Thursday, 10th March 2016
President Yoweri Kagutta Museveni,
Your Excellency the President of the Republic of Uganda,
Your Excellency the President Elect of the Republic of Uganda,
State House, Kampala
Dear Mr. President,
I know you are a busy man, so I will come straight to the point.
As a sub-part of society, it is the responsibility of the media to inform members of their respective society so that members of their society can make informed decisions. If the media does not do its job well, such as when it tells single stories, this has the power not only to misinform a society’s decisions but also to over-nourish the egos of beneficiaries of the single story narrative.
This is exactly the reason, Mr. President, why I apportion blame to the media for Uganda’s current woes. I do so, Mr. President, because when it comes to writing about the person of the president of Uganda and the office of the president of Uganda, our media here in Uganda, hell the media in ‘the world’ tends to switch to single story mode. To explain, Mr. President, let me use you as an example.
A review of media archives from 1986 to date will clearly demonstrate my point. In 1986 when you took power, the madia – in Ugandan and in ‘the world’- focused on and reported mainly on your Magufuli-like decrees. They centered on and painted a single story of you that revolved around your declaration and promise that the National Resistance Army (NRA) administration was “not a mere change of guards but a fundamental change.”
In the late 1980s and 1990s, because of the single story of you in the media, Ugandans were whipped into frenzied jubilation. Blinded by the smokescreen of the media’s single story of you, people’s hopes for the future of Uganda were raised high, too high I dare say. In 1986, after all, the media reported you as the messianic leader who had arrived.
The picture perfect painting of you in the media, at that time, made many to believe that your arrival heralded a new day for Uganda – a new day that is, of accountable and democratic leaders who genuinely appreciate that they are in service of and are answerable to Ugandans first. The kind of leader, for example, that Africa lost in His Excellency Thomas Sankara, the President of Burkina Faso, who was assassinated – may his soul rest in eternal peace.
You did not disappoint, Mr. President. In 1986 you pledged to the people of Uganda that you and your administration, NRA (then National Resistance Movement (NRM) and then now National Resistance Movement Organisation (NRMO)) would desist from indulging in a lavish life style. Historical archives are awash with the famous promise that you made in 1986 that you would not be like ‘problem-leaders’ of Africa who overstay in power. You promised that you would stay in power for no more than 10 years.
During the 1990s, Mr. President, your popularity indeed soared high. ‘World’ leaders recognised you as among the new generation of African leaders, the media reported. You were revered as among Africa’s new leaders who were perceived and celebrated in the popular press as being committed to democracy and economic reform for the good of their respective populations.
You were heralded, in the media, alongside other African leaders, such as: President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, President Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea, President Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, and President Thambo Mbeki of South Africa.
Mr. President, except for two of your peers here listed, those with whom you were heralded, none of the others is still President. One of them no longer president has since passed on, albeit while he was still president – may his soul rest in peace. Three of your peers with whom you were heralded are still alive and living well, I assume. Moreover they are living in their respective countries as past/former presidents of their respective countries.
Even though, in some cases, those who took over the presidency from those who were heralded with you have arguably done a lousy job, the countries have survived. In fact, arguably, those countries, such as Ghana, have indeed grown in terms of allowing diversity and wider participation in national governance. This should reassure you Mr President as you consider your retirement plan.
Anyway, back to the example of you and the media’s propensity for the single story, Mr. President. Your popularity was at its highest in 1996 when 75.5 percent of Uganda’s voting electorate, including me, democratically elected you and endorsed you as the President of Uganda. How could we not. The smoke-screen of your single story that the media had popularised was still thick in the air.
Many Ugandans, including me, in 1996, ten years after your arrival on Uganda’s presidential scene, still believed, for example, that the spirit of your 1986 decrees still held true. Decrees such as the one in which you ordered that plastic mugs and furniture that are made in Uganda should be used in State House. Specifically, that the furniture to be used in State House would be made by poor active Ugandans who were residing and working in slum areas, such as in Bwaise.
Your 1986 decrees were popularised by the media as being revolutionary and exciting decrees. Your plastic-cup decree and your local-furniture decree were touted as the new way of administrating Uganda – redirecting resources back to the majority. The beneficiaries of your decrees were to be the hardworking Ugandans who were getting a raw deal from unfair global trading practices.
But now, in 2016, it seems like, you, Mr. President, are the main advocate for ‘foreign’ investors and in some cases it seems that your advocacy is to the detriment of Ugandan investors. But then again you are the economist, Mr. President, and it is possible that some of us non-economists are simply misunderstanding you and your actions.
