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OpEd

JOSEPH KABULETA: Getting rid of Musevenism

Yoweri Museveni, the president of the Republic of Uganda. (FILE PHOTO)

KAMPALA – Last week I watched one interview on NTV and read another in the Daily Monitor and it dawned on me (all over again) how difficult it will be to root out Musevenism when its patron is gone.

Forget about the man at the top, he is the easier one to dump. But the deeply-embedded culture of privilege and licentiousness that has burgeoned under him and spread its roots across the civil service and all arms of government; that will take some uprooting.

Keith Muhakanizi has served in diverse economic advisory roles in the Ministry of Finance or Economic Planning from the 1980s and is now the Permanent Secretary/Secretary to the Treasury, a position he’s held since 2013. He is also the man who signed away $379m to an Italian investor to build a 264-bed specialized hospital “which will be operated as a world-class internationally accredited facility to treat conditions for which Ugandans have been travelling abroad blah blah…”

That’s the official dross.

Then there is the skullduggery; the openly flouted PPP rules, the fact that a contract was signed with the investor before Parliament approved and all the drama we’ve come to expect. Of course we know it was a heist. The money will not all be used for a hospital, definitely not all of it, in fact we shall be lucky if any hospital is built.

But that’s not what got my blood boiling. As Ugandans who have lived through the NRM revolution, we have been sufficiently desensitized to financial scandal.

It’s possible, even likely, that the fake investor deal was hatched by forces above Muhakanizi when he was abroad getting treatment. So his lack of answers didn’t upset me either, I expected it.

What I found infuriating was his attitude in that interview with NTV’s Emma Mutayizibwa. It was by all means the most pulse-stilling exchange I have ever watched.

Like all Museveni’s toadies, Muhakanizi is choking on privilege and a deep sense of entitlement. He barely let the interviewer complete any questions before shooting back with smug and patronizing answers typical of that ‘from 1986’ generation.

“Young man listen to me,” he shouted, screwing his face and rolling his eyes in their socket like his master, acting like being tasked to answer questions on the use, or abuse, of government funds is an intrusion into his privacy way up there with asking about his sex life.

Government heists happen all over the world. Nothing new about that. But the people at the heart of it often have the courtesy, as it were, of pretending to be accountable. Their explanations are nothing more than vague rationalizations, platitudes and prosaicisms which never convince anyone, but at least they maintain a semblance obligation. But what good ol’ Keith did is the verbal equivalent of sticking out the middle finger to Ugandans who don’t belong in his privileged group.

Even people who visit brothels have enough chivalry to leave a note on the table. Just because it’s dirty business doesn’t mean it cannot be done with a measure of courtesy.

The second interview came in a story on a report that showed that poverty levels have increased across the country. Ugandan youth don’t need a study to tell them as much, most of them are witnesses in the first degree.

But then some bloke called Mondo Kyateka, the Commissioner of Youth and Children Affairs at the Ministry of Gender, speaking from the comfort of his air-conditioned office, gave his two-pence worth of… whatever it was (the word wisdom would be an incongruity).

“I have seen women as early as 6:00am carrying baskets of merchandise. There is work to do. There is a lot of land to till. When I was young people would go to work in the morning, come for lunch and go back to dig and return in the evening. People have become lazy because of entitlement mentality that someone must give, especially the youth.”

Now that is rich.

His advice for unemployed youth roaming the streets with their papers is…… they should go and dig from morning to evening and carry merchandize on your heads to the market.

That’s the voice of a true NRM cadre in whom there is no guile.That’s exactly the kind of advice the youth would get from the president himself.

In 1986 (Oh Lord, I am beginning to sound like them).

Ok, in 1986, Uganda’s biggest imports were tracks and vans ($14.3m), food processing machinery ($8.6m), textile machinery, construction machinery and mechanized farm equipment. Coffee processors were also high up there. Rural Uganda was healthy and booming. They grew coffee, dried it, processed it and trusted government, through its parastatal Coffee Marketing Board, to market the product. The system was functional. Villagers were prosperous. They were not asking for handouts. On the contrary, they were giving handouts to ragtag rebel soldiers who promised them a new level of bliss if they took government.

In 2016, three decades after those rebels took power, the president went around villages distributing hoes to the same rural people who were engaged in mechanized agriculture before he became president.

Also in 2016, the president, in his Bosco hat, demonstrably introduced villagers to the wonders of bicycle irrigation. In 1986 they were importing water trucks and vans to transport produce, thirty years later, they are fetching water on bicycles. That’s the grim reality of the NRM revolution.

Musevenism is that snobbish and arrivalist attitude that makes state functionaries believe that they are entitled to regal comfort, while blaming the victims of the NRM mess for their own misery. It is that self-important brashness so aptly personified by Keith Muhakanizi and Mondo Kyateka.

It is a Machiavellian approach where people are deliberately stripped of all their self-belief, self-worth and tools of production and are made dependent on State handouts. That’s how politicians entrench themselves in power.

So it’s no surprise that the rural people who were stripped of their dignity are the ones running to the bully for hoes in exchange of votes. Neither is it a surprise that they are the ones that vote for him. As long as he keeps them poor, they will keep him in power.

Neither is it a surprise that people in the inner circle like Muhakanizi feel inconvenienced by simple procedural questions and expect exploited Ugandans to cheer their exploiters.

How do we roll back all this society damage?

How do we roll back the years to the days when a president couldn’t appoint his wife and his concubines to ministerial positions and Ugandans let it pass?

How shall we teach our people that national resources belong to Ugandans and not to one family and its clingers-on?

How shall we get back to the days when civil servants were actually servants not masters?

Getting rid of Museveni is the easier part of this equation.

Getting rid of Musevenism will require a counter-revolution.

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