could only expect dinner. I remind Job that I have come in from far and will not stay till night to have a meal. I tell him to give me the food and sort it out with whoever called me to Nairobi. Reading the determination on my face, he capitulates and tells me to go to the restaurant where I am served chapatti, Swahili chicken and Stoney soda.
Full and brimming, I go back to 306—was that not Rubashov’s prison room number in Darkness at Noon? It seems to be freezing up here. I turn on the TV and go to Citizen TV. They are broadcasting a live resistance by a community that was being evicted. So, these problems are just not Ugandan, considering that I have received an update on my phone telling me our President Museveni today supervised the arrest of a policeman in Nateete, a Kampala suburb, who had a few days ago overseen the eviction of a family and in the process forcefully kissed a 12-year-old girl.
I turn to K24, and it is the once-famous Jeff Koinange interviewing the also once-famous David Matsanga about the effectiveness of a local tribunal in trying the perpetrators of the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya. I didn’t know that Matsanga, who led the Kony side in the collapsed Juba talks with the Kampala government, was now an authority in these matters. It is getting colder, I decide to jump to bed, but this is after I have sent text messages to Timo, Davy and Mwangi, some of my high school and university OBs, who now work in Nairobi. I tell them they can come and catch me at the hotel; each promises to.
I wake up and it is 6pm. I go brush and move downstairs. I take a seat in one of the shelters next to the pool and order for a cold Tusker Lager. With alcoholic content of 4.2%, it is close to my favourite Bell brand. And even the taste, flat like the Bell. As I sip away, a tall, dark-skinned man shouts at a distance, “You must be Wanyama!” I respond in the affirmative and he shouts back, “I am Enoch.”
Mr Enoch Opuka is the programme manager with American Friends Service Committee, the NGO that has facilitated my trip to Kenya. We have previously, since we made contact, been chatting on mail and he tells me he’s Luhya. Once in a while, we exchange mail in broken Lubukhusu, a Gishu equivalent of western Kenya. He has actually promised to buy me two beers when I get to Nairobi.

Old boys, new memories
Just about that time, Timo and Davy drive in. They are in jackets and Timo has gloves on. We are down to conversation. High school memories. They tell me what most of my Kenyan high school classmates are up to, as I fill them on the few Ugandan colleagues whose stations I am aware of. They also order for Tusker Lager and we are soon caught in the Migingo debate. They take the typical Kenyan position of “this is our island” and I tell them we must wait for the surveyors’ report. In the process we debate the strengths of our armies just in case we went to war, with me telling them our boys are tried and tested and them insisting they have superior fire power.
As I mention our UPDF role in Somalia, discussion shifts to the impact of Somali piracy money in Kenya. They tell me about a Nairobi suburb called Isili, which has become the hub of Somalis in Kenya (similar to our own Kisomali in Mengo-Kisenyi). They tell me transactions here are done in US dollars which people carry in bags. This they say is mostly money received from the humongous ransoms paid to pirates in the Gulf of Eden and Indian Ocean. Ultimately, the Somalis have taken to investing in real estate business in Nairobi and prices are sky-rocketing. The locals, I am told, are finding it hard to compete for plots of land and houses as the Somalis offer about three-times the market prices.
I have my dinner during the conversation and some minutes to 11pm, Timo and Davy seek to retire but not before assuring me that tomorrow evening, they will take me on a guided tour of Nairobi town. I take to my room and I doze off.

TUESDAY, JULY 21, 2009
My guide notes indicate that we must be seated in Jacaranda Room by 8.15am, so that events proper kick-off at 8.30am. But by 6am I am already awake and I try to look for that headache, caused by the new beer brand, but find none. To the contrast, I look sharper. I turn on the telly and KTN is the network. They, like K24, are still gloating after one of their own was named the CNN African Journalist of 2009 in South Africa. The top news item though, is cabinet’s failure to agree on whether to form a local tribunal to handle post-election violence masterminds. They also report about increasing cases of road rage, where angered by other motorists, drivers pull guns and shoot each other. The latest case is that of a former police officer, who after another motorist overtook him from the wrong lane, gives chase, catches up with him and shoots.
I turn on the water heater and make it to the bath. About 7.30pm I am at the restaurant for breakfast and I am seated by 8.15 in the conference room. I scan around to see any familiar faces and there is none, then about 5 minutes later, my former workmate at The New Vision Hellen Mukiibi saunters in. she is the other delegate from Kampala. She comes to my bench and we are already doing our Luganda.

