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OCTOBER 26th ELECTION: Can the sovereign will of the people prevail in an environment of state terror and intimidation?

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“Elections are the surest way through which the people express their sovereignty. Our Constitution is founded upon the immutable principle of the sovereign will of the people. Therefore, whether it be about numbers, whether it be about laws, whether it be about processes, an election must at the end of the day, be a true reflection of the will of the people, as decreed by the Constitution, through its hallowed principles of transparency, credibility, verifiability, accountability, accuracy and efficiency.” – Supreme Court of the Republic of Kenya, 20th September 2017

The concept of sovereignty derives from the historical political relations between rulers, often in the form of states/governments and citizens. The concept of sovereignty became the central idea of modern political science. The word sovereignty is derived from the Latin word superanus, which connotes supremacy. Sovereignty is in essence about the power to make laws and the ability to rule effectively.

Initially, sovereignty was construed as the supreme power of the state over citizens and subjects, unrestrained by law.[1] Following the doctrine of the Social Contract introduced to the realm of political philosophy by Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and others, the theory evolved to mean that in order to avoid the brutal nature of rule by man, citizens and subjects must delegate their power to a legitimate higher authority, referred to as the ‘Leviathan’ by Thomas Hobbes, to exercise that power on their behalf for the benefit of all.

The sovereign is, therefore, the legitimate supreme body that exercises the monopoly of power on behalf of and for the benefit of all its subjects. As such, sovereign power should be exercised in a responsible manner that considers the well-being of all citizens. This naturally presupposes limits to the excesses of state power through the rule of law, equity and justice. For the sovereign authority to retain its legitimacy, as granted to it by citizens, it must exercise this authority with equanimity.

The first Article of the Constitution of Kenya states that sovereign power belongs to the people of Kenya and demands that such sovereignty be exercised by the constitution. It further states that people may exercise their sovereign power either directly or through their democratically elected representatives. Sovereign power is then donated by the people of Kenya to state organs and institutions, such as Parliament, the Executive, the Judiciary, and County Governments and Assemblies, among others.

Contemporary political scholars depart from the absolutist view of sovereignty, which is unconditional and unrestrained by law, as expressed by Jean Bodin, to a holistic approach that views sovereignty as having to be legitimate and derive its authority from the acquiescence of citizens through political processes like elections, policies and public opinion.[2] Hence, the legal sovereign has to act according to the will of the electorate, which is a body of citizens who have the right to vote. Political sovereignty, therefore, implies suffrage, with each individual having one vote, and control of the legislature by the representatives of the people.

The first Article of the Constitution of Kenya states that sovereign power belongs to the people of Kenya and demands that such sovereignty be exercised by the constitution. It further states that people may exercise their sovereign power either directly or through their democratically elected representatives. Sovereign power is then donated by the people of Kenya to state organs and institutions, such as Parliament, the Executive, the Judiciary, and County Governments and Assemblies, among others. Consequently:

“The basis for Sovereignty of the People lies in honouring the precept that when people surrender to the state their right to exclusively govern themselves, in exchange for proper representation in that respect, the government becomes the citizenry’s agent for such purposes. For instance, this right called universal suffrage (one’s right to vote) is exercised by the Kenyan people every five years as per their constitutional entitlement protected by law. The government’s power as a result is not absolute; but more accurately, it is to be executed, as a matter of fact, in such manner as would lead to the necessary accountability of government to the people since it is they that established the state as well as its constituent organs in the first place.”[3]

Kenya’s political and electoral history

Given that sovereignty is exercised through universal suffrage, it follows that the right to suffrage must be respected and elections need to be legitimate. Kenya’s political history is replete with instances of electoral malpractices that served to bastardise regimes that were propagated by electoral processes that were grossly skewed in favour of incumbency. Illegitimate electoral processes were the hallmark of the one-party state under President Daniel arap Moi’s KANU[4] dictatorship.

Despite the fact that future elections in 1992 and 1997 were held by secret ballot, the legacy of Mlolongo entrenched a political culture of electoral fraud and malpractices, including voter bribery and intimidation, alteration of votes in transit and state-sponsored violence in areas that were perceived as hostile to the executive.

The most notorious desecration of electoral democracy during this era was the queue-voting system of 1988 known as ‘Mlolongo’. The decision to conduct primaries by having voters queue behind the image of their favoured candidates set the stage for massive rigging. Voting malpractices had been witnessed in other elections but this decision made it possible to cheat on a scale never witnessed before, given the opportunity it presented for open voter bribery and intimidation to queue behind state-sponsored or regime-friendly candidates.[5]

Despite the fact that future elections in 1992 and 1997 were held by secret ballot, the legacy of Mlolongo entrenched a political culture of electoral fraud and malpractices, including voter bribery and intimidation, alteration of votes in transit and state-sponsored violence in areas that were perceived as hostile to the executive. The violence was often designed to displace ‘hostile’ communities in order to curb voter turnout. Given the broad-based nature of the National Rainbow Coalition that ushered in the regime of President Mwai Kibaki in an anti-KANU/Moi wave that produced a landslide victory for the then opposition, the country was spared large scale electoral fraud and malpractices in 2002.

The 2002 General Election was held in the context of the expiry of Moi’s two-term limit following pre-1992 constitutional amendments that introduced multiparty democracy through the repeal of Section 2 (A) of the independence Constitution, which in turn had been amended in 1982 to render Kenya a de jure one-party state. The political reforms of that era introduced a two-term limit, meaning Moi could only serve a maximum of two terms post-1992. Moi, however, vigorously campaigned for his protégé Uhuru Kenyatta, who faced a united opposition that rallied behind Mwai Kibaki.

In 2007, the ghost of electoral fraud and malpractices returned to haunt the country. Pitting the incumbent Mwai Kibaki, now under the Party of National Unity (PNU), against Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), the election results, which appeared to reverse an unassailable lead by Raila Odinga, led the country to widespread violence pitting supporters of the two factions against one another and police killing of civilians. The use of private militia to inflict violence was among other factors that led to the functionaries of the two parties and the Commissioner of Police being charged with crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The Independent Electoral Review Commission (IREC), chaired by the South African Judge Johann Kriegler, conducted an in-depth investigation into the 2007 Election, and concluded that:

“There was generalised abuse of polling, characterised by widespread bribery, vote buying, intimidation and ballot-stuffing. This was followed by grossly defective data collation, transmission and tallying, and ultimately the electoral process failed for lack of adequate planning, staff selection/training, public relations and dispute resolution. The integrity of the process and the credibility of the results were so gravely impaired by these manifold irregularities and defects that it is irrelevant whether or not there was actual rigging at the national tally centre. The results are irretrievably polluted.”[6]

The Kreigler Commission report informed reforms to the Elections Act and the provisions of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 relating to elections. The Commission of Inquiry into Post- Election Violence (CIPEV), together with the Kriegler Commission, agreed that the flawed electoral process contributed significantly to the 2007-2008 post-election violence. The legal and policy framework governing future elections was an effort to boost credibility and legitimacy of elections in Kenya and to prevent the recurrence of violence. Given Kenya’s chequered political history with regard to elections, specific reforms were made following the recommendations of the Kriegler Commission and other processes to cure particular mischiefs, including the alteration of votes in transit. As such, electronic transmission of results was introduced, with accompanying forms signed and verified by competing political party agents in order to curb electoral irregularities and illegalities.

In this regard, the language of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 and the various amendments to the Elections Act is elaborate, with the words credibility, accountability, verifiability and others qualifying the standards required of elections in Kenya with specific regard to vote tallying, transmission and declaration.