I digress, back to the point Mr. President. In the late 1980s and the early 1990s, in the media, you, Mr. President, were the ‘it-leader’, you were ‘our man’ and you were absolutely adored by the press which predominantly told a single story of you. Well, 30 years later, Mr. President, the jury, so to speak, on your messianic rule-by-decree leadership is long back in.
If at all there are any plastic cups in Uganda’s State House, judging from imagery in the popular press, it is doubtful that you, the first family, use such cups. It is plausible that only the lowliest state house workers currently use plastic cups in Uganda’s State House, if at all. Certainly, photos of the interior of Uganda’s State House by journalists erase any doubts that the furniture currently in State House is not made in Bwaise.
Mr. President, reality checks among Ugandans, including me, began to truly sink in during the 2000s as may be deduced from the fact that the media began to tell another single story of you – the ‘you are not the messiah after all’ story. Nevertheless, in 2001, Mr. President, you again contested and won Uganda’s Presidential elections with the endorsement of 69.4 percent of Uganda’s voting electorate, including me, choosing you to continue ‘serving’.
It is popularly believed, Mr. President, that many Ugandans thought that the 2001-2006 presidential term would be your last term in office and that is why we overwhelmingly voted for you once more. I am among those Ugandans, Mr. President, who believed so. Our logic followed: let us reward and show appreciation of the messiah one more time for he is a great leader.
Some may find similarities with our logic with what has currently happened in Rwanda. The Rwanda parliament has changed Rwanda’s Constitution in order to allow for President Kagame to remain president longer – he is great, and there isn’t yet another like him, kind of logic. With that kind of logic dominating the popular press it is doubtful that there is a Rwandan currently courageous enough to successfully challenge President Kagame in the next elections of Rwanda.
Or put another way, it is doubtful that a significant section of people of Rwanda exists that is currently overtly courageous enough to declare another great leader for their country other than President Kagame. And that, am told, is democracy still, Mr. President, within the paradigm of the global-western style multi-party democracy that we have adopted or is it adapted.
Not exactly the same for you, however, Mr. President. Your long time friend, Dr. Warren Kizza Besigye Kifefe (retired Colonel of the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces), with whom you have fallen out, has indeed become a thorn in your flesh. He has taken you on as your main challenger in Uganda’s 2001 elections, 2006 elections and 2011 elections. Yes, you beat him in all those three elections.
But, Mr. President, some, including me who voted for you in 1996, in 2001, in 2006 and in 2011, are of the view that Dr. Besigye’s egotistical, abrasive, confrontational and bulldozer style tendencies repulsed a significant section of Uganda’s undecided voters who chose to vote for you, for the wrong reason. A reason, Mr. President, which fits within the logic of the English idiom “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t”.
Thirty years since you took power Mr. President, in 2016, you were again one of the choices on the Uganda Presidential Election Ballot Papers. And again one of your main challengers was Dr. Besigye. The other of your challengers who had been prior portrayed in the media as the third horse in the race, but turned out not to be, is another of your long time friends with whom you have also fallen out – Mr. John Patrick Amama Mbabazi, Uganda’s immediate former Prime Minister.
I am inclined to believe, Mr. President, that even taking into consideration all the impurities that characterised the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections in 2016, you probably did win. Yes, you do have your hard core supporters in the rural areas who vote for you, but for the wrong reasons.
Another major wrong reason as to why your hard core supporters continue to vote for you, Mr. President, is basically the fact that the opposition in Uganda has failed to sell itself to the grassroots in the rural areas as the viable alternative. The rural areas are where the majority, over 80 percent, of Ugandans live and it is where you enjoy your most solid support.
You see, for you, Mr. President, you are cunning. That whole tendency that you have mastered to announce Operation-Wealth-Creation-like programmes during election years and your part in ensuring the non-holding of lower council elections for decades, especially village councils, the opposition has failed to appreciate as major hindrances to their success in convincing the people in rural areas to turn on you.
Sorry, Mr. President, let me come back to the point. In the same way as the media reports on you in single stories – ‘he is the messiah’ story and now ‘he is not the messiah’ but ‘the dictator’ story – they are doing the same for Dr. Besigye. The media is so convincing in its single story reporting that a significant section of Ugandans and ‘world’ leaders believe that only Dr. Besigye can unseat you from office, for that is the single story that the media has chosen to popularise for your former friend.
