KAMPALA – It is said that history repeats itself twice, the first time as a tragedy, the second time as a farce. This saying is attributed to Karl Marx. What Marx actually said is this: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Movers and shakers in history have their parallels and mirror images in the present and will again reappear in the future. That is the march of folly. The highhandedness of the State in 2009 produced the tragedy that we now refer to as the “Kayunga Riots”. In 2021 we witnessed the farcical and shameless vote stealing in the Kayunga LCV elections. The pattern seems relentless – from tragedy to farce and back to tragedy.
We study history in order to draw lessons from the past that illuminate our path today so that we can peer into the future with a better sense of perspective. George Santayana, is famed for the saying that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The British Statesman Winston Churchill wrote that “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Any history student knows that the things we learn from the past seldom avert disaster but they can at least give some insight into the present and possibly the future.
In her 1984 book “The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam”, Barbara Tuchman wrote about what she called “wooden-headedness” in political leadership. She defined this oddly named concept reminiscent of Pinocchio as “assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs…” If we are shocked by Kayunga, then it is because of wooden-headedness!
One of the conversations we often have in the Democratic Party is about why some regions do not have as many successful candidates from the opposition parties. In DP the question has always been why most of the successful candidates have been from Buganda. In the heydays of FDC doyen, the question was why does he get very few votes from Western Uganda. For instance in 2011, I won three districts in Acholiland and Besigye narrowly won Kampala in addition to three districts in Teso. Still in DP despite having a flamboyant and boisterous Vice President in the person of Imam Makumbi, the question has always been how come DP doesn’t win in Western Uganda. In 2021 DP only managed one Councillor in Ibanda. Whoever has been wondering what happens in some parts of the country considered NRM strongholds, has now got their answer in Kayunga. Those obsessed with electoralism as opposed to creating leverage for a genuine National Dialogue have also got their answer in Kayunga!
I never get tired of painting this picture. Imagine a soccer match. Two teams face each other. One team is the reigning champion. The other team is the challenger that the trophy has eluded for decades. The reigning champion is captained by a player who is also the referee. He runs around with a whistle in his mouth. When he has the ball he blows the whistle to stop the game. Frustrating challengers who seek to tackle him and take the ball. He also wields the referee’s cards. He brandishes the yellow card threateningly at any challenger. Any challenger who dares tackle him is shown the red card and sent off the field. His boots have nails under the soles. He has no scruples about injuring anyone who comes too close to the ball.
Or look at it another way. Imagine a game of cards. There is also a defending Champion who has reigned for decades. This champion has arrogated to himself the absolute right to determine which cards his challengers get. The incumbent champion gives himself all the best cards – the Masters, the 2s, the 3s, Jokers, the 8s, the Js, and the Seven of Hearts that can terminate the game. He gives you the worst of the cards including the Ks and Qs. He then tells you to sit and play!
Would you play? So why do we play? We often get asked, if you don’t trust the electoral process and the body that superintends it, why do you participate? We participate not because we trust the Electoral Commission but because we trust our fellow citizens.
The author, Norbert Mao is a Ugandan politician and Democratic Party President