The phraseology of Article 23 of the Constitution of Kenya is a deliberate endeavour to cure the mischiefs identified by the Kriegler Report. It demands that whatever voting method that is used, the system is simple, accurate, verifiable, secure, accountable and transparent.

The phraseology of Article 23 of the Constitution of Kenya is a deliberate endeavour to cure the mischiefs identified by the Kriegler Report. It demands that whatever voting method that is used, the system is simple, accurate, verifiable, secure, accountable and transparent. The framers of the constitution inserted these words to govern elections in Kenya, given the country’s peculiar context and political history with regard to the legitimacy of elections, which are in turn the way in which the people of Kenya exercise their sovereignty. Electoral legitimacy therefore becomes a prerequisite for the genuine exercise of sovereignty. In order for the People of Kenya to exercise their sovereign will through elections, they must be carried out in a manner that is free, fair, credible, transparent, secure, accountable and verifiable. They must be carried out in accordance with the provisions on elections in the Elections Act and the Constitution of Kenya 2010.

Sovereign legitimacy

Political and legal scholars have deliberated upon the doctrine of legitimacy as a prerequisite to the exercise of sovereignty. The following passage from Hugo Grotius’ On the Law of War and Peace expresses the modern perspective of legitimacy in the context of political authority and sovereignty:

“But as there are several Ways of Living, some better than others, and every one may choose which he pleases of all those Sorts; so a People may choose what Form of Government they please: Neither is the Right which the Sovereign has over his Subjects to be measured by this or that Form, of which diverse Men have different Opinions, but by the Extent of the Will of those who conferred it upon him”.[7]

John Locke’s version of social contract theory elevated consent to the main source of the legitimacy of political authority. Legitimacy as a prerequisite to the exercise of sovereignty is captured in the doctrine of popular sovereignty:

“Popular sovereignty, or the sovereignty of the people’s rule, is the principle that the authority of a state and its government is created and sustained by the consent of its people, through their elected representatives (Rule by the People), who are the source of all political power. It is closely associated with social contract philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Popular sovereignty expresses a concept and does not necessarily reflect or describe a political reality. The people have the final say in government decisions.”[8]

Benjamin Franklin expressed the concept when he wrote: “In free governments, the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors and sovereigns[9]. Popular sovereignty, in its modern sense, is an idea that dates to the social contracts school (mid-17th to mid-18th centuries), represented by Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), John Locke (1632–1704), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), author of The Social Contract, a prominent political work that clearly highlighted the ideals of “general will” and further matured the idea of popular sovereignty. The central tenet is that legitimacy of rule or of law is based on the consent of the governed. Popular sovereignty implies the exercise of power with the consent of the governed. It is a basic tenet of most republics and some monarchies.[10]

Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau were the most influential thinkers of this school, all postulating that individuals choose to enter into a social contract with one another, thus voluntarily giving up some of their natural freedom in return for protection from dangers derived from the freedom of others. Whether men were seen as naturally more prone to violence and rapine (Hobbes) or to cooperation and kindness (Rousseau), the idea that a legitimate social order emerges only when the liberties and duties are equal among citizens binds the social contract thinkers to the concept of popular sovereignty.[11]

Legitimacy and legality of elections in Kenya

Within the ambit of political theory, one can locate ideas of sovereignty having to be legitimate and based on the rule of law in order to compel citizens to obey the sovereign to which they have donated their individual power for the benefit of all. If sovereign power is exercised with disregard for the rule of law, its legitimacy may cease. As such, the sovereign power derives its authority from those governed and exercises its power legitimately, in accordance with the rule of law and not arbitrarily. In the Kenyan context, where the framers of the constitution saw it fit for sovereignty to reside in the People of Kenya, they alluded to a form of popular sovereignty that requires legitimacy, rule of law, public participation and constitutionalism as a central components of state authority.

Form 34 (A) was deliberately provided for in the law to arrest the mischief of votes disappearing in transit through the verification process of agents. Further, there is a context in which the two Houses of Parliament jointly prepared a technological roadmap for conduct of elections and inserted a clear and simple technological process in Section 39(1) (C) of the Elections Act, with the sole aim of ensuring a verifiable transmission and declaration of results system. In the presence of these illegalities and irregularities, it is difficult to establish whether the sovereign will of the People of Kenya was exercised through the ballot on August 8th 2017.

Without the tenets of constitutionalism, rule of law and public participation, the exercise of sovereignty would be illegitimate. Given the current political environment in which the Supreme Court of the Republic of Kenya nullified the August 8th presidential election citing substantial irregularities of such a magnitude as to impugn the integrity of the electoral process and, given that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), as recently stated by its Chairman Wafula Chebukati, has not made any changes that would render a fresh election credible, will the sovereign will of the people be legitimately exercised through a fresh election on October 26th or any date thereafter without the changes and reforms sought in compliance with the Supreme Court decision?

The Supreme Court impugned the August 8th presidential elections on the basis that they were fraught with so many illegalities and irregularities that so negatively impacted the integrity of the elections that no reasonable tribunal could uphold the election. The most critical and persistent non-compliance with the law was that the IEBC-announced results on the basis of Forms 34B before receiving all Forms 34A.

It was also alleged that the results announced in Forms 34B were different from those displayed on the 1st respondents’ public web portal, contrary to section 39 (1) & (C ) of the Elections Act. The results were not transmitted in the prescribed form, given that results began to stream into the national tallying centre without the mandatory forms 34 (A). Form 34 (A) is the primary document that captures all results from polling station or streams. It is signed by both the presiding officer and agents at the polling station for purposes of verifiability. In the context of Kenya’s electoral history, where votes were often altered in transit, the primacy of this document is critical and not merely a mode of transmission.

Form 34 (A) was deliberately provided for in the law to arrest the mischief of votes disappearing in transit through the verification process of agents. Further, there is a context in which the two Houses of Parliament jointly prepared a technological roadmap for conduct of elections and inserted a clear and simple technological process in Section 39(1) (C) of the Elections Act, with the sole aim of ensuring a verifiable transmission and declaration of results system. In the presence of these illegalities and irregularities, it is difficult to establish whether the sovereign will of the People of Kenya was exercised through the ballot on August 8th 2017.

This is exacerbated by the fact that the Supreme Court drew an adverse inference on the part of the IEBC for failing to provide access to logs and servers to the petitioner (Raila Odinga), concluding that this was a golden opportunity for the IEBC to disprove the allegations of Mr. Odinga with regard to infiltration of the servers and alteration of forms and votes. The Court made an adverse inference on the IEBC, stating that for it to spurn such an opportunity to disprove the petitioners claim of hacking and alteration, IEBC officials themselves interfered with the data or simply refused to accept that it had bungled the whole transmission system and were unable to verify the data.

The Chairman of the IEBC, in a statement on 18th October 2017, less than 10 days before the proposed 26th October election, admitted that under the current conditions, ‘it is difficult to guarantee free, fair and credible elections’. He added that: ‘without critical changes in the Secretariat staff, free, fair and credible elections will surely be compromised[12] while referring to a deeply divided IEBC.

A day before this statement by Mr. Chebukati, a Commissioner of the IEBC, Roselyne Akombe, fled the country citing fears for her life, stating that the IEBC was under political siege and that: “the commission in its current state can surely not guarantee a credible election[13]. According to former Commissioner Akombe:

“We need the Commission to be courageous and speak out, that this election as planned cannot meet the basic expectations of a CREDIBLE election. Not when the staff are getting last minute instructions on changes in technology and electronic transmission of results. Not when in parts of the country, the training of presiding officers is being rushed for fear of attacks from protestors. Not when Commissioners and staff are intimidated by political actors and protestors and fear for their lives. Not when senior Secretariat staff and Commissioners are serving partisan political interests. Not when the Commission is saddled with endless legal cases in the courts, and losing most of them. Not when legal advice is skewed to fit partisan political interests. The Commission in its current state can surely not guarantee a credible election on 26 October 2017. I do not want to be party to such a mockery to electoral integrity.”[14]

These revelations from both the Chairman of the IEBC and a senior Commissioner cast doubt on the Commission’s ability to carry out a legitimate election on October 26th or any other date before making necessary changes to correct the reasons for nullification identified by the Supreme Court on 1st September 2017. Any election without these changes and under the prevailing political circumstances would not meet the test of credibility, transparency, accuracy and verifiability. Such an election would not legitimately reflect the sovereign will of the People of Kenya.

