Why worry or celebrate? The Rise of Identity and Populist Politics in Uganda Since 1986

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L-R: Mao, Mbabazi, Besigye and Nambooze

Recently, Mukono MP Betty Nambooze came with the 6 ‘Rs’ to drive DP to greater political tides which her Ssenkaggale (Norbert Mao) nullified in a minute! It is a phenomenon of “us versus them or them versus us”. Mao unsightly fueled the discussion too. Now DP is at the crossroads to have a meeting with the resenting populist forces in the party.

Soon he will succumb to relinquish the power to either his favorite Mr. Mukasa Mbidde aka Kowtow or a different person especially those who do not feel his leadership. Many in general think he’s helping to sink the party boat or rather none-functionalizing entity yet they also hobnob around with other parties; particularly FDC or Dr. Kizza Besigye at that.

As that was politically dead; then entered the once celebrated ‘economist from Luzira’. The guy is also talking mountains to move or simply playing victim in one orchestrated corruption cases which made him stay in Luzira for a decade. Mr. Teddy Ssezi Cheeye is speaking in corruption tongues as in either he has repented or he was unfairly treated by the president. He will be judged by history especially with Besigye or Hon. Miria Matembe and many more in mind.

As we try to forget Cheeye; the Kisanja hakuna Mchezo agitators netted their minister in what is rumored to be a corruption scandal. These Kisanja guys can talk as if Uganda started in 1986. Besides that how many have swallowed billions and more yet; the minister was baited to 5 millions.

The bigger thieves in the country are fortunate while a Shs2M bribe by a woman judge invited a knife in that silly scandal too! What an irony that was? She has been sending many to prison, now it is her turn; what a shame to the judicial and family in general. I mean, what will she tell her children on the fact of losing her job really? It’s unfortunate but again I ask in response to what is happening to Dr. Stella Nyanzi! How come she was forced to take the Butabika medical checkup?

Let’s enter into the main subject as many have gone through that in details.   It is sad that politicians trade deceit to the many poor Ugandans who expect them to behave differently but the logic here is they are the same on the politics of identity and populism.

Is it Populism or identity politics? Intricately, Populism is precisely the support for the concerns of ordinary people. The quality of appealing to or being aimed at ordinary people is what the politicians extract out and emphasize. Many of them always win elections indeed successfully fail to perform as they eagerly promised.

Internationally, let us extract one or two profound examples between the former 44th president of the US, Mr. Barrack Hussein Obama and the current 45th president, Mr. Donald John Trump on the case of populism and identity politics. One other example will be from Europe.

Of course we all know the truth that these two are from different political parties and indeed ideologies; but has anyone of you ever asked himself these questions on both. Obama rolled out the famous tagline of “Yes we can” just as Trump summed up in clarion call of “Making USA great again”.

These two phrases from utterly different politicians sum up the “populist theory” which both of them employed and successfully became presidents of such a powerful country. This has also endeared to today’s politics globally.

Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini of Italy and Winston Leonard Spencer – Churchill of the UK are two leaders who also used populism at one case to advance their ideas and indeed rise to power. There is a case of both the use of good and wrong populism approach to society. Let’s look at what Churchill was thoughtful of. He’s quoted to have said; “success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”. One other interesting one is; “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” He was very eloquent and good at convincing anyone to like or support his ideas and principles. This was good populism.

On the other hand; Mussolini also is quoted to have said these sentences or quotes at that. He said; “democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy.” Not only that but also; “Socialism is a fraud, a comedy, a phantom, a blackmail”; or “the truth is that men are tired of liberty.” Imagine that! In all cases, Mussolini’s use of populism was provocative and stimulated the rise of fascism in Italy and indeed it rubbed the world the wrong way. The point or lesson here is that many politicians in Uganda are trying to use the same to solicit for support from the masses.

In the same way, when you use Besigye and Museveni for example; you end up into the same examples of both populism and identity politics at play. These attract a cult following and more famous than their political parties. People follow them that way not the political ideologies they have but rather their populist stunts and the way they identify with the poor. Besigye is good at talking to the poor, those in pain and the promise of the fact that he needs to give them back their power not in the hands of Museveni.

When on the same day find Museveni discussing his manifesto, you feel like this is the man of the people and the talk of peace and freedoms makes many forget their poverty. People who had been singing those suffering songs when it came to the “tubonga nawe Sevo project” everything were forgotten and indeed he trounced Besigye in 2016. At that, he’s liberator and a good leader according to them. Many believe as well that Museveni has changed from the good one in the 1980s or 1990s to a deceitful politician of today.

By the way before we note any further; that might be a wrong fallacy that the Museveni of 1986 to 2001 if he meets the one of today, they might end up in a fight over issues is merely political deceit. In my view, the present Museveni will tell the younger one that, he was a liar. The true one is the present one; the other looked at identity politics and polarizing people to support his ideas to get where he is now.

If you seriously see him as a liberator, then you realize that he liberated his fellow tribesmen who are now flying higher in government offices plus his family yet the then regimes where practicing the same. On that case Ugandans supported him for giving them hope for a better political arrangement but the truth is that no one by 1986, even the so-called ‘NRMO historicals’ knows or knew where he was heading with the political arrangement with time.

More, wrong fallacies are those preaching the NRMO ideology today. Can one now ask; what was that the then Besigye, Mbabazi and the other cadres were following then if at all Rwabwogo is preaching the NRMO ideology? Where Ugandans then and today duped into a political hollow which never existed?

Historically; Ugandans easily chanted support for the NRA regime from its arrival supported them (NRA rebels) in the Luwero triangle; sacrificed over 500,000 Ugandans in the mythical liberation war and indeed ensued the arrival of a new political dawn, lyrically and satirically call it deceitful fundamental change in the country and the promise to return to sanity. The gloom was real and the deceit was so unbelievable that a government of all people was formulated on the decorum that in just four (4) years, democratic arrangements and rule of law will be in place.

However, that was subverted into the tyranny of the few and indeed many have been thrown out or politically persecuted by the same regime which promised the fundamental change. If one observes a little snippet in that history, it helps him to explain the trends of today, the mightier corruption we live with; the devious hatred and tribalism at its extremes and the questions of imbalanced economic development can therefore not be answered in just a day but the truth with no politician in the country. All of them combined are simply running of the identity politics card if not the populist sentiments.

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  • Walugembe Abaasi Ziribassente

    I am analysing line by line.