Event proper
Mr Opoka formally welcomes us and we do the introductions. There are journalists and editors from Burundi, Rwanda, DR Congo, Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia and Uganda. Ms Netlyn Bernard, the Haitian deputy Africa regional director of AFSC, gives us an overview of what the conference is about. Under the theme Media and Peace: Conflict Sensitive Analysis and Reporting, we are here to share experiences on how the media can be used as a tool for peace.
With the intros done, we do break tea and it is time to listen to our presenters. The first is Dr Mustafa Ali, a PhD holder in Media and International Relations and also the Executive Director of the World Conference of Religions for Peace. His paper focuses on the evolution of the electronic and print media in the Horn of Africa and its role in promoting justice peace and democracy.
He took us through the evolution of media, with greater focus on new media (blogs, YouTube, twitter) and their challenges. He also reminded us that we are a powerful tool that can promote peace through communicating, educating, correcting misperceptions, humanising people in conflict and wars, and serving as an early warning mechanism while helping frame conflict situations (contextualizing).
It was discussion time and the tales were as harrowing as they were edifying. In the different groups, we get accounts of reporting in war. Our Somalia colleagues tell us how the Al Shabab terrorists call into news rooms before bulletins to censor what goes on air. One lady tells me how her producer was shot and killed as they were covering a story. It is a tough world out there. The Burundian story is a successful one. First, it was the media hyping the war, reporting corpses and offering grandeur interviews to either the government generals or then rebels. Then, seeing the mayhem around them, they realized there was a greater calling than just profiteering from war; they saw the need to become a tool for peace. Radios, newspapers began running joint editorials, broadcasts, calling for peace. At one point, all radios had to relay programmes from a central point. War for peace had been launched. Interestingly, with pressure from other international groups, the warring factions in Burundi had no choice but to sit together and make peace. The media had played a central role in the process.
The afternoon session was by the much-respected veteran journalist and editor, Mitch Odero, whose presentation was focused on the power of the editor in anaylsing and reporting on conflict in conflict areas.
Besides the usual, the revelation of the new 5Cs as the drivers of news was interesting. Conflict, controversy, cast of character, crime, have come to replace the 4Ws and H.

Nairobi nightlife/nyama choma
Evening time and Timo is back, this time Davy has gone upcountry and it is Mwangi—my Literature classmate at university who comes to see me. We catch a few pints at Kivi before hitting town proper.
We first decide to go and eat the muchomo (roast goat) at a noisy, cold joint called The Hood. Because of the biting cold, they bring us a sigiri (charcoal stove) next to our table just to keep our legs warm. When the muchomo comes, I swear it looks like an entire goat! It also comes with Kiyenyeji (a meal of mashed Irish potatoes and other stuff). Having gorged ourselves to our fill, we decide to go to Westlands suburb and settle at Black Diamond, a bar turned dancehall; and it is obviously an East-meets-West joint.
Judging from the throngs of white men and black girls, Black Diamond is probably equal to our Bubbles or Fat Boyz in Kisementi. Only difference here being that the black girls have no time for black guys. I thought I would probably meet a lady and basically have a chat on Nairobi’s nightlife, but none wants to listen to me. Not until one hanging nearby hears Mwangi and I talk about Uganda. She quickly asks if I am not Kenyan, which I reply to the affirmative.
Looks like that is the turning point. I am quickly bundled among the “tourists” and I can have a chat. She tells me she’s Linda, a student at Kenyatta University. But when I begin to explore stuff like her course, I see how uneasy she gets. Obviously she must be another lady of the night, passing for a university student. So, these things just don’t end in Kampala. How far yet how close! She orders for a drink and in no time, a host of her friends are around us. Timo and Mwangi too have company. We are the only black guys getting attention. The rest is reserved for bazungu. A friend drops by and after several drinks; we decide to drop her at Umoja. When we make this announcement, we are dropped like hot coals. Our friends dash to catch some of the left-over bazungu. As we walk out, I see Linda clinging unto a white man fit to be her granddad—feigning excitement.
We drop our friend at Umoja Estate and its time to hit the trail back to Kivi. Along the way, we make a stop at Galileo Night club, but apart from the flesh peddlers, there is nothing to write home about. Maybe painfully noting is how these girls, some barely 18, are exposing their bodies in what is an obviously chilly Nairobi night. We ignore the calls for discount services from the sex workers, some shouting in Kikuyu, and we drive back. When I hit my bed, at about 4am, I can’t stop thinking about the fact that I must be up before 8am…
(To be continued)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Kajeke's exit: The cry of a Mbalelite

In 1991, I made the long trip back home. With my mum, the four siblings we were, had in early 1985 taken to economic exile in Kenya. There, we had first lived at the border Malaba town, then moved to Ndalu, near River Nzoia and later central Kitale town as my mother taught in a couple of schools around there.