Environment of fear and intimidation

Following the annulment of the August 8th presidential election by the Supreme Court, state security agencies clamped down heavily on citizens demanding credible elections through peaceful protests. In Nairobi, the police brutalised citizens in Mathare, Kibera, Baba Dogo, Dandora, Korogocho, Karoabangi and Kawangware. In Kisumu, the use of live bullets against civilians has been documented following protests against the declaration of Uhuru Kenyatta as the duly elected President by the IEBC on August 9th, a declaration that was later nullified by the Supreme Court. According to Kisumu County Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o: “171 cases of police brutality were reported, six of them rape; seven deaths were confirmed while several people were reported missing.”[15]

The prevailing climate of civil protest and excessive retaliation by state security agencies, including use of live bullets, does not provide an enabling environment for elections free of violence and intimidation. Public participation, freedom of assembly, association and the right to picket and to demonstrate are enshrined in the constitution. An environment in which fundamental political rights are suppressed in the conduct of an electoral process, which is supposed to express the sovereign will of the people, renders that process illegitimate.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch published a report on 16th October 2017 titled Kill Those Criminals: Security Forces’ Violations in Kenya’s August 2017 Elections documenting excessive use of force by the police, and in some cases other security agents, against protesters and residents in some of Nairobi’s opposition strongholds after the elections. According to the report:

“At least 23 people appear to have been shot dead by police, three beaten to death, and three died of asphyxiation from tear gas and pepper spray, two trampled to death, and two of physical and psychological trauma. Residents and human rights activists told researchers of another 17 cases of deaths resulting from police actions in informal settlements in Nairobi. Witnesses and human rights activists told researchers of at least four bodies that they said they saw being removed by police in Kibera,; the identities of the victims and where they are currently located are unknown. Dozens of others suffered gunshot wounds and severe injuries due to police beatings.”[16]

Further:

Police used excessive force against protesters, firing teargas in residential areas or inside houses, shooting in the air but also directly into the crowd and carrying out violent and abusive house to house operations, beating and shooting residents.”[17]

This environment of police brutality and intimidation by state security agencies persists and looms large over the proposed date for the fresh election, October 26th 2017. There is heavy and menacing police presence in opposition strongholds seemingly deployed to supress peaceful protestors on, before and after October 26th. Given the trend witnessed in the aftermath of August 8th election, repeated police brutality is likely to follow on, before and after October 26th. The Inspector General of Police issued a statement on 20th October 2017, warning of stern consequences for protestors in the course of the fresh election date. This comes in the wake of the arrests and detention of County Assembly Members in Mombasa and Kisumu for their alleged role in mobilising protestors ahead of October 26th.

Is this environment of fear, brutality and intimidation conducive to the conducting of a free, fair, transparent and credible election? Can the People of Kenya exercise their sovereign will through elections in such an environment? The framers of the Constitution envisaged that citizens should be able to take part in free and fair elections without fear of violence and intimidation. Indeed, violence and intimidation are key elements in Kenya’s electoral jurisprudence as grounds for invalidation of parliamentary and civic elections. In George Gitiba Njenga v Mutunga Mutungi & another [2017] eKLR, the Political Parties Dispute Tribunal restated the requirement for free and fair elections in the context of absence of violence and intimidation as one of the general principles undergirding Kenya’s electoral processes:

“For an election exercise to be said to have been free and fair, according to Article 81 of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010, the following conditions must be met. They include allowing voting through secret balloting, freedom from violence, intimidation and improper influence or corruption, elections being conducted transparently by an independent body and administered in an impartial, neutral, efficient, accurate and accountable manner.”[18]

The prevailing climate of civil protest and excessive retaliation by state security agencies, including use of live bullets, does not provide an enabling environment for elections free of violence and intimidation. Public participation, freedom of assembly, association and the right to picket and to demonstrate are enshrined in the constitution. An environment in which fundamental political rights are suppressed in the conduct of an electoral process, which is supposed to express the sovereign will of the people, renders that process illegitimate.

Conclusion

It is the author’s view that the sovereign will of the people cannot be legitimately expressed in an environment of state terror against civilians. Further, the imposition of an electoral process without the acquiescence of a broad cross-section of the electorate, including the candidate in whose favour the Supreme Court ruled in nullifying the August 8th 2017 election, negates the doctrine of popular sovereignty as it imposes coercive power without consent.

Without this participation, consent to the date and significant remedies for the illegalities and irregularities of the electoral process of August 8th and the proposed election to be carried out on October 26th provide no remedy for the lack of electoral accountability which the Supreme Court sought to enforce in its full decision read on 20th September 2017. Any election in the prevailing political environment, including where the Chairperson of the constitutionally-mandated electoral body, together with a Commissioner, have publicly expressed their reservations about the October 26th poll, cannot be credible and would not legitimately convey the sovereign will of the People of Kenya.

By James Gondi LL.M
The author is a rule of law analyst. His research areas include human rights law, international humanitarian law and transitional justice.

 

[1] Dunning, A ‘Jean Bodin on Sovereignty’ Political Science Quarterly Vol 11 No 1 1986

[2] Patil, Jaiwantaro Mahesh ‘ Sovereignty’ Nayanvar Chavan Law College, Nanded (Mahashatra), India

[3] Ojwang J.B “Constitutional Reform In Kenya: Basic Constitutional Issues and Concepts” 2001 quoted in Kaindo & Maina “Sovereignty of the People and Parliamentary Supremacy” 2014

[4] Kenya Africa National Union, independence political party.

[5] Mugo, Waweru “How the ‘Mlolongo’ System Doomed Polls” The Standard Newspaper 20th November 2013

[6] Report of the Independent Review Commission on the General Elections held in Kenya on 27th December 2007, Page X of the Executive Summary available at: http://kenyalaw.org/kl/fileadmin/CommissionReports/Report-of-the-Independent-Review-Commission-on-the-General-Elections-held-in-Kenya-on-27th-December-2007.pdf

[7] Grotius, Hugo On the Law of War and Peace in Political Legitimacy Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy April 2017

[8] Duke, George Strong Popular Sovereignty and Constitutional Legitimacy European Journal of Political Theory 2017

[9] Popular Sovereignty and the Consent of the Governed Published by the Bill of Rights Institute, Documents of Freedom- History, Government and Economics through Primary Sources

[10] Ibid

 

[11] Ibid

[12] Wafula Chebukati: I Can’t Guarantee Credible Poll on October 26 Daily Nation 18th October 2017 available at http://www.nation.co.ke/news/Wafula-Chebukati-on-repeat-presidential-election/1056-4145232-oyj67sz/index.html

[13] Resignation Statement of IEBC Commissioner Dr Roselyne Akombe published in Business Today available at https://businesstoday.co.ke/dr-roselyn-akombe-resigns-heres-full-statement/

[14] Ibid

[15] Standard Newspaper ‘Kisumu, the Lakeside City Bears Scars of Constant Police Brutality

Read more at: https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/article/2001254087/kisumu-the-lakeside-city-bears-scars-of-constant-police-brutality 10th September 2017

[16] “Kill Those Criminals” Security Forces Violations in Kenya’s August 2017 Elections. Amnesty International Report at Page 14, 16 October 2017, Index number: AFR 32/7249/201 Available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr32/7249/2017/en/

[17] Ibid

[18] Republic of Kenya Political Parties Dispute Tribunal Complaint Number 234 of 2017

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A DARK TRUTH: The racist dynamic at the heart of Kenya’s conservation practices and policies

MORDECAI OGADA explains why black Africans are almost completely absent in the field of conservation in Kenya, which has been hijacked by whites and foreigners who pander to prejudices that have been cultivated by romantic or colonial notions about Africa and its wildlife.

