By Crispy Kaheru
As I wander in Uncle Bob's land of the Dzimbahwe I continue to keep a very close eye on the way things are unraveling back in my much-loved Uganda. The riots have become as common as the potholes; arrests on account of trumped-up charges are as widespread as Boda Bodas on Kampala road; and all this is in a place where freedom of expression (for independent opinions) is as limited as the jobs for Ugandan graduates.
My brothers and sisters, there is no other time that has called for braveness like this time! It is acts of bravery that will define who we are and what we want for today and tomorrow. Recalling the words of famous French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, "each act contributes to defining us as we are, and at any moment we can begin to act differently and draw a different portrait of ourselves".
Today, let me spend a bit of time to reflect on the much alluded to professionalization of the Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF). The alleged professionalization of the army seemed to have coincided with the militarization of the country. Of course one wonders if the police is still the historical 'civil' force or just another wing of the UPDF. Like in the former Ugandan State Research Bureau (SRB) of the 70s, some elements in the police have become so powerful that they are their own masters and call the shots no matter the interests of the judiciary, legislature and even the larger executive. Many actions and inactions seem to preclude that Uganda is under a martial law of sorts.
Military tact in many instances has replaced civil methods of managing public affairs; the legislature and the judiciary will soon (if not already) be serving at the whims of the highest-ranking military officer; there are increasing occasions of outright disregard of due process of law; and all this is happening at a time when the center's ability to hold remains in dire question.
At first, many of us thought that it was those usual governance glitches – that come and go. Today, what begun as a mild governance hitch has compounded itself into a melanoma whose cure must be an immediate subject not just for me or a few of us, but for all Ugandans.
Interesting times indeed that we are living in. A few years ago, leaders solemnly swore to uphold the protection of whistleblowers – a whistleblower in this case is a person who reports misconduct in an organization. Recently, when one, General Sejjusa blew the whistle on potential politically motivated assassinations (founded or unfounded), what he received was not anything close to protection – some people within government actually launched a campaign of derision around Sejjusa's name. What message does this send to folks who blow the whistle on issues like theft of public funds, bad service delivery, etc? This means, one may have to think twice before reporting an on-going or anticipated misdemeanor in the public domain.
In short, we are talking about a state that is seen to be selectively responsive – on the ground if it is a matter of cracking down on demonstrations; absent when it comes to the real issues that affect its people. Recently a colleague told me how parts of Entebbe were 'no go' areas after 7:00pm because of robberies, iron-bar hit men etc, the police remain un-present in these places – many local folks lost their lives, Boda boda riders lost their bikes and cab drivers lost their cars. All this went un-noticed despite the locals complaints. However, around the days when Gen. Sejjusa was expected to return from London, all streets and villages of Entebbe became colonies of police and parade grounds for heavy military hardware. And one local asked, where were all these guns a few days ago when Entebbe was a dane of robbers?
The state organs such as police that were once much revered as saviors of the wanainchi are steadily mutating into nemeses of belligerence – a state dreaded for its vile actions and scorned for its inactions where it matters most.
If this is war, then my conclusion is that we have generals who are nervous, wavering and irresolute. Now, as citizens, we need to be more worried because such generals cannot win the battle.