Then, in 1991, my old man decided that we should return to Uganda. He was running a clinic in the middle of Mbale town and we settled in a colonial relic mansion in Senior Quarters, two blocks away from the famous Mt. Elgon Hotel. There, I enrolled at the modest Fairway Primary School and in no short time; Mbale had become the best place I had ever lived.
It is where I gained my education foundation, made friends, got the warmth of relatives and generally began a journey to maturity. I remember how we would swarm Mbale Stadium during games and the manner we took to streets, either as victors or losers, and sang and made merry. I remember one day, the good old D’Souza, our Asian headmaster, chiding us for singing “ani yabagamba, abaana ba D’Souza mubasobola” (Who told, you could easily take on D’Souza’s children?). He reminded us how he did not want us, black kids, shouting his name on Mbale streets.
Even when it came to joining secondary school, Nabumali, a few minutes’ drive from Mbale town became my first choice. It was the age when you went to any school in any part of the region and still flourished academically. My choice was partly because Mbale to me had become an identity, an abode. It was here, under the Yoga administration, that we cut our teeth as teenagers, with the accompanying escapades. The escapes to Club Oasis in the middle of Mbale town for a night out and et cetera.
When I broke from the yoke of Mbale, I went to Jinja College, but there, I never really amalgamated. No wonder I had to return to Mbale College for A’ Level, did a short stint at the Islamic University in Mbale before finally heading to Makerere.
Mbale, to me, was my launch pad. I remember growing up in a Mbale that had well-paved streets, with the lighting from Municipal Council offices down to Indian Quarters all functional. I remember how we would take to the greenery of Cricket Ground and play games or watch the young couples hang around. Uhuru Park opposite Nkoma SS was another relaxing point for us, especially when with cousins we had just visited Uncle Gideon down at Health Manpower offices.
I was lucky to have seen these last vestiges of planned Mbale because what followed thereafter, in early 2000s was the rape of a town that many thought had given credence to Churchill’s description of Uganda as Africa’s Pearl.
When Mayor Kanindo took over, the town crumbled like a pack of cards. The greenery was no more as the capitalist greed caught up with Mbale. Parks, the golf course, wetlands, were all overrun in the mad dash for property. In extreme cases, as was revealed by the Fiona Egunyu Commission, plots were either double or triple allocated. Ministers and their protégés jumped into the fray; the lights no more, potholes took over and quickly the town gained the notoriety of a sick abode. Quickly, it was competing for honours among the worst of this country’s towns!
Many thought that perhaps the town’s problems stemmed from a leadership that had overstayed its time.
The likes of Eng. Sakwa, Justice Masika, Late Wapakhabulo, Wanjusi Wasieba, Late Muyiiyi, were thought to be the problem. The quest for a young leadership took over. That’s how people barely out of their 20s like Mayor Kanindo and MP Wilfred Kajeke came to the scene. The longing for fresh blood, hope that the unblemished would start a new chapter…
But who knew that these would be the same guys, who would push to death, a staggering Mbale? That brings me to the concern of this blog. Yesterday’s resignation of Mbale Municipality MP Wilfred Kajeke from Parliament on grounds that he has realized he can’t do much to change the corruption in this country and has therefore opted to quit.
Reading his resignation speech, one would see the work of a genius, the words of a democrat, but that’s just where they stopped-words. Because beneath it, Kajeke hid the truth of his buy-out by the NRM government. Beneath his speech, he hid the fact that he had cut a deal to cede the constituency that he gained on the opposition FDC ticket to the NRM government. What Kajeke never mentioned in Parliament was that up to Shs120 million had exchanged hands, some of it in installments to help the NRM take over the constituency and make a political statement. What he never mentioned was the impulsive action borne of a Besigye-Kayihura spat in Rock Hotel sometime last year during the fuel crisis.
He did not make mention of the story about him going abroad to study and leave an orphaned constituency....
What he concealed from his constituents was the fact that an ego and superiority war between him and fellow FDC MP Nandala Mafabi was eating him slowly like a cancer. These and many more are the truths that Mbale people will never get to know.