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A DARK TRUTH: The racist dynamic at the heart of Kenya’s conservation practices and policies

The practice of conservation and the narrative around African wildlife is a kingdom, albeit without a single monarch. The monarchy and nobility consist of an eclectic mix of royalty, commoners, idlers, misfits, scientists, killers (who refer to themselves as “hunters”) across a very broad spectrum of backgrounds. We have youthful cowboys in their 20s, and we have octogenarians. There are also wealthy lords and scruffy backpackers. The one thread that links them is the fact that they are all white.

Their race is also what confers upon them a unity of purpose and mutual sympathy in lands where the indigenous majority are black. This kingdom is absolute and doesn’t tolerate dissent from its subjects. Those who serve the kingdom faithfully are rewarded with senior positions in the technical (not policy) arena and international awards and are showered with praise and backhanded compliments in descriptions like “being switched on”, “a good chap”, and best of all, “a reformed poacher”. This praise also manifests itself in the form of the Tusk Conservation Award, which is conferred annually by the Duke of Cambridge, HRH Prince William, on the local conservationist who best serves as an implementer or enforcer of the kingdom’s conservation goals.

Structured conservation practice in East Africa began largely when demobilised World War II soldiers started looking for a field where they could apply one of the few skills they had gained in the war (shooting) without harming people. The rise of the conservation officer or protector was actually preceded by the establishment of the first hunting reserves at the turn of the century a few decades earlier.

However, there was a new recognition that the resource was finite and needed to be preserved for the exclusive use of the colonial nobility that was necessarily defined by race; hence the need for enforcement. Exploitation of African wildlife by Western consumers began in the early 1900s with hunting safaris, which were basically tests of resilience and skill with the target of harvesting the biggest and largest number from this bounty under pretty harsh and rustic conditions. It was closely followed in the 1960s by the photographic safari and cinematography that cemented the romanticism of these adventures in the African wild. This led to a spurt in tourist interest, which no doubt pleased the foreign exchange-hungry newly independent states.

Intellectual desert

Two major pitfalls arose from the romantic age between 1950 and1970 – pitfalls that continue to determine how wildlife conservation is practised today. The first major pitfall was the illogical link and valuation of wildlife based on tourists’ appreciation and (where hunting was allowed) consumption. The second pitfall was the firm placement of black Africans as “props” who were destined never to be equal intellectual participants in the management of and discourse around African wildlife. Thus my compulsion to describe Kenya (rather harshly, in some of my readers’ estimation) as an “intellectual desert” as far as wildlife conservation is concerned.

Two major pitfalls arose from the romantic age between 1950 and1970 – pitfalls that continue to determine how wildlife conservation is practised today. The first major pitfall was the illogical link and valuation of wildlife based on tourists’ appreciation and (where hunting was allowed) consumption. The second pitfall was the firm placement of black Africans as “props” who were destined never to be equal intellectual participants in the management of and discourse around African wildlife.

Indeed, photographic and hunting safaris have since then included a very obvious but unspoken element of domination over black Africans – we can see it in the nameless black faces in white hunters’ photographs and in the postures of servile African staff attending to white tourists in the advertising brochures. Black Africans are totally absent as clients in all the media and advertising materials and campaigns. When hunting was legal in Kenya, it was normal for a photograph of a hunter with his guides, porters and gun bearer to be captioned: “Major F. Foggybottom and a fine leopard bagged in the Maasai Mara region of Kenya, September, 1936.” Fast forward 80 years or so. Black Africans are prominent in their absence from the reams and hours of literature and footage on Africa’s spectacular wildlife. The uniformity of this anomaly is startling across the board, whether one is watching the Discovery channel, BBC, or National Geographic.

With the advance of neoliberalism, market forces have become important drivers of both tacit and explicit policies all over the world. In African conservation policy and practice, the black African has become like an insidious impurity that sometimes leaks into the final product but should ideally be absent in anything considered “premium”. This is not to say that media houses and marketing firms are deliberately engaging in racial discrimination; however, they are, sadly, pandering to prejudices that have been cultivated by romantic or colonial notions about Africa and its wildlife.

The colour bar

Blatant racism becomes much more evident in the conservation field, which in Kenya is dominated by whites. From a strictly academic standpoint, the open discrimination and obvious colour bar evident in the conservation sector in Kenya is fascinating for two major reasons: one is its longevity – business, agriculture, banking, education and all other fields have changed beyond recognition in the last few decades, but conservation remains firmly in the “Victorian gamekeeper” mode, where conservation is basically about protecting wildlife from the proletariat so that the nobles can consume the same for luxury/ recreational purposes.

The second is the acceptance of this status quo by senior indigenous state officials and technical experts across the board. Wildlife conservation is the one field where highly-qualified black Africans are routinely supervised by white practitioners of far lesser technical pedigree or experience. Indeed, some of the supervisors are American or Europeans relatively new to Kenya and with very rudimentary knowledge (if any) of Kenyan wildlife and ecosystems. Examples that come to mind are the appointment of one Peter Hetz (MSc, American) as Executive Director of the Laikipia Wildlife Forum in 2011 to supervise one Mordecai Ogada (PhD, Kenyan) who was appointed as Deputy Director. The recent appointment of Mr. Jochen Zeitz to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) board is another case in point. Here I have used very pointed racial references because it is quite simply a racial divide. We simply do not find non-Caucasian foreigners in wildlife leadership positions in Kenya, nor do we find Latin Americans or Asians. We also don’t find Kenyans of European descent in any of the subordinate roles.

Wildlife conservation is the one field where highly-qualified black Africans are routinely supervised by white practitioners of far lesser technical pedigree or experience. Indeed, some of the supervisors are American or Europeans relatively new to Kenya and with very rudimentary knowledge (if any) of Kenyan wildlife and ecosystems.

How, an observer might ask, is this hierarchy maintained without any disruption by the growing number of indigenous Kenyans pursuing advanced studies in the conservation field? How do the academic exertions of all these technicians fail to moisten the intellectual desert in Kenyan conservation?

One reason is because, just like water never produces vegetation on seedless ground, the intellectual barrenness of indigenous Kenyans has been built into the training facilities and curricula. It goes without saying that Kenya’s ecological diversity and abundant wildlife are key pillars in the country’s economic, social and cultural identity, but Moi University, the de facto leading local institution in this field, only offers a degree course in “wildlife management”, which basically equips local wildlife practitioners to be technicians or foot soldiers for conservation, not to be fully engaged with any of the intellectual challenges that exist in the sector. Those who are better trained and experienced in this field are a small minority who seldom find acceptance in the sector because they inherently threaten the existing hierarchy.

KWS itself has two training facilities: the Manyani field school and a well-resourced training institute in Naivasha. Manyani is a proven centre of excellence in tactical field training necessary for wildlife rangers. The Naivasha training institute, which was established in 1985 to develop the “soft skills” and policy thinking around conservation and fisheries, changed in 2009 when it began offering rudimentary naturalist and paraecologist courses more geared towards serving the tourism industry than the cause of conservation. As one would expect, the academic contribution of this institution to tourism falls so short of the standards required by Kenya’s highly developed tourism industry that in the final analysis, it is a lost investment. One of its more recent distinctions is the levels of academic performance advertised on its website as requirements for admission, which are far below what an institution training custodians of any country’s most valuable resource should be.

