Citizen ‘Lectures’ Uganda’s Museveni

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(Kasaato to the “big man.� We’re are tired of your lies.)

Diplomats, potential investors, foreign journalists, and ordinary Ugandan and British citizens came to hear President Yoweri Museveni talk about his accomplishments in office.

Instead, they saw a Ugandan who lives in London commandeer the floor and denounce the president as a “liar� and “war criminal.�

Instead of focusing on the Ugandan president’s message of economic miracle, the 700 or so people witnessed an extraordinary display—an ordinary citizen lecturing the “big man� and rejecting the achievements he had listed. The president had traveled through London, November 19, after a meeting at the European Union in Belgium. He might have suspected things were not going well, when he could not secure a meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Yet, he would make the best of his visit by lecturing to this captive audience here at the Royal National Hotel-London. The president was talking about how his government, now more than 20 years in power, had routed black market profiteering from the Ugandan economy, and had linked Entebbe Town to Kampala and Mukono---the president was adding more accomplishments when a Ugandan in the audience begged to differ. Loudly at that.

“Ugandans are sick and tired of your lies, leadership and indeed dictatorship,� shouted Rashid Kasaato, clearly unimpressed with the string of achievements the president announced. “You have been killing children for 20 years,� Kasaato declared, to the stunned president, who at first appeared amused, but gradually lost his composure as the unscheduled lecture continued. “You talk about security in the country—what security? Uganda’s borders don’t end at Nakasongola.�

Kasaato was referring to the fact that the northern part of the country has been ignored, economically discriminated against, and engulfed in war for two decades. Museveni’s beefy body guards, not used to seeing the “big man� berated, wanted to make a move—but their boss, shrewdly aware of his audience, diplomats, potential investors, and journalists, brushed them off.

“Mwache,� he said, in Kiswahili, meaning, “leave him alone.� He added, using the renowned Museveni charm: “This is democracy.�

Again, Kasaato was unimpressed. “What democracy?� he demanded. “Yesterday you stopped a political party from launching just party cards.� Kasaato was referring to the Uganda riot police’s disruption of a party membership and fund drive by the Forum For Democratic Change (FDC) the previous day in Kampala—FDC chief Dr. Kizza Besigye had been routed by police tear gas when he tried to attend the rally, even as hundreds of Ugandans cheered him on. His supporters had running battles with police.

“You kill people, our relatives and citizens are in prison,� the lecture continued. “Detentions are the norm of your security operation. You have militarized the police force. You bribed to change the constitution to be life president.� Here in London, there were no “riot� police officers to rout Kasaato with tear gas.

It was a brand of democracy that the “big man� was clearly not used to and his composed demeanor began to unravel. “What economic successes are you talking about?� Kasaato demanded. “The country has no electricity, businesses are failing, there is not water, you don’t pay people’s pensions, and our people are poor. There are strikes all the time.�

There was no stopping Kasaato. Was he speaking for countless Ugandans—perhaps a silent majority? “You’re interfering with everything in government operation and hindering people’s capacity to work.�

Then came the coup de grace. “You are a war criminal and not a freedom fighter.�

Later, some in the audience marveled at Kasaato for his daring. Was this the beginning of something new? Are Ugandans, indeed, tired of silence?

Some could only compare Kasaato’s verbal display to that of the first person who jeered the late Romania dictator, Nicolai Ceausescu....

Miwambo reports for The Black Star News from London.

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