Has ‘mahogany’ really fallen?

The story angle that Prof Gilbert Bukenya’s political star has fallen is too tempting to resist. I toyed with it and nibbled it here and there but I can’t say Daily Monitor was as cautious.

It’s true the man’s political astuteness was worse than weak. He turned both on his bed and his word, to rejig a little a phrase popularised by Eriya Kategaya, who is yet to be reconfirmed as first deputy premier and East African Community Affairs minister or handed a new docket.

Kategaya, let’s mention in a slight digression, went against the saying he invoked and returned to work with his childhood bud Yoweri Museveni after accusing him of going against everything they’d believed in and fought for.

That said, one thing you cannot deny the man who nicknamed himself mahogany (after the hardwood) to scoff at the so-called cabal of mafia that, according to him, were working tirelessly to bring him down is that, somehow, he made it difficult for them to chop him down (in keeping to his self given moniker).

You can berate this professor of public health, a distinguished malariologist and pioneer of the wildly successful upland rice initiative all you want about his choice of tactics in keeping a step ahead of the “mafia” until you fully appreciate that politics is about survival, which has no specified prescription.

Had he, for instance, been dropped in, say, 2005 when he scuttled to Daily Monitor to raise his own alarm against whoever he thought was interested in felling him, then perhaps it would be fair to say the “mafia” set the man’s political and social misdemeanours against him and he toppled over.

Regardless of how crucial those were in influencing the appointing authority’s decision, it’s pretty clear than in his good time, and in the absence of the myriad scandals that have come to define Bukenya’s political career, he who made him VP decided to unmake him.

Lest we forget, Bukenya was never going to be VP for life. It is not a position he was born into so he couldn’t die in it. He could fight for it yes, which he did, but that’s all he could do. Ultimately, the last word belonged to the appointing authority.

What is true is Bukenya’s light has lost a bit of its shine, as is to be expected. However, he can easily reignite it. For one, he still has a healthy chance of remaining powerful if he seeks, and wins, the secretary general position in the NRM, which he tried for last year and lost to now newly appointed premier Amama Mbabazi.

With all his much touted mobilisation and organisational skills, who can tell what he’s capable of doing in that position? There’s a cautionary tale in the man’s middle name Balibaseka. As his life has demonstrated, the last laugh seems to exclusively belong to him.


Uganda: Top Misreported Stories of ‘09

Of all the stories that got covered this year, what would top the list of the most grossly misreported? Few, if any, would edge out the death of Brian Bukenya, son to Vice President Gilbert Bukenya, and that of former army commander Maj. Gen. James Kazini.

They were part of a spate of deaths, and near deaths, carrying on from the last weeks of October into November. Save for Kazini’s, all the rest were a result of three road accidents that claimed the lives of upwards of 20 people including Brian’s and President Museveni’s advisor Fr. Albert Byaruhanga.

The way those deaths were covered revealed a far more frightening threat within sections of our news media than our current repressive state might ever pose to us. This threat  combines self-censorship, pandering to and reproducing the official government statement(s), and cultural attitudes of singing the praises of the dead whether they exist or not. About self-censorship though, some people might argue the state already planted, watered and weeded that seed and like a contented farmer has no need of constantly returning to the garden when it comes into its full bloom.

Granted, death in Uganda can’t boast such a huge shock effect on us. We seem to have become numb to it either because of our long history of losses, most particularly through unnecessary conflicts and wars, or because we go about our daily lives with death so close to us, from preventable diseases to reckless driving, that we seem to have learnt to live with it.

You tell this from our unofficial standard way of condolence; that’s life [get over with it]. But then, every once in a while death easily shatters through that supposed numbness with such fury and abandon claiming in its trail powerful figures that seemed immortal to us forcing us into self-reflection about it. Kazini’s was one such death, the “immortal” figure that many eulogised practically as a military ‘virtuoso’.

For journalists and news media, there is reason to feel frightened at how we revealed, in the ensuing reportage of the two deaths, our deep acquiescence with the official version and the effects of tagging at the coattails of people we’ve ringed off as newsmakers.

From the day journalism chose as one of its mantras that if it bleeds it leads, we locked ourselves up in such difficult moral dilemmas as for instance reporting stories about loss, especially loss of human life. How do you extricate yourself from that shared sense of loss to ask the penetrating questions that are expected of you as a reporter? How do you balance your desire to write a guaranteed lead story, which is every reporter’s desire, against the nudging feeling you are turning into benefit another person’s loss?