Closer analysis of these institutions and their low intellectual ceilings reveals a far subtler, but important, perspective on the colour bar in Kenyan conservation. The people being trained in these institutions are replacing the gun bearers and gamekeepers of feudal England and colonial Kenya.

Kenya as a nation still struggles with this colour bar and our public arena is replete with the symptoms of it. One that stands out is the dropping of charges against the late Tom Cholmondeley for the killing of Samson Ole Sisina, a KWS officer, at the scene of an industrial bushmeat harvesting and processing operation on the former’s Soysambu ranch. Those familiar with Kenyan society know that the killing of a security officer on duty is a (judicial or extrajudicial) death sentence in Kenya 99.99% of the time. The truth is that there were absolutely no mitigating circumstances here, other than the victim’s race. Barely a year later, in May 2006, Cholmondeley shot and killed Robert Njoya, a stonemason who lived in a village that borders his 50,000-acre estate, a crime for which he was jailed in 2009 following public uproar.

Closer analysis of these institutions and their low intellectual ceilings reveals a far subtler, but important, perspective on the colour bar in Kenyan conservation. The people being trained in these institutions are replacing the gun bearers and gamekeepers of feudal England and colonial Kenya.

More recently, in January 2018, there was a memorial service for the late Gilfrid Powys, a renowned rancher, conservationist, and KWS honorary warden. The service was attended by a plethora of top brass from KWS in full uniform, as well as several government leaders, as befitted his status in society. I suspect many in the congregation were taken aback when one of the eulogisers, Mr. Willy Potgieter, read a long and touching tribute where he detailed how the departed wasn’t a particularly religious man but would indulge his spirituality by hunting buffalo every Sunday morning. The discomfiture of the uniformed staff and company gathered was palpable and would have been amusing had it not been such a stark testament to the existence of conservation apartheid in our country and our society’s acceptance thereof.

Sanitised terminology

Apartheid in conservation matters. The duplicity that exists within many people and institutions purported to be dedicated to conservation may seem bizarre to those unfamiliar with the sector. Here is how it works: Basic psychological examination of wildlife hunting reveals that it is a uniquely complex aspect of human endeavour because it occurs at both ends of the spectrum of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Subsistence hunting is firmly at the bottom of the hierarchy as it fulfils physiological needs while sport hunting is at the top, within the realm of self-actualisation. This is illustrated by the celebrated blood sports of falconry and fox hunting pursued by royalty in the Middle East and Britain, respectively.

The highly sanitised terminology is also in striking contrast to the derogatory terms like “bushmeat poaching” used in reference to subsistence hunting. This highlights the role of the media in cultivating the racial divide because in Africa the term “poacher” or “bushmeat” is never applied to the activities or diets of people of European descent, regardless of legality.

Likewise, the term “hunter” is never applied to the activities of black people. These three degrees of separation in the hierarchy of needs are the basis of the colour bar. They are the reasons behind the flawed belief that we can allow white people to kill (not poach) wildlife and shoot black people suspected of being “poachers”. This is also the basis of the ongoing nonsensical scheme of a “task force” going around Kenya trying to gather support for proposed “consumptive use” of wildlife, an activity de facto delineated by race. It stands to even casual examination that the practice of structured legal hunting of wildlife in Kenya (and much of Africa) is an activity controlled by, and indulged in, by people of Caucasian extraction.

The highly sanitised terminology is also in striking contrast to the derogatory terms like “bushmeat poaching” used in reference to subsistence hunting. This highlights the role of the media in cultivating the racial divide because in Africa the term “poacher” or “bushmeat” is never applied to the activities or diets of people of European descent, regardless of legality.

It also goes without saying that the colour bar we live with in Kenyan conservation is an anachronism that we should have escaped from in the mid-20th century. But before we can achieve that freedom, we must squarely face up to the problem and appreciate its full extent. It is systemic.

When the board chairmanship of KWS fell vacant about four years ago, our government turned, almost reflexively, to the ageing Dr Richard Leakey, who is no longer at his physical or intellectual best, and who, in my view, is not even the best candidate for the job. The spectacular failure, frantic inactivity, and deafening silence on conservation issues that characterised Dr Leakey’s last tenure at KWS came as no surprise to those of us familiar with the man’s capabilities. The most poignant memory of this is a photo of Leakey posing with the black board members holding tusks beside him – an image that evoked memories of the “great white hunter” of yore. The photo itself was taken during the torching of 105 tonnes of ivory in 2016, a fairly logical conservation activity, but the carefully structured pose shows a board composed of people who have no knowledge or reading of the history and culture around wildlife conservation in Kenya. If they had even rudimentary knowledge of the history of conservation practice in Kenya, they would have recognised that their photo was misplaced in space and time. There is little doubt that Leakey (and possibly Brian Heath, in the back left, distancing himself from the ivory) were aware of this nuance and were the only intellectual participants in this photo – and therein lies a snapshot of our enduring tragedy.

The intellectual desert that is Kenya’s conservation sector remains as barren as ever in 2018. The sporadic and disjointed efforts to moisten it with sprinklers will all come to nought unless we concurrently plant the seeds of indigenous knowledge and expertise.

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Bobi Wine and the Politics of Revolution

ISAAC OTIDI AMUKE documents the rise of the “Ghetto President” who has become a person of particular interest to the Ugandan state. By ISAAC OTIDI AMUKE

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Bobi Wine and the Politics of Revolution

‘‘I believe in the politics of friendship. Without the politics of friendship there can be no radical movement.’’ – Srecko Horvat

‘‘…struggles, incarcerations and whistle blowing bring people together through friendship to try and do something. Will we succeed? Who knows! Who cares! What matters is the actual process of trying to do it… the chances may not be good. But we have the moral obligation to try’’

– Yanis Varoufakis

It came as a huge relief to many – especially to his wife Barbara and their four children – to learn that the highly popular Ugandan musician and MP for Kyaddondo East, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu – popularly known as Bobi Wine – was still alive following his dramatic night arrest on August 13, 2018 in Arua town, Northern Uganda. The country’s political machinery – including President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) and Dr. Kizza Besigye Kifefe of the opposition’s Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) – had descended on Arua Municipality to drum up support for their respective candidates in a hotly contested by-election necessitated by the June 8, 2018 shooting to death of the incumbent MP, Ibrahim Abiriga, a Museveni loyalist who was killed alongside his bodyguard by hitmen riding on a motorcycle.

Kyagulanyi, who some say appears to have been flirting with the idea of establishing a people’s movement – a third force of sorts away from the Museveni-Besigye historical antagonism – arrived in Arua with clarity of purpose. Lately, he had been preaching that Uganda’s problems would not be solved through adherence to political party positions, and had been urging his supporters to think of broader formations, a proposition which sounded a little vague and amorphous.

On arriving in Arua, Kyagulanyi chose to back a different candidate from those backed by the big boys, Besigye and Museveni. Addressing a packed rally, he acknowledged that the divided opposition risked losing the seat to Museveni’s NRM, seeing that the crowded field of contestants had five individuals who passed for progressives. The way out, he suggested, was if the opposition overwhelmingly voted for the most suitable candidate out of the five. He endorsed Kassiano Wadri, a onetime MP and parliamentary whip in Besigye’s FDC, who ran as an independent. On August 15, Wadri won the seat from his prison cell.

