Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Who still listens to Andrew Mwenda? A Nation and I, Apparently.

It is easy to scoff at Independent boss Andrew Mwenda, once a celebrated Museveni gadfly, who these days sounds more and more like an apologist slowly making his way to a full all reconciliation with the government he once rabidly criticised.

In the Capital FM Andrew Mwenda Minute every week day 7:45am, Mwenda can be heard more often than not defending a position taken by government on a ‘hot topic.’ In my listening minutes, I have heard Mwenda argue that our social security fund (NSSF) is being run alright and it is a big mistake for its investment projects to be subject to public scrutiny and question. I have heard him argue that what Uganda really needs is a strong, determined, ruthless Big Man who can impose order and development instead of always wasting time and money bribing opinion leaders and Members of Parliament to push through projects that are ‘developmental for the whole country.’

I have heard Mwenda, this once famed advocate for justice, fairness, the poorest of the poor and those who have no voice of their own that can be heard reach vitriolic levels of demanding that these same people can be kicked out of estates originally built for low income earners like ...estate. His argument being that Uganda can get nowhere with those riff-raff impending the development of those areas-let us first build a stable middle class and then we can take care of the poor.

A journalist by training, by passion, by calling, I have heard Andrew Mwenda decry, on the Capital FM Andrew Mwenda Minute the state of the media in Uganda today. In his arguments, heavily laced with venom, rubbish all in the media today (except maybe for himself) as poor imitations of the original glorious luminaries like Charles Onyango-Obbo and Conrad Nkutu. Saying the current editors and journalists that man the stations in media houses are, “poorly read, irresponsible, cheap popularity seekers,” who do not have the mental capacity to fully appreciate the import of the matters they are writing and reporting on. He has gone on to argue that they are so poor, most if not all of them, are still paying rent and busy enriching landlords, that is why they are deluded and bitter.

Andrew Mwenda is hard to listen to these days.

But a whole nation is listening. This is Capital FM, and many, countless millions of listeners are probably listening to this Andrew Mwenda for the first time. The only Mwenda they know.

That is my biggest fear. That the ‘best’ minds, the ones that originally listened to the Mwenda of KFM during the Andrew Mwenda Show are tuning out. They are so easily writing off Mwenda as a sell out, a Judas Iscariot, and they are better things to do than pay attention to this Basil Bataringaya who because his mother is black and he is brown, rabidly denies her.

I urge you not to tune out. I urge you even more not to sit back with folded hands and leave Mwenda be with his opinions unchallenged. This is the most remarkable public transformation of a mind we may yet ever see in our lifetime from selfless to selfish, degree by gradual degree and it is important to document all the stages of decay. The Mwenda of 2001 unable to recognise the Mwenda of 2011, just as once Mwenda used to drive the Museveni of 2001 to distraction reminding him of the Museveni of 1986.

A whole nation is listening to Andrew Mwenda, oh what a sweet tongue he has, don’t let his be the only voice. 

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Janet Kataaha Museveni’s My Life Journey.

There was a time when I hated President Museveni and the NRM government, in my angry teenage years, the helpless years when I understood better than I ever will again how much of my future had been robbed of me because of his and his government’s mismanagement of Uganda. Sometimes willful, sometimes as a result of being in a situation where they were guessing as much as my parents themselves were gambling on anything to provide a tin roof over our heads, sweet potatoes and beans for supper. 
Yoweri Museveni and first son Muhoozi in Moshi, Tanzania

Then I grew up. 

In a school education system, always one PTA meeting ahead of what was to become the UPE disaster, encouraged not to dream big (“Dreams don’t an empty stomach fill”) but to plan realistically (“If you must write, then become a university professor and write on the side”). Promised all the while that life in 1990s Uganda, threshold entering into the 2000s was the best Ugandans had had in a very long time and I should be a little grateful at least to what Museveni and this regime was doing. Had my father not been in prison in the terrible 1980s, in a death cell where each evening, at cruel random a guard black as night, drugged and smoking, would come and pick a prisoner (sometimes more than one) to maim, torture and kill for thrills, in the detention compound? & all the prisoners could hear the terrified shrieks becoming animal pain of a man they had known, rubbed fingers with, in the communal Red Cross posho bowl, dying, his cries would never let them sleep or forget. 