Like people in the business of selling caskets, or services of funeral homes that are the craze now, what prayers should or does a reporter make every morning when he or she sets off to work? But then, can we really say these dilemmas were at play in the reportage of the deaths in question? We will begin with Brian’s, VP Bukenya’s son. Continue reading

Daily Monitor’s Idea Of Creativity, Go Figure!

ABOVE: How It Used To Be. While BELOW: How It Looks Like Now…

BELOW: Where This Design They Will Flaunt as New Was Copied…

While I check the Daily Monitor (DM) Online edition several times a day, I wouldn’t have known the new “changes” if it weren’t for an old story about Justice Kanyeihamba I was looking for. So I type my search query into Google (what could we possibly do without you!?) and up come the links to DM. I click the topmost only for the next page to gladly display for me error 404: The requested resource is not available. And where was this error generated from? Nation Media Group, the mother company of DM.

So I think to myself ok, I’ll go to the DM site directly and search. I do the usual, typing in the URL that is, and bam, my eyes encounter a somewhat different webpage from what I knew to be the usual. But before I can applaud DM for a brand new site my mind reminds me that I’d seen that design somewhere else. Where? Kenya’s Daily Nation. To be sure my mind isn’t playing a prank on me, I open the Daily Nation website and confirm what I shouldn’t have doubted even for a second, my mind’s sharp memory.

So I go scuttling, as if there was a prize for it, to my facebook page where we must tell on ourselves and updated my status thus: Uganda’s Daily Monitor changes website to look like its sister (or brother or cousin or name it) Kenya’s Daily Nation. While night and day The New Vision Group as it is now called and which is up to 80 percent owned by the government either buys out or sets up new radio stations across the country. Catch it up here. It’s time to question whether media concentration and media conglomerations are a good thing or a bad thing for East Africa.

Kazini Death; media drops the ball, again!

This was weighing so much on me I had to get it off to get on with my day, so…

Just read the Daily Press Review of The Uganda Record and the way our so-called mainstream media has dropped the ball – again! – in their coverage of the gory death of late army commander Maj. Gen. James Kazini is depressing at the very least. They dashed for the most obvious (The Uganda Record has put it more eloquently: the familiar hyperbole, the overstating of praises and achievements of the dead that is typical of Ugandan society), as they did in the coverage of Brian Bukenya’s death,  sacrificing critical analysis in that sprint.

I’ll leave bigger minds to crack through the motives of the killer and all the surrounding conspiracies, but here is what I’d have loved to read in the coverage: although as an individual Kazini might have been a nice man and good soldier, his career as a military man was anything but illustrious. Stirring storm after another everywhere he found himself in charge, the height of which being in 1999-2000 in Kisangani in the DRC, the one thing he seemed to have mastered so well was living to die another day.

At the height of his career he would find himself battling perhaps what every soldier (and much more so one of a higher rank as his) dreads: being dismissed with disgrace from the profession he’d entirely committed his whole life, all because of a shameful crime of creating ghost soldiers on the payroll to fleece the government, and another; allegedly plotting a coup. The astute soldier that he is, the Maj. Gen fought these charges, albeit with pens, books and learned minds, like his life depended on them and at the time of this death his punch was still strong.

But another, more personal, more inner, battle raged within. It was a battle with his manly desires. Even when parts of that skeleton in his closet popped out, in his public fights over his junior wife and related physical abuse towards her, the public was drawn more to the hilarity of it all – an army general fighting for a woman! –  and missed the more sobering issues it spoke to: a man deeply conflicted in his beliefs and watching helplessly as his world increasingly opened from under his feet.

To understand those beliefs we go back to the first days and later entrenchment of Christianity in Uganda, which was been explored here (or check Daily Monitor March 4, 2008 if the link doesn’t work). Simply, when we decided on Christianity because of all the goodies it dangled before us, we realised everything else we loved (read many spouses) had to be closed out. It worked both for those who wanted to actively practice the faith or to just be associated with it.

That was hard. So we decided to sneak them under the cover of darkness into our closets (the Namuwongo slums of this world where nobody ever thinks your class can even sustain the mere thought of the place). And for as long as everything went well, everyone was happy. Until jitters set it and as William Butler Yeats long saw, the centre starts losing its hold and things begin to fall apart.