Two notable events happened during the final round of campaigns in Arua. The first was when Kyagulanyi led a huge procession of cheering supporters – him riding atop a vehicle and urging his followers on – past a relatively well-attended Besigye rally, forcing the former army colonel to cut short his speech and wait for the noise to subside, seeing that the uninvited guests had overpowered the strength of his microphone. The whole episode had a somewhat humiliating effect on Besigye, the long-time undisputed symbol of opposition politics in Uganda. He nevertheless maintained a straight face, eventually succumbing to a group dance once the music started playing, seeing that the only way to ignore the intruders was by getting busy.

The second incident took place when President Museveni’s convoy was driving out of Arua and passed a group of supposed Kyagulanyi supporters who jeered the head of state. However, according to Museveni’s version of events, as posted on his Facebook page, his convoy was stoned, resulting in the shattering of the rear window of his official vehicle. It was this second event that resulted in Kyagulanyi’s troubles.

In a hurried tweet sent on the fateful August 13 night, Kyagulanyi released a photo of the lifeless body of his driver, Yasiin Kawuma, shot inside the MP’s vehicle. “Police has shot my driver dead thinking they’ve shot me. My hotel is cordoned of…” read part of the tweet. The message was perturbing. Kyagulanyi’s followers expected more updates from him but none came.

The following day, news broke that the MP had been arrested, alongside 33 of his colleagues on the Arua campaign trail, their whereabouts remaining a mystery. It was alleged that Kyagulanyi had been found in possession of a gun in his hotel room, and was being charged with treason before a military court. There were fears that he and his colleagues had been heavily tortured.

In a hurried tweet sent on the fateful August 13 night, Kyagulanyi released a photo of the lifeless body of his driver, Yasiin Kawuma, shot inside the MP’s vehicle. “Police has shot my driver dead thinking they’ve shot me. My hotel is cordoned of…” read part of the tweet. The message was perturbing. Kyagulanyi’s followers expected more updates from him but none came.

***

Kyagulanyi became a person of particular interest to the Ugandan state following his June 29, 2017 victory in a parliamentary by-election in Kampala. Running as an independent against Museveni’s NRM and Besigye’s FDC, the new kid on the block seemed to have brought with him the multitude of supporters accumulated through his music career, merging showbiz with the new business of commandeering an insurrection in Uganda, shifting from artist to politician and vice versa.

The Ghetto President – Kyagulanyi’s other moniker – had taken Uganda’s political establishment by storm, and possibly by surprise, some having imagined that the satirical (or not) ghetto presidency had no tangible political implication. However, the residents of Kyaddondo East – the real and proverbial ghetto Kyagulanyi governed – showed through the ballot that his “presidency” was real.

One of the early signs that Kyagulanyi would prove troublesome to the Museveni regime was his defiant and confrontational conduct during the debate to abolish the presidential age limit, a sneaky NRM-driven amendment that sought to scrap a constitutional provision barring anyone beyond 75 years of age from contesting for the country’s presidency. For the NRM, it was necessary to leave a window of possibility open for Museveni were he to entertain thoughts of participating in future elections. Kyagulanyi, as part of the opposition’s Red Beret movement, became a star attraction when violence broke out, turning parliament’s debating chamber into a boxing ring.

Photographed and filmed physically facing off with overzealous state security agents who breached parliamentary protocol and sneaked in to manhandle opposition MPs, Kyagulanyi engaged in fist fights with Museveni’s henchmen, who seemed to have marked him as a prime target. When the same series of events were repeated a second time, Kyagulanyi uprooted a microphone stand and used it as a weapon against the security men, proving that when push came to shove, he was willing to use his fists in defending the things he believed in. Museveni took note.

***

Kyagulanyi had only been an MP for a year when a new group of pundits began comparing him to the FDC’s Besigye. The young MP was holding massive rallies wherever he went in Uganda, a spectacle previously seen as a preserve of the consummate FDC leader. Suddenly, Besigye appeared to have a challenger for the opposition’s throne.

Before Arua, there had been a number of other by-elections in Jinja East, Bugiri, then Rukungiri, Besigye’s home district. In an interesting turn of events, Besigye’s FDC candidate won Jinja East, with Bugiri going to Kyagulanyi’s candidate. However, when it was Rukungiri’s turn, Besigye and Kyagulanyi combined forces and campaigned together for the victory of the FDC candidate. In his party’s acceptance speech in Rukungiri, Besigye said that the election was won not because they had the numbers but because of defiance, and thanked Kyagulanyi for his support, a clear acknowledgement that the veteran appreciated the capabilities of the rookie. It is through these successive by-elections that Kyagulanyi got an early chance to test his support outside of Kampala.

Kyagulanyi had only been an MP for a year when a new group of pundits began comparing him to the FDC’s Besigye. The young MP was holding massive rallies wherever he went in Uganda, a spectacle previously seen as a preserve of the consummate FDC leader. Suddenly, Besigye appeared to have a challenger for the opposition’s throne.

Upon Kyagulanyi’s arrest in Arua on the night of August 13, among those who demanded for his immediate release were Besigye and other leading FDC figures, including Kampala’s Mayor Erias Lukwago, who was acting as one of Kyagulanyi’s attorneys, and the former head of Uganda’s military and FDC stalwart Major General Mugisha Muntu, who stood front and centre in his defense.

Yet the Besigye-Kyagulanyi comparisons wouldn’t go away, even at this dicey time. On leaving Kampala’s Lubaga Cathedral on August 22, where prayers were being held for Kyagulanyi, a journalist asked Besigye if he might be a stumbling block to the young MP’s political project for Uganda. ‘‘People have to get this clear,’’ Besigye said. “I am not contesting for any seat and there is no leadership contest between Kyagulanyi and I.”

From the cathedral, Besigye headed for a night radio interview, where he furthered the gospel of freeing Kyagulanyi. The following morning, on August 23, Besigye took to social media to post familiar photos of police vehicles barricading the road leading to his home in Kampala’s Kasangati area in an effort to block him from standing in solidarity with Kyagulanyi, who was being presented before court. The residences of Mayor Erias Lukwago and Ingrid Turinawe, the head of the FDC’s Women’s League, were also cordoned-off. Coincidentally, a 2016 video of a defiant Turinawe confronting policemen and throwing open roadblock spikes placed outside the road to Besigye’s home had been trending.

***

In reading Ugandan journalist Daniel Kalinaki’s book Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution, one realises that fighting Museveni is not a walk in the park. Detailing the early days of the National Resistance Army (NRA) – later NRM – bush war, Kalinaki takes one on the long journey Besigye travelled as a comrade of Museveni before the two fell out. Besigye had come to realise that Museveni had gone rogue and had started to shop around for comrades who were courageous enough to stand up to the latter’s fast growing dictatorship.

In an interesting turn of events, Besigye even asked his wife, Oxfam’s executive director, Winnie Byanyima, if she thought she could lead the onslaught. When everyone else thought they weren’t ready yet to lead the revolt, Besigye grudgingly decided to be the man of the moment, starting a journey that would take him to prison, exile and back, which cost him broken limbs and more.

There is no doubt that Kyagulanyi has become a political sensation in Uganda. It also has to be said that depending on how things go – considering factors within and outside his control – he may have a truly bright future as an important leader in the struggle for the liberation of Uganda.

However, throughout this period of his detention, and looking back at his meteoric rise as one of Uganda’s most visible opposition figures, one wonders what this moment portends for Kyagulanyi, since, as many had predicted, it was only a question of when – and not if – Museveni would strike back with the might of his state security apparatus. It is in looking at individuals like Besigye – on whose shoulders Kyagulanyi must stand, one way or another – where some answers, certainly not all, will arise. It is the likes of Besigye, who have travelled this road before and who refused to compromise, who may offer Kyagulanyi some clarity. It is through such associations that Kyagulanyi may learn how to navigate certain difficult terrains. Kalinaki’s book shows how a youthful Besigye was forced to make tough choices the moment he chose to oppose Museveni, lessons that Kyagulanyi can benefit from.

