In joining M7’s praise singers, Kikwete became a disgrace to African statesmen
By Charles Kamya Ssentamu
When former Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete turned up as a guest during celebrations to mark 34 years since Museveni began what many see as calamitous misrule, a broad cross-section of Ugandans for whatever reason, held high expectations of Kikwete.
Coming at a time when his host is embroiled in regional conflicts and sinking the country deeper into repression and economic malaise, they expected the visitor to offer wise counsel to Museveni. Some believed Kikwete was best positioned to tell Museveni what he needs to be told at this time for two reasons.
For one, as a retired head of state, his advice would be taken in good faith. Secondly, even if the advice rubbed Museveni the wrong way, Kikwete had nothing to lose and history would be on his side.
However, what happened next was one of the great anti-climaxes of the visit. The moment he got to the podium, Kikwete launched into a fit of incoherent praise for President Museveni, describing the Uganda president as “a great national leader” and “African mentor who has brought unity and steady progress to his country”.
People were seriously frustrated half way through the unjustifiable praise. Has Kikwete not heard of Museveni’s tear gas?, many were heard quarrelling. “Has he (Kikwete), not heard of all the violence against innocent Ugandans; the torture of People Power or of Besigye; the killings and violent beatings in Arua? What was Kikwete talking about!” people that followed the speech were fuming.
“NRM/NRA made a victory that has taken Uganda to a very different path from the one that people used to know. Uganda is at peace within itself, Uganda is unified and Uganda is making steady progress,” Mr Kikwete claimed, even as all evidence shows the contrary.
“Thank you for being a mentor to some of us that were growing up and you continue to be a mentor to many leaders of the African continent, please continue to do that work for the people of East Africa, Africa and beyond,” he said before going to explain his relationship with Museveni. This man must have taken one of Museveni’s “giant brown envelopes”!, some were shaking their heads that a former leader of Tanzania could debase himself like this.
But Kikwete couldn’t stop. “I knew Museveni when I was still in high school; he was very militant,” said the former Tanzanian head of state. “At the University of Dar es Salaam he led University Students Revolutionary Front. I was in high school then. We have always looked at you as a mentor.”
By this stage a lot of people had tuned out, unable to listen to the cloying praise any longer. People want to know when Museveni will get out of their lives, that’s all. Ugandans know only when the man’s misrule ends is when Uganda will enjoy some peace and prosperity.
While Kikwete’s words rhymed with the mood of the mob of the NRM praise singers that had assembled in the serene Ibanda Municipality for the occasion; for many others who were following the events for the record via live TV, Kikwete’s posture was nothing short of betrayal. They could not comprehend how he could give such endorsement to one who has presided over decades of unprecedented brutality, corruption, and erosion of all ethics.
“Coming from a country which has a tradition of peaceful transfer of power, the least Kikwete could have done would be to deliver a speech such as to try to inspire Museveni to join the select club of African leaders that have done something good other than be remembered as an unrepentant kleptocrat,” commented an observer.
Other commentators were less forgiving, degrading Kikwete to the level of desperate Ugandan artists who have been falling over each other to catch Museveni’s eye. “How different is Kikwete from Bebe Kool, or Ganjaman!” commentators that preferred anonymity were asking.
The bottom line for Ugandans is that Kikwete misused the opportunity to weigh in on an issue of regional concern. Older than any of his regional peers by decades, Museveni has increasingly shown he is completely out of sync with dynamic leaderships all around him. Uganda’s “grandfather” is completely out of the progressive loop.
Kikwete, if he really meant well, missed a huge opportunity to do some good.