In the days ahead, we’ll know more about Kazini’s death particularly if there were more than two hands and an iron bar involved. Already fire-spitting Kahinda Otafiire has already suggested an investigation of who else might have been involved. For now though, the man who successfully held off all external battles against him would come to fall under one from within him.

And of all places his death found fit to take him out of action was in his slummy ‘closet’ rather than a place worthy of his position and wealth, like in his grand hotel in Kasese or nice house in Nyabushozi, or those in and around Kampala. And rather than an AK 47, a bomb, a missile from a fighter plane, or even a paragraph from the law of the land, of all things his death found fit to take him out of action with was a hitherto unknown mistress now turned infamous bludgeoner.

One then wonders why, whenever the mighty ones fall it’s often in the most debasing of ways.

In honour of the Ugandan soldier

Ugandan Soldiers off to an African Union Mission in Somalia. Are they dying in vain? (Courtesy Photo/www.militaryphotos.net)

First, a brief and quick lesson in history:

Sixty-four years today, World War II came to an end. Much of the Western world returns every year on Nov. 11 each to remember their own that were consumed not just in World War I and II but also in subsequent wars since. This Remembrance Day is taken from the time WW I is believed to have formally ended when on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 Germany signed the Armistice.

And just as the architects and so-called winners of these wars have intentionally left out of the wars’ history the more than one million African troops that gave their lives to wars that neither they nor their countries were benefiting from, the governments of countries from which these troops came have not behaved any differently. Not a whiff is felt in their honour.  In East Africa, upwards of 290,000 soldiers were drawn out of the then King African Rifles.

What do veterans of WW II mean to Africa in general, and Uganda in particular? Pre-independence African history is littered with tales of how in the eyes of participating African troops the massive deaths of Europeans in these wars completely demystified the ‘coloniser’ who hitherto had cut a figure of immortality. More than that the wars were, albeit by default, a source of enlightenment so much so that returning African troops have been credited for turning up the heat in the quest for self-determination.

‘Ba kawonawo’ as we refer to the WW veterans had social impacts as well, beyond self-determination. One such impact is coincidentally typified by our current long serving president: Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. That last name, I’ve read, is coined out of a battalion of returning Ugandan soldiers from WW II to firmly etch their contributions in our memories, LEST WE FORGET!

What a shame that we so seem to have confirmed our forebears fears!

My few buds are surprised at how high I esteem the military. Does anyone out there wonder, as I do sometimes, WHAT and WHO a Ugandan soldier dies for? Do our brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, aunts and uncles (add to the list) die in vain?

Blinded, self-interested militarism is the thorn in our flesh. It’s our plague. Now, what are we going to do about it? Are we going to be ostriches and tuck our heads in the sand about it or are we going to be like Albert Camus’ Fr. Paneloux in The Plague and claim that’s what God has allotted our kind?

Yep, way to go MPs!

Firstly, this is an unlikely FIRST post. There have been countless others which, for one reason or another, have failed to make it all the way here. Even this one almost failed to make the last turn. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know if they will. The first/fast are not always the first to arrive. Point made.

So it is that Ugandan MPs have increased their monthly net pay to a tune that’s 14 times the country’s per capita income. Sweet. Now, of course, we’re going to get outraged, swing our heads, talk, shout, quarrel and foam at our mouths. And that’s all ok. It’s our right to react anyway we want. It is also called freedom of expression.

But when we’re done, for we sure can’t go on till time grows gray hair, some few truths will be there staring at us. Like, seriously if you not only had to suggest how much you should be paid (some organisations ask that during interviews and leave it there), but could actually ink it, what would you do? Isn’t there such a saying in Luganda that ‘namunswa alyakunswaze’?

If you occupy a position where the only thing you are sure you can bring your influence to bear without causing a ruckus with the real power, without having the state witch hunt you and members of your family, without anything is your salary, what would you do?

Who at any given time hasn’t felt or complained they are being paid less than what they actually are worth? So let no one react as if they were more morally upright than the MPs. Finding yourself in the positions they occupy, the temptation to do as they do would outweigh the incentive to do otherwise. That doesn’t mean, however, that the latter can’t win over the former.

Personally, I’m not going to wait for a time I too become MP. There’s no chance in this lifetime that’ll happen. And here’s the reason: I don’t want. Period. So I’ll bring my influence to bear right now on things I too can speak change to and change happens pronto. I’m increasing the amount of juice I take and the food I eat in a day; the hours I stay in bed and the hours I stay online.

Now, let me hear anyone say ngwe!