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MOTHER OF THE NATION: Saint and Sinner

In this second of a three-part series, ISAAC OTIDI AMUKE examines the controversy surrounding the murder of Moeketsi Seipei, popularly known as Stompie, which was blamed on Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. While recent evidence has exonerated Madikizela-Mandela of the killing, the Stompie affair continues to haunt the legacy of this iconic anti-apartheid activist who touched the lives of millions. 

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MOTHER OF THE NATION: Saint and Sinner

‘‘They set up my father as the saint and set up my mother as the sinner,’’ Zindzi Mandela is quoted saying about her famous parents in Pascale Lamche’s film Winnie.

Of all front-row ANC freedom fighters – men and women – Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was singled out as the only leader to appear before South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in her personal capacity, where she was implored by Desmond Tutu o apologise to the country for whatever might have gone wrong under her watch. Tutu had argued then that her confession would be good for the country.

The ANC employed the use of violence during the anti-apartheid struggle, including deploying bombs in strategic government installations, some of which exploded and killed the wrong targets. It was widely held – and as stated by ANC stalwart Ahmed Kathrada during a BBC HardTalk interview – that some bombings were carried out by unruly ANC cadres. These crimes were pegged not on individuals but on the ANC, which sent senior representatives to the TRC to either explain and defend its position or to apologise. The same collective leniency of being represented by the ANC was not extended to Madikizela-Mandela. The liberation sins attributed to her and those around her were placed squarely at her feet, prominent among them being the 1989 killing of 14-year-old Moeketsi “Stompie” Seipei, who was suspected of being a police informer.

‘‘The one person who kept the fire burning when everyone was petrified,’’ Madikizela-Mandela said of her essential if lonely and thankless role in the anti-apartheid struggle in Lamche’s film, a moment in which moment her eyes got watery. ‘‘And I didn’t blame them because those dark apartheid forces were killing our people like flies. I didn’t blame them. When sometimes I would shoot that fist alone, and they were too petrified… then they put me on trial before the TRC, and Desmond Tutu sat there judging me… judging me….’’

Stompie had been a marked young radical activist in what was the then Orange Free State, the province where Madikizela-Mandela had been banished to in 1977. After participating in a student protest, he and his comrades were arrested and heavily tortured by the apartheid police. Upon their release, Ace Magashule – who is the current ANC Secretary General and who was himself a young ANC activist in the Free State at the time – organised for the evacuation of Stompie and his other teenage comrades. He found them a safe haven in Soweto, Johannesburg, where Madikizela-Mandela had established herself as the undisputed leader of the liberation struggle.

Not too far away from Madikizela-Mandela’s Soweto home was the residence of Paul Verryn, a bishop who offered sanctuary to Stompie and his comrades. At the time, Madikizela-Mandela was surrounded by the Mandela United Football Club – a footloose group of young activists who alternated between freedom fighters and an untamed group of area boys who terrorised anyone who did not ascribe to their beliefs. It was at Madikizela-Mandela’s Soweto home – where tens of young activists streamed in and out, seeking guidance and support – that Ace Magashule taught Stompie how to use an AK47 and how to deploy a grenade. Such were the precarious prevailing circumstances. They were in the middle of an armed struggle against apartheid.

On the night when Stompie’s body was found not too far away from Madikizela-Mandela’s Soweto home, he and three of his comrades had been picked up from Verryn’s residence by members of the Mandela United Football Club after allegations that the bishop had sexually assaulted the young activists surfaced. At the end of the night, Stompie’s three colleagues went back to the bishop’s home. It is believed the three were allowed to return to Verryn’s residence either because they had given credence to the sexual assault claims and Stompie had not substantiated the allegations, or because Stompie was suspected to have been a secret police informer planted in their midst. Stompie’s death would remain an albatross around Madikizela-Mandela neck for decades, until Pascale Lamche’s film seemed to decisively exonerate her.

For a long time throughout the 1990s, Madikizela-Mandela found it near impossible to exonerate herself from accusations that she had either killed Stompie herself or given orders for his killing. That she had publicly endorsed the use of “matches and necklaces” to liberate South Africa – a euphemism for placing a tyre around a person and lighting it up – played into the narrative that she was the de facto leader of a ragtag militia that embraced vigilantism.