There is no doubt that Kyagulanyi has become a political sensation in Uganda. It also has to be said that depending on how things go – considering factors within and outside his control – he may have a truly bright future as an important leader in the struggle for the liberation of Uganda.

***

In “wanting to stress that we live in dangerous times in which everyone opposed to the political and financial powers might soon become targets”, a unique series of events held in July 2016 titled ‘‘First They Came for Assange’’ happened simultaneously across 14 cities, marking four years since WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sought refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. It was during such an event in Brussels that Greece’s former Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, while in conversation with the Croatian philosopher Srecko Horvat – both of whom are Assange’s close friends and regular visitors to his place of isolation – said the following:

“We talk about brave people like Julian… all those people that are putting themselves in the line of fire on behalf of that which is good and proper. But there is a lot of cowardice today, friends, ladies and gentlemen. Julian Assange has a problem with his shoulder. Do you know that it is impossible to get a shoulder specialist to come into the embassy and take a look at him? Because they fear they will lose their clientele. We have to remember that human beings are capable of the best and the worst. Our job as a movement is to cultivate the former against the latter.”

Julian Assange may or may not be some people’s ideal example of a freedom fighter, but there is no denying the fact that through his continued isolation at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, he has become a contemporary example of how persecution can be meted out on an individual for reasons directly or indirectly linked to their revolutionary actions and beliefs.

Importantly, the words by Varoufakis underline one truism that is apparent as we witness the overwhelming outpouring of support for Kyagulanyi. With hundreds, if not thousands, using his silhouette as their profile picture on social media, we must come to the conclusion that there can be no successful revolution in these times we live in – where everyday struggles push us into little survival cocoons – without the politics of revolution embracing the politics of friendship. Even a retweet or an M-Pesa contribution can trickle into a massive pot of support that may just turn the tide.

The journey will be long and tedious – especially after Kyagulanyi’s release.

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BATTLE FOR THE PEARL: Bobi Wine, Museveni and the future of Uganda

President Museveni successfully thwarted political opposition until Bobi Wine came along and posed a formidable challenge to the ageing leader’s ambitions. By ERIASA SSERUNJOGI

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BATTLE FOR THE PEARL: Bobi Wine, Museveni and the future of Uganda

Thirty-six years ago, in 1982, the year Bobi Wine was born, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni was busy commanding the war that eventually led him to power. At 36, Museveni had run for president in 1980 as a rabble-rouser representing the new Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM).

His party did not even stand an outside chance of winning the election, with Milton Obote’s Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) and Paul Ssemogerere’s Democratic Party (DP) being the hot favourites. In the end, Museveni even failed to win his own parliamentary seat. During the campaigns, he had warned that he would start a war should the election be rigged, and he did indeed start a war after UPC controversially claimed the election for itself amidst claims that DP had won.

Paulo Muwanga, who was the head of the interim Military Commission government on which Museveni served as Deputy Minister for Defence, had arrogated himself the powers that were entrusted in the Electoral Commission to announce election results, returning UPC as the winner, with Obote proceeding to form a government for the second time, having been earlier deposed by Idi Amin in 1971.

Museveni had watched the intrigue and power play and how the gun had emerged as the decisive factor in Ugandan politics since 1966. He had decided early in life that his route to power would be through the barrel of the gun. His determination to employ the gun became manifest when he launched a war against Amin’s new government in the early 1970s.

Museveni’s Fronasa fighters were part of the combined force that was backed by the Tanzanian army to flush out Amin in 1979. Also among the fighting forces was a group that was loyal to Obote. Museveni’s and Obote’s forces and other groups were looking for ways to outsmart one another as they fought the war. It was a time when Bobi Wine was not yet born.

Bobi Wine (real name Robert Kyagulanyi), who has been a Member of Parliament for just a year, has followed a different path. He is one of those Ugandans who believe that Museveni should be the last Ugandan leader to access power through the barrel of the gun. He wants future leaders to work their way into the hearts of Ugandans and convince them that they can take the country forward.

Bobi Wine first rose to popularity through music. Even though the popstar is new to Ugandan politics, he has for over a decade been disseminating political messages through his songs, in which he positions himself as a poor man’s freedom fighter.

Bobi Wine (real name Robert Kyagulanyi), who has been a Member of Parliament for just a year, has followed a different path. He is one of those Ugandans who believe that Museveni should be the last Ugandan leader to access power through the barrel of the gun.

Through his music, he has criticised the government when he felt it sold the people short; he has castigated the Kampala City authorities over throwing vendors and other poor people off the streets; and he has sought to encourage Ugandans, especially the youth, to take charge of their destiny.

“When freedom of expression becomes the target of oppression,” Bobi Wine said in one of his songs, “opposition becomes our position.” That was before he joined active politics.

When he married in 2011, he made sure that the marriage was celebrated by the Archbishop of the Catholic Church in the capital. When he was incarcerated recently, there were prayers for him at Rubaga Cathedral, the seat of the Catholic Church in Uganda. Catholics are the biggest religious grouping in the country.

Bobi Wine was born in Gomba, one of the counties of Buganda, the biggest ethnic group in Uganda. He has worked his way into the Buganda king’s heart, dubbing himself “Omubanda wa Kabaka” (the King’s Rasta man).

In Uganda’s music industry, Bobi Wine and his “Fire Base Crew” rose to the very top in their category, with Bobi Wine calling himself the “Ghetto President”, whose retinue included a “Vice President”, a cabinet and other members. He also has a security detail. His chief personal bodyguard – Eddie Sebuufu, aka Eddie Mutwe – was picked up at night by suspected military operatives on August 24, 2018.

Bobi Wine has over the past decade traversed the country where he has been performing as an artiste. Then, shortly after his election to Parliament, he travelled to many places within the country to introduce himself this time as a politician. He enjoys name recognition across the country that no Ugandan politician of his age and experience can command.

Battle for the youth

Bobi Wine plays the music that many Ugandan youth want to listen to, but he also preaches the gospel of change and prosperity in a way that is attracting crowds to him. He was born in rural central Uganda but he moved into a shanty neighbourhood of Kampala early in life, struggling through what most young people in the city experience. Although he went school up to university level, he went through all the hassles that young Ugandans go through. He speaks their language.

The Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) projects that at the mid-point of this year, Uganda had 39,041,200 people. Of these, only 648,000 people were projected to be 70-years-old or older. This means that Museveni, at 74 years of age, is among a lucky 1.7 per cent of Ugandans who are alive at the age of 70 or above. In fact, only 450,500 people, or 1.2 per cent of Ugandans, according to the UBOS projection, are as old as Museveni or older.

Reliable numbers on employment in Uganda are hard to come by but it is generally agreed that the country has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world. Museveni’s opponents often cite his age to make the point to the youth that their future is not safe with a 74-year-old leader who has been in power for 32 years.

The Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) projects that at the mid-point of this year, Uganda had 39,041,200 people. Of these, only 648,000 people were projected to be 70-years-old or older. This means that Museveni, at 74 years of age, is among a lucky 1.7 per cent of Ugandans who are alive at the age of 70 or above.

Museveni being Museveni – the Maradona of Uganda’s politics – has tried to tilt the debate on age to his advantage. He has, for instance, distinguished between “biological age” and “ideological age”, saying that many Ugandans are young biologically but very old ideologically. He has identified “ideological disorientation” as one of Uganda’s “strategic bottlenecks”, positioning his “ideological youth” as the solution. For one to be “ideologically young”, Museveni says, one needs to have the right ideas and mindset on how to transform society. He regards himself as a master in that. He says biological age is of no consequence in politics.