Dr. Besigye, like you, has so internalised the single story of him that he cannot entertain the option that he has consistently, for four consecutive times, failed to unseat you, Mr. President. To cover up his failure to unseat you and in order to justify their single story, some would argue that he and the media have resorted to painting another single story of Dr. Besigye as ‘the innocent victim of your dictatorship.’
Yes, the single story of Dr. Besigye as the victim of your dictatorship, Mr. President, allows our media to sell copy and moreover without having to do the necessary investigative journalism that is required of them. That is, to do a deeper analysis of the ‘facts’ that they present to us.
So, for example, this week, among the main stories in the main media is of the non-starter ‘do not go to work protest campaign’ which was called by elitist opposition leaders in solidarity with Dr. Besigye. How the media is reporting that particular story is so depressing. If the media were doing its job, at the very beginning the media would have effectively decimated such a call for a boycott; for in terms of its feasibility and viability it is seriously wanting. And it does reveal a dangerous sectarian side of those opposition leaders, akin to the kind that Donald Trump’s campaign in the United States of America hinges on.
Yes, Mr. President, the media and Dr. Besigye are only focused on that single story that will keep ‘the world’ believing that Dr. Besigye is an innocent victim of your dictatorship and moreover who has wide support among Uganda’s population. A story that points to the likelihood that this may not be the case is suppressed or if it is published it is not boosted and/or given similar due attention as those which fit in the single story narrative.
Sadly, Mr. President, you and your administration are succeeding in giving fuel to the single story of Dr. Besigye as the innocent victim of your dictatorship. No need to explain, you know how you are fuelling that single story. Just read or watch the stories in the press – the ‘cleverly’ written and edited media reports of the actions of the Uganda Police towards Dr. Besigye and his supporters; and also towards journalists. Perhaps you and your administration are actually fuelling this single story intentionally, in order to divert us and ‘the world’ from other things. Who knows?
And see how Mr. Mbabazi is also using the single story of you as a dictator in order to stay in the limelight. He has gone to court to contest you being announced as the President Elect and he is requesting a re-count of votes in 45 districts which we know very well can never ever close the nearly 60 percent vote margin between you and him. Allegedly he is convinced that votes for him were counted as yours?
Those convinced of the single story that only Dr. Besigye can unseat you and whose propaganda is that you only win through vote rigging are excitedly waiting for the court ordered re-count to materialise and to reveal you as the loser and Dr. Besigye as the winner. I do have my doubts that that will happen, but that is the single story that the media has chosen to popularise.
Never mind the fact that regular elections and the existence of a functioning legal court system are inconsistent with dictatorship. The media is blinkered by their single story narrative and simply overlooks the contradictions in their single story reports.
The media, for example, is not doing its job to analyse how it is unlikely for large sections of Ugandans – those in the many districts in which you were declared winner – to remain astonishingly quiet if you had actually rigged their vote on the scale that the elitist members of the opposition are claiming. This may be because such an analysis may put holes in their single story of Dr. Besigye as the innocent victim of your dictatorship who has been rigged out of being the president. This, Mr. President, is irresponsible of our journalists, it is simply irresponsible journalism.
Nevertheless, as I begin to wind up, no doubt, Mr. President, among the fundamental transformations that you have achieved, in the eyes of the dominant media, is you transforming from being among the ‘new generation of African leaders’ to being among the African ‘problem-leaders’ you once criticised in your youth. Analysts now categorise you among those problematic leaders who cannot bear to retire.
But then again, Mr. President, did you go through a transformation or is it actually the case that you are still who you have always been, but the media has only popularised bits of you? Might you as an individual have governed Uganda differently, including retiring within 10 years as you had promised, if your individual autocratic and megalomaniac tendencies had from the onset been checked and subjugated to restrict you to operate and conform within the collective of the genuine democratic decision-making structures of Uganda, the nation-sate?
Put another way, might presidents govern differently if from the onset the media focus is not popularising a single story, such as they did for you and are doing for Dr. Besigye, but that rather the media tells dual or multiple stories. That is to say, while celebrating presidential decrees, such as the many that you have executed, the media and all other active citizens would also at the same time analyse what the full implications of presidential decrees are.
When a president makes a decree that re-allocates resources from one approved budget vote to another un-budgeted vote, such as you often do, what does this say about all those civil servants and politicians who made and approved the plans and budgets or were with him when they made or approved the budgets? Is it sufficient to simply justify the presidential decrees on grounds that funds are being re-directed from the greedy rich to the poor, such as the media did the ones that you executed in the past?