As future investigations revealed – and as shown in Pascale Lamche’s film – Jerry Richardson, the Mandela United Football Club coach who served as Madikizela-Mandela’s bodyguard and who was convicted in 1990 for killing Stompie, was found to have committed the murder for personal reasons. Unlike his earlier assertions that he had received instructions from Madikizela-Mandela, Richardson later confessed to having been a police informer himself, thereby resorting to killing Stompie, who had in fact found out that Richardson was indeed a police informer. At the time – and as revealed by various apartheid security officials – there had been a well-orchestrated smear campaign against Madikizela-Mandela that was aimed at eroding her moral credibility as an ANC leader.

For a long time throughout the 1990s, Madikizela-Mandela found it near impossible to exonerate herself from accusations that she had either killed Stompie herself or given orders for his killing. That she had publicly endorsed the use of “matches and necklaces” to liberate South Africa – a euphemism for placing a tyre around a person and lighting it up – played into the narrative that she was the de facto leader of a ragtag militia that embraced vigilantism.

Paul Erasmus, a former Security Branch official, recently spoke to a Johannesburg reporter about how Madikizela-Mandela was under complete surveillance and how the apartheid state ran a well-oiled character assassination campaign against her. This is corroborated in Lamche’s film by Vic McPherson, an operative of the state’s Covert Strategic Communications (Stratcom), who confessed to working in cahoots with at least 40 journalists in executing psychological warfare on Madikizela-Mandela, a campaign that was sanctioned by South Africa’s then president P.W. Botha. This included the making of a vile documentary shown on 40 American TV channels, which resulted in Madikizela-Mandela being declared an international terrorist in the United States.

Erasmus spoke of how whenever Madikizela-Mandela attended a meeting where alcohol was served or consumed, state agents would quickly spread word – whether true or false – that she had overindulged and misbehaved. This misinformation would be carried strategically on both local and international media platforms for maximum effect. These distorted and embellished media reports were also targeted at creating distrust and planting seeds of discord within the ANC. Whether the courts acquitted her of whatever she was accused of or not, Madikizela-Mandela’s name would continue to be dragged in the mud in what was a well laid out public perception war.

‘‘I would get first grade intelligence from Soweto,’’ Erasmus told the reporter. ‘‘Winnie’s house was bugged. She was under continuous surveillance. The entire soccer club and literally everyone who surrounded Winnie were Security Branch informers… so everything Mama Winnie did was conveyed to me. My job was to sift and work the formula and get the stuff out.’’

In their pursuit to curtail the meteoric rise and moral credibility of one of the most prolific anti-apartheid forces within South Africa, the state infiltrated Madikizela-Mandela’s environment by whatever means possible. As is the case in such operations, those picked as informers may or may not have known they were being used to fight the enemy’s war, since part of the recruitment of informers is done through third parties with whom those around Madikizela-Mandela would innocently share information, not knowing it would get transmitted to the apartheid state.

‘‘I am telling you this as a fact,’’ Erasmus continued. ‘‘They were all working for the Security Branch, including Winnie’s aide de camp at the time… The deaths started when one found out about the other, and Jerry (Stompie’s convicted killer) went as far as admitting this in court…’’

According to Erasmus, the disinformation campaign was targeted at neutralising certain radical elements within the ANC, starting with Chris Hani and Madikizela-Mandela as prime targets. Hani had been the highly popular and charismatic commander-in-chief of Umkhonto we Sizwe – the ANC’s fighting unit – as well as Secretary General of the South African Communist Party (SACP), which for a long time has remained an ideological alliance partner of the ANC. He was assassinated in cold blood by a lone gunman on the morning of April 10, 1993 as he walked back to his house after picking the day’s newspapers in the company of his daughter, who witnessed the assassination.

