Are today’s obscurantists tomorrow’s heroes?

Moses Odokonyero_closeup pix

A month or so ago, former Forum for Democratic Change presidential candidate, Dr Kiiza Besigye celebrated his 60th birthday. Excluding his time in the Luwero jungles, a decade and a half of those years (and still counting) have been spent in the trenches and on the receiving end of brutal blows from a State run by his former Luwero mates.

At 60, Besigye, in theory, still has more than a decade in his hands to have a shot at the presidency.

Shortly after his 60th birthday things, as they usually do, took a different turn for the Kasangati ‘‘birthday boy.’’  He was arrested in Kampala, airlifted to desolate Karamoja, slapped with treason from the arid region, flown to Kampala, shipped straight to Luzira Maximum Security Prison from where he was later produced for a brief court appearance to be re-slapped with treason.

The trajectory of Besigye’s political path mirrors that of other strugglers before him; the men and women who fought against the injustices of colonialism and the excesses of post-colonial rulers in not only Uganda but also Africa. These men and women against tyranny were first ‘‘obscurantists’’ before they became heroes, and in many cases, sadly, tyrants.

In the week Besigye celebrated 60, NTV was airing a documentary on the heroics of Gen Salim Saleh.

In the 1980’s when Museveni and his band waged a rebellion against the Obote government, Obote called them ‘‘bandits.’’

In 1986, the bandits shot their way to power. Thirty 30 years later, their grip on power is so firm that it is hurting wrists.

Gen Saleh’s older brother, President Museveni, a honcho of the 1980 bandits, likes to describe those who disagree with his monolithic vision as ‘‘obscurantists.’’

History teaches us that the people who usually get clobbered and tossed in the back of police and military trucks, imperfect as they maybe, often represent values that are more progressive than those of their tormentors. For the tormentors and their associates, it is power retention and the easy life that comes with it which matters most.

The Opposition has been calling for reforms. For example a reform of the Electoral Commission (EC) to make it a body that is credible enough for actors in an electoral process to have faith in. The Opposition’s proposal on how this could be structurally done was rejected by government.

A lack of faith in the EC is the immediate source of Besigye’s current predicaments. A credible and independent EC is a requirement for a democracy. In fact, I am optimistic a more democratic future Uganda will have a reformed EC. In that sense, the Opposition is the future while their tormentors are the past.

President Museveni can still shape Uganda’s future but he is no longer the future. Much of his ‘‘future’’ is already behind him.  But he is behaving like he just began ruling yesterday. Take as a case in point his recent swearing- in promise to this time round mean business.

Four years ago, the columnist Charles Onyango- Obbo wrote in The East African newspaper that ‘‘Museveni seems trapped’’ and that ‘‘he’s hanging on to power hoping, in vain, to salvage a legacy.’’

I think there is still a way out for Museveni to salvage what remains of his legacy. In the next five years, he should listen more to his critics, stop whipping the Opposition and desist from using his Luwero sacrifice as a bargaining chip for more.

The world is in the age of technology, good governance and human rights. Dogmatically opposing these forces is to get a spot on the losing side of history and guarantee your opponents hero status.

Mr Odokonyero has interest in media development, communications & public affairs