In his State of the Nation address last year, the Ugandan president said staying in power for long – and therefore being old – is a good thing because the leader gains immense experience along the way. In the wake of the recent arrest of Bobi Wine and 32 others who were charged with treason after allegations of stoning the president’s motorcade, Museveni wrote at least six messages on social media addressed to “fellow countrymen, countrywomen and bazzukulu (grandchildren)”. He now takes comfort in addressing many of his voters and opponents as grandchildren.

The choice of social media (especially Facebook and Twitter) as the preferred way of transmitting the president’s messages also raised debate. From July 1, social media users had a daily tax imposed on them because the president said people used the platforms for rumour-mongering. Many social media users have avoided the tax by installing virtual private networks (VPNs) on their handsets and so the “rumour-mongering” on social media continues. Since younger people spend a lot of time on social media, their septuagenarian president has decided to follow them there. Whenever he has addressed them as “grandchildren”, there have been hilarious responses in the comments section.

Beyond the debates, Museveni has in past election campaigns come up with a number of things to attract the youth, including recording something akin to a rap song in the lead-up the 2011 elections. But if it is about music, Museveni now faces Bobi Wine, a man less than half his age who has spent all his adult life as a popular musician.

Museveni’s government has tried one thing after another in an attempt to provide the jobs that young people badly need, with initiatives ranging from setting up a heavily financed, but highly ineffectual, youth fund in the ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development. After the 2016 elections, in which Museveni suffered the heaviest defeat in Kampala City and its environs, he set out to dish out cash to youth groups to promote their businesses. Not much has come out of this initiative.

When he shot to power in 1986, Museveni rebuked leaders who overstayed their welcome, saying that the vice was at the root of Africa’s problems. As time went by, and with him still in power, he changed his views. He now says that he actually prefers leaders who stay in power for long periods. Museveni’s opponents latch onto such contradictions as they keep piling up.

Is it Bobi Wine’s turn?

Over the last 32 years that he has been around, Museveni has had a number of challengers and Bobi Wine is now threatening to storm the stage as the new kid on the block.

When he shot to power in 1986, Museveni rebuked leaders who overstayed their welcome, saying that the vice was at the root of Africa’s problems. As time went by, and with him still in power, he changed his views. He now says that he actually prefers leaders who stay in power for long periods.

Many of the people who were in the trenches with Museveni in the earlier years and who dreamt of picking the baton of leadership from him have dropped their ambitions because age and/or other circumstances have come into play as Museveni stayed put. Former ministers who once nursed presidential ambitions, like Bidandi Ssali, Amanya Mushega, Prof George Kanyeihamba and even the younger Mike Mukula, for instance, have since retreated to private lives. Others, like Eriya Kategaya and James Wapakhabulo, have passed on.

Of the Bush War comrades who harboured ambitions of taking over from Museveni, only four-time challenger Kizza Besigye and former army commander Mugisha Muntu remain standing, with the largely silent former prime minister Amama Mbabazi thought to be lying in wait for a possible opening.

By staying in power for so long – since January 1986 – Museveni has worn out his ambitious former comrades and perhaps even ensured that the chance to rule the country passes their generation by, a reality that has made it more likely that he will face a challenger who is younger than his own children.

But Museveni will not allow this generation of youth to win. The ruling party consistently stifles the emergence of younger leaders. In the lead-up to the 2016 election, for instance, Museveni’s National Resistance Movement party saw a rare surge in activity championed by younger people. One of Museveni’s in-laws, Odrek Rwabwogo, was among them. Rwabwogo had resorted to penning a string of articles in the partly state-owned New Vision newspaper about how the ruling party’s ideology could be sharpened to take care of the new Uganda. A number of other younger leaders within the party vied for space and expressed their visions in what was interpreted by some as a jostle for a front row seat as Museveni was expected to be standing for his last term in preparation for retirement in 2021.

Then, shortly after returning to power in 2016, Museveni engineered the removal from the Constitution the 75-year cap for presidential candidates, which would make him eligible to run again for as many times as he would be physically able to handle. This was a sure sign that Museveni was not willing to hand over power to a more youthful generation.

Repression heightens

The move to remove the age limit for presidential candidates from the Constitution inevitably invited stiff opposition from those who for decades have worked towards removing Museveni from power. In September last year, army men invaded Parliament and beat up and arrested Members of Parliament who were trying to filibuster the debate and perhaps derail the introduction of the bill to remove the age limit. Two MPs were beaten to a pulp and one of them, Betty Nambooze, has been in and out of hospitals in Kampala and India over broken or dislocated discs in her back.

This unfortunate incident, however, did not stop the State from bringing charges against her when after the shooting to death in June of an MP, Ibrahim Abiriga – who was one of the keenest supporters of the removal of age limits – Nambooze made comments on social media that the State interpreted as illegal. This week she had to report to the police over the matter, but she was informed that the officers were ready to have her charged in court, where she was delivered in an ambulance. She was carted into the courtroom on a wheelchair for the charges to be read out to her before the magistrate granted her bail. She sobbed all the way and afterwards wrote on Facebook that while in court she was “crying for my country”.

Francis Zaake, the other MP who was also was beaten, had to be taken to the US for treatment. He is now being treated again and is set to be fly out of the country due to injuries he sustained during the violence in Arua in which Bobi Wine was also attacked by soldiers of the Special Forces Command that guards the president.

Bobi Wine and 32 others have since been charged with treason but Zaake hasn’t yet – though Museveni has said in one of his statements posted on social media that Zaake escaped from police custody. When he is supposed to have escaped, Zaake was unconscious and could not move or talk. He was reportedly just dropped and dumped at the hospital by unidentified people. The head of the hospital has said that Zaake is at risk of permanent disability because of the damage he suffered to his spinal cord. The authorities say they are waiting for Zaake to recuperate so that he can face charges related to the violence in Arua.

By these callous actions, Museveni has demonstrated how ruthless he can get when his power is challenged. He has referred to the injured MPs as “indisciplined” and has not extended any sympathy towards them.

Those who have dared to challenge Museveni, especially Besigye, have been here before. The new opposition politicians currently in the line of fire, including Bobi Wine, have been served with a dose of what to expect if they push Museveni hard. The decision on how far they are willing to go is now in their court.

It seems that Museveni plans to apply to Bobi Wine the script he has used on Besigye over the past two decades. Apart from being targeted for physical assaults, Bobi Wine will be – and it is already happening – isolated from members of his inner circle, especially those who provide him with physical cover. They will be arrested, intimidated, or offered money to start businesses, a ploy to get them to abandon him. Some, like his driver Yasin Kawuma, who was buried a few weeks ago, will die.

It seems that Museveni plans to apply to Bobi Wine the script he has used on Besigye over the past two decades. Apart from being targeted for physical assaults, Bobi Wine will be – and it is already happening – isolated from members of his inner circle, especially those who provide him with physical cover.

Another thing the Museveni machine will do, and which it has done in the past, is plant fifth columnists around him – men and women who will show immense eagerness to work with Bobi Wine to remove Museveni from power but whose real assignment will be to get him to make mistakes and to spy on him.

It is also to be expected that Museveni will reach out to Bobi Wine with some kind of deal – he seems to offer all his credible opponents proposals for an amicable settlement so that they can drop their political ambitions. It is hard to say whether Museveni has already approached Bobi Wine or not, but there are rumours to that effect.

Ultimately, it will be up to Bobi Wine to decide what he wants to do going forward, but with him fighting for his life in hospital, we dare not predict the future.

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