There were fears that South Africa would erupt into a civil war following Hani’s death, first because his killing seemed like a means to clear the ANC of hardliners who were popular with the masses but who did not believe in making compromises with the apartheid state, and second because his troops, the Umkhonto we Sizwe, were still armed at the time. Nelson Mandela – whose on-the-ground popularity was always compared to that of the militant Hani (who was seen as a probable future president) – had to address the country that evening and call for calm. With the magnetic Hani out of the way, Madikizela-Mandela remained the one dangerous loose cannon for the apartheid regime. They went after her hard.

‘‘We couldn’t attribute it to the enemy completely,’’ Madikizela-Mandela said of Hani’s murder in Pascale Lamche’s film, suggesting that his murder might also be the work of those who objected to Hani’s overt opposition to giving too many concessions to the apartheid regime during the negotiations with the ANC following Mandela’s release from prison. ‘‘When he was killed, one of the hopes of the country was gone. Here was a man who led the military wing of the ANC. We literally worshipped Chris Hani. We dreamt of a South Africa where he would be president one day.’’

Nelson Mandela – whose on-the-ground popularity was always compared to that of the militant Hani (who was seen as a probable future president) – had to address the country that evening and call for calm. With the magnetic Hani out of the way, Madikizela-Mandela remained the one dangerous loose cannon for the apartheid regime. They went after her hard.

George Fivas, who was South Africa’s police commissioner between 1995 and 1999 – around the time when investigations into Stompie’s murder were reopened under the ANC government – came out recently to categorically refute the allegations that Madikizela-Mandela was complicit in Stompie’s murder. These and other claims prompted speculation that the ANC was trying to nail Madikizela-Mandela for the killing, thereby incapacitating her politically within the organisation.

Sydney Mfumadi, South Africa’s Minister for Safety and Security between 1994 and 1999, who served under Nelson Mandela and under whose ministry the police service fell, has since come out to refute claims that the ANC had anything to do with the reopening of the investigation into Stompie’s murder, a claim that Fivaz supports.

‘‘A lot of people still say Winnie killed Stompie,’’ an ageing Fivas told a reporter at his Johannesburg private security consultancy office. ‘‘Somebody is still feeding the international media the story. I am telling you, after a proper investigation we never found anything to substantiate that claim… There was no evidence to implicate Winnie in Stompie’s murder.’’

According to Fivaz, when Madikizela-Mandela thanked him for exonerating her of Stompie’s murder during the TRC hearings, he told her, “You must understand I was not here to do you a favour. I was here to basically tell the TRC what I know as the gospel truth.’’

‘‘A lot of people still say Winnie killed Stompie,’’ an ageing Fivas told a reporter at his Johannesburg private security consultancy office. ‘‘Somebody is still feeding the international media the story. I am telling you, after a proper investigation we never found anything to substantiate that claim… There was no evidence to implicate Winnie in Stompie’s murder.’’

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There is no denying that Winnie Madikizela-Mandela – like most revolutionaries of her time – was provoked into militancy. The times demanded it, the cause required it, and the enemy necessitated it.

Nothing captures this more aptly than Madikizela-Mandela’s own words when she stated, ‘‘I am a product of the masses of my people and the product of my enemy.’’ The fact that Nelson Mandela founded Umkhonto we Sizwe – the military wing of the ANC – is usually treated as an inconvenient footnote by those who seek to paint him as the patron saint of peace. Yet Mandela’s own militancy before his imprisonment was a reflection of how desperate the times were. Apartheid in all its forms and shapes was a violently dehumanising system of government that necessitated full blown warfare as its black South African subjects fought back to reclaim their humanity. Madikizela-Mandela, just like her former husband, was therefore both a war-time general and a peacetime general, adjusting accordingly with the times and circumstances.

What many forget is how violent South Africa was at the time. The April 1979 death by hanging of one of South Africa’s most celebrated liberation struggle heroes, the 22-year-old Solomon Mahlangu, is a clear indication of how volatile things were as the ANC and others like Robert Sobukwe’s Pan African Congress (PAC) fought apartheid. Mahlangu and two of his comrades got busted by a policeman in Johannesburg as they tried boarding a public transport van, each of them carrying heavy suitcases full of pamphlets, guns and explosives. As the policeman grabbed one of the suitcases, an AK47 and a hand grenade fell out. The three comrades ran in different directions, with Mahlangu and Mondy Motloung deciding to hide in a warehouse. They got accosted and badly beaten, resulting in Motloung suffering severe brain damage, which made it impossible for him to eventually stand trial alongside Mahlangu.

