By Josephine Nalweyiso
By 2010 it was clear to us that the country was at crossroads. This was in the lead-up to the presidential elections in 2011. The general mood in the country pointed to election fatigue. The opposition had failed to rally Ugandans in a way that suggested they were ready to kick out Museveni; yet, there was a feeling that people had had enough of Museveni and desperately needed change in the country. Sensing the prevailing mood, Museveni wasn’t taking any chances. He turned to a double strategy that on the one hand emptied the treasury to be able to buy votes at a grand scale; on the other, this was supplemented by voter-intimidation to cower them into either staying home or voting for him. The country has never recovered from this double-pronged strategy, whether it is the economy’s heightened structural inflation or the coarser enduring political brutality.
Under normal circumstances, Museveni-fatigue should have served as a strong hint for him to prepare a transition and then head off to Rwakitura, as a respected retired elder statesman. However, Museveni dug in, embracing the new political reality and sending the clearest signals that, rain or shine, he was holding on to power, even if it meant torturing a few MPs, gagging the media, and roughing up protesters.
The dirty work during this turning point was primarily carried out on Museveni’s behalf by two people: Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIGP) Andrew Kaweesi, whose claim to fame was the suppression of the Walk-to-Work protests of the Museveni fatigue; and his superior, Inspector General of Police (IGP) Kale Kayihura, who was prepared to burn down Kampala in the service of his mentor and boss, Museveni.
The two men became powerful as a result of these efforts that seemed to have consolidated Museveni’s rule, and kept him above water as the tide seemed to suggest drowning was eminent. The former is dead, after succumbing to a thunderous rain of assassins’ bullets. Kayihura is alive, but facing charges that, for all intents and purposes, suggest he isn’t too alive either.
The kitchen sink
Kayihura was Museveni’s most loyal cadre so much so that those who were on the receiving end of his wrath in the protection of his boss, especially members of the opposition, called him Museveni’s “blue-eyed boy.” On 15 October 2017, in an event to launch the Institute of Science and Technology in Bufumbira, Kisoro district, in honor of his father, the late John Karekezi, the then IGP lauded Museveni and committed his life to serving him. In turn, Museveni told the audience that Kayihura was “an exemplary cadre of the NRM.”
Barely six months later on 8 March 2018, days after sacking Kayihura, the president referred to him as a “bean weevil” and that he had “removed” the weevil. Three months later, on 13 June 2018, the president gave orders to arrest his “most loyal cadre” now turned “bean weevil.” Kayihura spent almost three months in custody, without being presented in court and without any charges being proffered against him. By the time a charge-sheet was prepared and he was brought to military court, his health had been deteriorating. He has since been in and out of court with the same regularity as his appearance at hospital for his illness.
Many people now wonder why Museveni has never reciprocated Kayihura’s loyalty, extending mercy towards him. In other words, why did Museveni decide to throw the kitchen sink at his erstwhile protégé?
People familiar with Museveni say that Kayihura was merely another victim of his former patron’s Machiavellian character; a man who strongly believes the end justifies the means. The end here, is Museveni’s ability to remain in power, particularly in light of the aforementioned Museveni-fatigue.
Kayihura’s rise also made him a soft target, the most prominent person Museveni could target to draw specific attention that could divert Ugandans from this fatigue, towards something else of equally significant magnitude.
Kayihura’s ethnicity was a key requirement for anyone Museveni wanted for this diversion. Kayihura was always open about his cultural links to Rwanda. He is not alone; Bafumbira are. Because Bufumbira was annexed from Rwanda to Uganda not so far back in memory – compared to other regions of Rwanda that were annexed to both Uganda and Congo, for instance – as recent as the 1920s, most of them are yet to lose this cultural identity that links them to Rwanda.
Museveni must have considered that he could confuse Ugandans that cultural links to Rwanda were the same thing as interest based links to the state of Rwanda. In other words, that his open admission of being culturally linked to Rwanda automatically made Kayihura Rwanda’s agent. As a result, by accusing him of being an agent of another country (a bean weevil) Museveni’s bet was that he could manipulate Ugandans to turn a blind eye on their fatigue and into an anti-Rwanda fury that could ensure his survival. So far, he seems to have only succeeded in inciting his Bahima inner circle of the Tumukundes and Kandihos. The rest of the country remains Museveni fatigued.
Kayihura would not be a victim today had he, like Museveni, lived in denial of his Rwandan cultural ties. Indeed, Museveni is aware that had he embraced his own Rwandan origins, some other politicians would have used it to target him, as he has done to Kayihura. Machiavellianism taught him that the fact of formal citizenship isn’t sufficient in politics and that – if he is able to convince Ugandans that Kayihura works for the interests of a foreign state, Rwanda – this implies that he (Museveni) works for, and defends, the interests of Uganda. The aim is to win the validation that he has always yearned for and, hopefully, restore the public trust to offset the rising Museveni-fatigue.
The lesson is that as long as we have a president with Rwandan cultural roots, he or she will cultivate this sort of validation from Ugandans, to try to distance themselves from suspicion of interest-based links with the Rwandan state. Indeed, the more that president will be in denial of those very roots, the more likely the relations between the two states will take on a high stakes conflictual dimension.
It’s a pity that self-denial should lead to unnecessary tensions between the two countries. An even greater pity is the throwing to the wolves of a man whose self-acceptance made him a useful target for misdirecting Ugandans suffering from acute Museveni fatigue. End.