By Godfrey Nyeko
As the Idi Amin fascism took its toll on us, we were saved when a neighbouring state with providentially coinciding interests with those of the Ugandan people intervened to forcefully remove him and put a stop to the abuse, torture, and deaths of innocent Ugandans. Almost forty years later fascism is creeping upon us again. But what makes now worse than then is that times have changed and we cannot afford to wait for an outside force to remove this fascist regime from power. The sooner we recognise this the better because no sane person thinks things will get any better under President Museveni’s rule.
The growing parallels between the Amin and Museveni rules are alarming. When both came to power people danced in jubilation. This was the right reaction because Obote had begun showing signs of extreme political intolerance. Truth be told, he had become a tyrant who deserved to be removed. However, his removal in 1971 brought an even worse tyrant, a cold-blooded killer; Idi Amin, who committed some of the worst atrocities in the Uganda’s bloody history.
Idi Amin openly eliminated those he perceived as enemies: Erinayo Oryema, Pius Ondoga, Archbishop Janani Luwum, Oboth Ofumbi, Benedicto Kiwanuka, Frank Kalimuzo, Brigadier Charles Arube, Nekemia Bananuka – the list is endless. That is how an uncouth, illiterate man kills, openly, leaving evidence everywhere.
His 1979 removal by Tanzanian forces was met with jubilation by the entire country, with people flooding the streets, singing and dancing. The feeling of waking from a long nightmare was palpable.
It didn’t take long after that for Obote’s second coming, at the end of 1980. For five years, Obote seemed intent on outcompeting Amin in brutality. Who can forget the Panda Gari death squads? As a result, Obote turned off many people, who turned to Museveni.
However, signs of Museveni’s own brutality didn’t take too long to emerge. Initially, he targeted only his political adversaries, like Dr Andrew Lutakoome Kayiira, pointing to early signings that he was afraid of competition and that, similar to those before him, he was likely to choose to eliminate them by way of assassination and torture.
Despite those worrying signs, most of those of us old enough then gave Museveni the benefit of doubt; at least we could sleep at night since the Panda Gari sweeps had been ended. Museveni also told us that we should accept his excesses since he brought us peace and that the brutality was only temporary in order for him to consolidate power and professionalise the security forces.
Fast forward to now. Extrajudicial killings are the order of the day. The army has arrogated itself law enforcement prerogatives, with its operations suggesting we may be in a state of an undeclared war against a large segment of the people of Uganda, especially the youth, who are clearly now increasingly viewed by Museveni and his security apparatus as enemies of the state.
Ordinary people are kidnapped, disappeared in ungazetted detention centres outside any judicial controls (so-called ‘safe houses’), and tortured.
Museveni has always eliminated enemies, perhaps even more than both Idi Amin and Obote did, but with greater stealth and cunning. The Mayombos, Arondas, Kazinis, Kirumiras, a large number of Muslim clerics are examples; but even the bush war days are replete with similar cases when he murdered those he perceived as rivals, like Hannington Mugabi. Think of the goons that beat journalists like a snake, or that tortured Yusuf Kawooya in broad daylight in the centre of Kampala in full view of everyone.
Uganda is now clearly under an undeclared but de-facto state of emergency. One wonders why it has taken so long for Museveni to declare it formally like his predecessors used to do. He clearly seems to have been inspired by them and seems committed to outdo all of them combined in state brutality.
We seem to have come full circle. During Obote’s rule, the saying then was that “a good Muganda is a dead one” until the brutality spread beyond the Baganda.
During Museveni’s rule, the scotched-earth policy against the people of the north was justified by the oft-articulated sentiment that “a good Mudokolo is a dead one.”
In both cases, the worth of a large section of the population was diminished in order to justify abuse (torture and killings) toward it. The good news is that once abuse spreads, all justification wanes. Any abuse thereafter is only the strongest signal that the regime is in its last kicks and only needs a nudge to collapse.
The bad news is that it’s no longer 1979 and there is no foreign power we can count on to rid us of a tyrannical regime. We must ourselves do the nudging if we are to avoid prolonging the final kicks of which any of us could fall victim.