How does a presidential decree affect the work ethic of those civil servants and politicians who participated in making and approving the budget now dismissed by presidential decree? Could the answer to this question perhaps be the reason government programmes are failing, for example? You yourself have noted failure of government programmes, Mr. President, such as the National Agriculture Advisory Development Services, that are reportedly according to you frustrated by technocrats.
What does it say about the value that individual citizens place in the formal institutions which ideally define the society, such as a country, in which they live – you know the written down policies, plans, laws, etc., and the informal institutions – unwritten down beliefs and norms – when they are disregarded by the society’s fountain of honour, as you have done in the past of our Ugandan laws?
When the individual – the person holding public office – uses the public office that they hold to ‘bulldoze’ through decisions, as you have done in the past through presidential decrees and otherwise, however saintly the decrees may have been, in what way or not is the particular individual, such as you, conforming with expectations for one who holds such an office, in your case the Presidency of Uganda, to abide as defined – formally or informally – by his particular society, in your case the nation-state Uganda?
When the individual – the person holding a public office – does not abide by norms and goals valued within his society – in your case, the stipulated roles of a president and of the other public offices – is it not in fact counter-productive to celebrate that individual, as you were and as Dr.Besigye is being celebrated? Is it not tantamount to celebrating a societal deviant? After all, this person would necessarily be operating, as you do and as Dr. Besigye is doing, in violation of and in deviance of the particular social structure of his society, for our case the nation-state Uganda.
The media has failed you Mr. President. In their popular reports they have generally not asked and answered the questions herein posed in this letter and many more other similar questions. They failed you, Mr. President, to the extent, for example, that their single story of you has so intoxicated you so you have come to believe in the fallacy that within Uganda you are the only one with a vision and the ability to run state affairs.
Sadly, also, reading post 2016 election media reporting, this is the same illogical single story that the media is now selling for Dr. Besigye. By doing so, for example, they let Dr. Besigye get away without taking responsibility for the negative consequences of his defiance campaign, including deaths of truly innocent Ugandans – may their souls rest in eternal peace. Yes, while you and your former friends have so internalised the single stories of you in the media and refuse to entertain alternative views, Uganda burns.
Hope is a good thing Mr. President, for without it we might as well die. So, I choose to hope. During your final term in office, Mr. President, I look forward to your renewed leadership that will return us back on course to constitutional governance. You know the fundamental change that you promised Uganda.
I look forward, Mr. President, to your final-term presidential leadership which you will execute through a genuine decentralised system of governance where the Uganda constitutional requirement for regular holding of lower local council elections is upheld in the same way as the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections are upheld.
Mr. President, I look forward in hope that the lower councils, particularly the village councils, will once again, during your final term and beyond, flourish as the foundation of a genuine participatory and bottom-up governance system for Uganda. I pray that the lower councils will be respected and listened to by the sitting president of Uganda, you and your successors to come; and once again fully functioning lower councils will be the yardstick that legitimates presidential leadership.
With you back on course, exercising your leadership of Uganda within the ethos of constitutional governance, broad based participatory governance, and with you clearly sending out signals for your retirement the media will inevitably change their reporting of you, I promise Mr. President.
Finally, Mr. President, let me be clear. I am among the 37 percent who are eligible to vote in the 2016 Presidential Elections but who did not vote for you. Nor did I vote for Dr. Besigye; and nor did I vote at all. We exercised our constitutional right by clearly sending you and your former friends a message that you were not the ones we wanted to be President of Uganda during the next presidential terms.
Some of us did not vote in order to signal to you and your former friends that there are others who could have been on the ballot who are not you, Mr. President, or your former friends. You, Mr. President and your former friends, are not the only ones. It is time, Mr. President, that you transition us to a post-Museveni, post-Besigye, post-Mbabazi, post-NRA/NRM/NRMO-historicals Uganda.
Whether the new President of Uganda after you Mr. President comes from the NRMO party or from whichever surviving opposition political party at the time, let it be the decision of Ugandans to make the choice, Mr. President.
You are the economist, Mr. President, and from where I sit your leadership seems now experiencing diminishing returns. It is time to retire. I could be wrong. Nevertheless, I remain among those who long for the day that you will be like your peers with whom you were heralded as Africa’s new breed of leaders who have retired and are living happily in their respective countries.
I am confident, Mr. President, that you will liberate yourself from the chains of the media single story of you. I pray that you will triumph as you always do and that you will transition into being our revered past president who continues to guide our nation, guide Africa and guide ‘the world’, while also personally tending to his beloved cattle in Rwakitura.
Wishing you good health, longevity, a successful final term and a happy retirement, Mr. President,
An active citizen of Uganda