By Norbert Mao
As Brecht put it in his play “The Caucasian Chalk Circle”, “a fart has no nose.” The stench around the Museveni Court now seeps through the pages of books written by courtiers turned dissidents who feel used, abused and discarded. These people now pouring their hearts out were once the enablers who faithfully served the man they now vilify. The days of hope, elation and exhilaration are vividly captured before it all evaporates as despair sets in. Every person gets to a point when they encounter the Truth on the proverbial “Road to Damascus”.
Before Miria Matembe’s memoirs, The Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Betrayed, was launched last week there were other confessional books that put Museveni in the dock. I recall “Impassioned for Freedom” by Eriya Tukahirwa Kategaya launched in 2006. Then there is “Betrayed By My Leader: The Memoirs of John Kazoora” launched in 2013. In an uncanny wordplay, Matembe takes her title from President Museveni’s book “Sowing the Mustard Seed” whose subtitle is “the Struggle for Freedom and Democracy in Uganda”. Matembe simply added the word “Betrayed”. The theme of betrayal runs like a thread through these memoirs.
Betrayal comes as a result of breach of trust. Whether it is Kategaya, Kazoora or Matembe, it is clear that they were once true believers in Museveni. They lionized him as a Messiah. They believed he could do no harm to the institutions of State and indeed the Constitution that was crafted through such a painstaking process.
These books show growth in the authors. A new awareness of things going wrong while the praise singers bury their heads in the sun. From state inspired violence, corruption, nepotism, the national divide, hostility to democracy, personalization of the army to the entrenchment of a life presidency, Matembe’s book replays dramatic personal encounters with Museveni and his inner circle.
The first encounter is with the First Lady Janet Museveni. Believing she was her confidant Matembe often spoke plainly to her. But with time she learnt the hard way that access to the First Lady came with certain conditions including silence about the misdeeds of certain key figures (mainly relatives, friends and in-laws) in government.
On the question of Museveni leaving power, Matembe had an intimate talk with the First Lady. After the 1996 elections the First Lady told Matembe that with such overwhelming electoral victory her and her husband were going to retire in order to rest. Even when pressed that Museveni was entitled to another term, the First Lady replies “Mbwenu hati ekindi nituba nitwendaki?” (What else would we want?).
Then there’s the encounter with Museveni over the term limits. Museveni had been very tactical and cagey in his answers always saying that he would obey the constitution. He already had plans to change the constitution anyway.
Characteristically Matembe had warned Museveni against changing the constitution. A cartoonist captured the image of Matembe ordering the President. Museveni rebuked her for ordering him around and restated his commitment to abiding by the constitution. He demanded that she writes to the newspaper clarifying the matter.
Matembe indulged the President. She writes: “Immediately after the Cabinet meeting, I wrote the letter to the editor, New Vision. It was published the next day with a heading: ‘Cartoon creates a wrong impression’. In the letter I wrote that: “The cartoon created a wrong impression about the President, imputing that the President wants to amend the Constitution to remove the presidential term limits. President Museveni knows the Constitution very well and he does not need anybody to remind him to stick to it. So he will honour the Constitution and will not in any way violate or abrogate it.” She made a losing bet!
Reading these memoirs, one is shocked first by naïveté of the authors and then by their complicity. They put all their sense of skepticism in abeyance. You can call it voluntarily gullibility. Why do Museveni’s enablers let him get away with so much? There must be many reasons for this level of complicity, but I’m sure they range from the noble to the despicable.