The outside world, longing for a symbol to demonise this government, will jump and hail him. For me, I weep for a generation given the chance but decided to screw it up. I will weep for the young people that Kajeke and Kanindo represented but let down. Above all, I will weep for my much-cherished Mbale and how deep it has sunk in the murky waters that is corruption.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Mao a rebel? Surprises never cease!!

In life, there are surprises. Some are the heartache type: “How could she fool me for all these years when she had another man?” Or the betrayal type: “Kale, she was such a snake, pretending to be my friend when she was stabbing me in the back”. Then of course the upbeat type; after ages, meeting this guy you went to school with and “Oh God! As you’ve changed. That tummy and flabby cheeks, you must be working with URA!”
These, colleagues, are the surprises we are used to. But how do you explain it, when a politician, one of the few you had respect for, knew was unblemished, could actually be a brain behind plans to destabilise the country? This was the conflict of thought I was caught up in two days ago when I heard that Gulu District chairman Norbert Mao could actually be planning an armed rebellion.
As a young man in my mid-teens, one programme that I never missed was the Capital Gang on Capital Radio. Every Saturday 10am would find me in front of my small set (and later as Information prefect Jinja College, in front of the official school Sanyo radio), waiting for the crispy Patrick Quarcoo voice, about to introduce the panelists; Norbert Mao, Winnie Byanyima, Charles Onyango Obbo and Frank Katusiime. Listening to that team was like drinking deep from the Pierian Spring of knowledge. The analysis, anecdotes, insight was overwhelming. They never left you the same.
It is at this time that I grew fond of Norbert Mao, then Gulu Municipality MP. One line I can never forget from this master of anecdotes was when, while debating a piece written by Rosa Whittaker (Museveni’s American image manager) in The New Vision, he labelled her FILTH (Failed in London Trying Here). Whittaker had in her piece derided the Ugandan opposition, labeling them as shallow and interested in non-issues. Mao hit back saying Whittaker belonged to the class of ‘white’ expatriates, who after failing to make it in their own countries, dashed to Africa and masqueraded as authorities, hence the acronym.
Yes, that was the impressionable Mao. His English perfect, analysis deep, humour overflowing. And in an age when we had grown to know politicians as unprincipled, Mao did the unthinkable---vowed that he would be MP for only two terms and quit. And he lived up to his promise—despite general public consensus that he was an influential, moderate legislator who was needed in a House, where few of the members could be taken seriously.
In 2007, I was engaged in a heated debate with my friend Eve on which direction this country should take. Eve was convinced that we needed a total overhaul of the system, and made the suggestion that only Norbert Mao could lead this revolution. At the mention of Mao, I nodded. He is a diplomat, never sounded “angry” like other opposition politicians and was an orator.
That is how Mao had left an imprint on thousands of young people like me and Eve. In fact, when the Obamamania wave swept the world last year—many of my colleagues saw Mao in his light.
But how then are we expected to react when it now dawns on us that Mao could be an accomplice in planning an armed rebellion in this country? How then should we react when we learn that a leader of a district that was crudely hit by 20 years of war has documents calling for another rebellion just as the wounds of the old war are trying to heal?
Many of us may have bones to pick with this government. We suffer under its thievery and lootocracy. Bleed its corruption and nepotism. Get robbed through taxes whose benefits we never see. But most of us are in agreement that war can never be the solution to these woes. Many of us believe that this country’s future lies in building strong institutions that in the long run will be the cornerstone of democracy. We may believe in civil resistance but never armed war. We know that an empowered people (like in Kenya, Iran and Honduras) are the best asset in resisting dictatorship but not necessary an armed population. We know that blood begets blood.
So, how should we react when a beacon of hope now turns a demon of war? Mao can argue that he never believed the 53-page document on the Uganda Patriotic Front was a serious document. He can downplay it and say it was just passed to him by a graduate student from the UK. But one wonders, why for a whole year did he never let security know of these plans? The law is clear on these issues. What was he doing with that flash disc a year later? What about claims from the army spokesperson that Mao was actually editing the document and making recommendations, some in pen and his own handwriting?
I was among the legion of people disregarding the army’s recent claims that a rebel group was in the making—for I believed that any Ugandan would know the foolhardiness of such a venture coming right on the heels of the LRA fiasco.
But with Mao coming out publicly to admit that he had a document spelling out resistance and armed rebellion, I am lost for words. And what was he doing parading such information in a public café? You surely don’t need to be a rocket scientist (or better still a lawyer like Mao) to know that that memory stick would land you in jail for eternity. Maybe as my friend Fredrick Womakuyu told me yesterday: “At times, the guys we think are bright are not after all.”