Two individuals got shot and killed in the warehouse as the policeman charged after Mahlangu and Motloung. Their killings was blamed on the young revolutionaries during trial. Charged for murder and terrorism in 1977, Mahlangu was hanged in 1979 after his appeal was rejected. His last words – ‘‘My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people that I love them. They must continue the fight.’’ – remained a liberation rallying call in South Africa. His death remains one of the bitter memories of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Apartheid was a monster that also spawned black-on-black violence. While discussing a chapter in his PhD thesis on Black Youth Politics in 2014, South African MP and spokesman of the far-left opposition party the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, referred to an incident in June 1993. Ishmael Bujozi, a foot soldier in the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), was being buried at the Everton Cemetery in Johannesburg. His death had resulted from the IFP’s rivalry with the ANC, where youths from both parties took turns attacking each other. An hour after the burial – when Bujozi’s family and IFP members had left – Bujozi’s body was exhumed and burnt by local ANC youths. News got to his family and the IFP, who immediately planned for a second burial. During the second funeral, a huge crowd of ANC youths from nearby settlements gathered outside the cemetery. Later that week, Bujozi’s body was exhumed once again and hanged on the cemetery fence, where it stayed for days.

Ndlozi wondered what death a corpse dies and what the exhumation meant. Did the exhumation reflect on the one who lived in the body, the one who buried it, or the one who exhumed it? In his view, the exhumation was a violation of the sanctity of the graveyard. Nothing was sacred, nothing was safe.

It is through this lens that we must to look at members of the Mandela United Football Club who became both victims and perpetrators of the same kind of violence. It was a stormy time, and Madikizela-Mandela, with all her good intentions, found herself at the centre of a maelstrom.

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On Tuesday April 10, Stompie’s mother, Joyce Seipei arrived at Madikizela-Mandela’s Soweto home to pass her condolences to the bereaved family. She was accompanied by ANC Women’s League officials from the Free State. After meeting Madikizela-Mandela’s two daughters, Zindzi and Zenani, Mrs. Seipei walked out of the home accompanied by her son’s teenage-hood comrade, the ANC Secretary General Ace Magashule, who first brought Stompie from the Orange Free State to Soweto. Looking on was ANC spokesman Pule Mabe.

It was a stormy time, and Madikizela-Mandela, with all her good intentions, found herself at the centre of a maelstrom.

On Sunday April 8, following Madikizela-Mandela’s passing – Mrs. Seipei had spoken to the South African media from her Free State province home. She told the media that she didn’t believe that Madikizela-Mandela was involved in the murder of her son. She remembered Stompie as a brilliant and courageous young man whose untimely death had devastated her. It all felt surreal.

‘‘The bones of my own younger brothers are still in Tanzania,’’ Magashule, who was present, said, referring to the tens of ANC fighters who died in training camps across Africa. ‘‘I am the one who recruited them and took them to Tanzania. I recruited my cousins. They too died in the struggle. The bones of Stompie’s comrades are still exiled in Angola. We all knew it was a matter of life and death.’’

‘‘A lot of comrades have died because of lies,’’ Magashule said, recalling the turbulent times when being called an impimpi – meaning traitor – was equated to a death sentence. There having been allegations of tens of ANC cadres having faced firing squads inside ANC training camps on suspicion of being spies for the enemy. ‘‘The ANC was highly infiltrated. Nelson Mandela asked us not to share this information publicly because it could have crippled the organisation.’’

The footage of Joyce Seipei eulogising Madikizela-Mandela – the woman who was for a long time accused of killing Stompie – is the sort of image that would make sceptics wonder whether Mrs. Seipei had been subdued into partaking in an ANC self-cleansing exercise. Yet there was a sense that this was no public relations stunt – that Stompie’s mother knew all along that Madikizela-Mandela was innocent of her son’s murder.

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Isaac Otidi Amuke is a Kenyan writer and journalist.

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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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