Be grateful for Museveni! All that did not happen now-in the 1990s and early 2000s. 

Then why did I continue to intuit, from my own life, somehow I was being robbed? That the future I thought I deserved would not be the future I would get? Did it all begin in primary school SST classes, 30 minutes before delighted yelling runs to the break time school canteen for kabalagala breakfasts, tongue burning porridge in green Mukwano & Nice mugs, when I would sense how much this SST teacher longed for the lesson not to end, her beautiful natural Afro the natural-est bush of hair I had ever seen on a woman-the trouser stained school burser with a cane in hand impatiently waiting for her outside our classroom, to lead her to his dank office that was the money pit? Was this when I began to sense the truths below appearances that disguise and encourage illusions that all is well? Don’t ask too much, be grateful. What’s wrong with you?
Did it begin in secondary school, before Google search & the world wide web, Saturday afternoons in a vast library large as some village churches I have known, missing lunch, afternoon sports runs (boys cheering boys, ‘rugger’ nicknames, Rhino friends), reading and reading-intoxicated! Anything reading! So many books, wonderful books! Would there be time enough? Unclassified, untrained reading, natural tastes following, books undivided-no Western Literature, no Eastern (Asian) thought, no ‘new’ African canon, Australians and New Zealanders not defiled yet by the English sneer of ‘outback’ people-just reading! Discovering new worlds. Worlds with possibilities, literary, social, political worlds that began to make me ask-if all this knowledge is so precious, why is the government not making it more widely available at this quality? Reading! Learning adults can be wrong, parents can be tyrannical, you do not have to worship your leaders. To make a change, you have to first learn to change yourself. Be the living example, not just the talking one. As for your enemy, or those who oppose you, the best resistance is not exile, know them better than they know themselves. Library lessons, all for a boy who was not more than 16.

I began to understand. 

Books can become dangerous things. Information more so. 

Whoever controls these, controls your perceptions. For the longest time at least. 

So I began to read. To want to know more. About the man who has ruled Uganda ever since I could ‘understand’ and look around and try to find my own place in Uganda. I wanted to know more about him. Then the more I heard, read and knew, I wanted to know more too about those who were supposed to be closest to Museveni. 

I stopped sneering at the cascade of ‘ghost’ written books by Uganda’s first family. I read.
I’m still reading. 

I will read Janet Kataaha Museveni’s My Life Journey. Like I have read President Museveni’s own autobiography Sowing the Mustard Seed, all those years ago. 
Museveni family photo

I will read Janet Kataaha Museveni’s My Life Journey, not for historical truth. But her truth. 

There are many questions I do not think she would dare address, though we whisper rumours of the truths in them. Like is it true that her marriage with President Museveni has been estranged for more than a decade? What does she have to say about the rumours that President Museveni has never been sexually faithful to her? That he has fathered very many children outside their marriage, before he became President and that after becoming President that has only escalated. Is first son Kainerugaaba Muhoozi really her son or as some rumour mills have claimed the son of another woman, a certain Kajubi, whose death has never been explained properly or publicly acknowledged. Were Janet and Museveni ever even formally married or have they been cohabiting all these years? 

Then there are questions beyond the personal. Questions that have an effect on how Uganda as a nation is run. We have always heard rumours that Janet herself suffers from depression. That actually sometimes ‘she is not herself’ and has to be restrained. There are claims that she herself is not all that faithful to Museveni, is an infamously controlling mother who has personally determined which man each of her daughters married and continues to dictate her children’s home affairs. Any truth in those claims? 

I do not expect to find some of those concerns addressed in My Life’s Journey. They are questions out there that will only one day be answered by history writers, and archival searches in many countries from Uganda to Tanzania to Sweden and then some. 

But I want to know how Janet Kataaha Museveni sees herself. So I will be reading My Life’s Journey.