By Henry K. Otafiire
Arrest of General Henry Tumukunde, Dr Col Kiiza Besigye’s under rated contribution and President Museveni’s mechanics of political competition.
The arrest of Gen Tumukunde and treason allegations levelled against him didn’t come as a surprise. It is similar script that has been playing to all those who have emerged to challenge President Museveni. It was embarrassing, devoid of grace and decorum befitting a general who sacrificed his formative years fighting impunity he is now being dished in full glare of cameras.
I must confess the sight of Gen Tumukunde on a chair handcuffed with his arms rested on the chin, was a disturbing scene. There was disappointment and a sense of smouldering injustice engulfing the room he was incarcerated. But there is something else too we overlooked: Screaming pretence and dishonesty on our part. Condemning the witch hunt of Gen Tumukunde yet we have been dead silent on the treatment of those who came before him. .
Over 15 years of FDC existence, Dr Col Kiiza Besigye and his crop of politicians have been plying their trade in the most dangerous and chaotic marketplace. They have stood the trials and tribulations with painstaking degree of resilience and resolve.
Dr Besigye who is arguably the poster boy of anti-museveni resistance when asked what he made of Gen Tumukunde’s declaration of Presidential ambitions. “Tumukunde should know that there are no elections in Uganda, what we have is rule by the guns and manipulation. I am sure Gen Tumukunde knows because he has been part of this manipulation.
Gen Tumukunde knows that in Uganda, an election cannot cause change and bring about the announcement of a different person as president. If he wants to join the struggle for change, he should know that it will take more than canvassing for votes. I don’t know what to make of his joining the race whether he is coming in as part of manipulation or to cause change.” He added: “If Gen Tumukunde is indeed genuine about the struggle for change, he will be tested.”
While it is tempting to dismiss Besigye’s remarks as nothing more than sour grapes, humility calls us to listen to a man who against all odds took on President Museveni at a time when it was an abomination. A man who has been in the trenches selflessly fighting for the struggle with every indication that he is not about to throw in the towel. Within a matter of days, Dr Besigye’s account has been exenorated with Tumukunde’s arrest. Perhaps as a military officer with experience of serving President Museveni, he is overly familiar with the mechanics of Museveni’s competition.
The theatrics of Gen Tumukunde’s arrest demonstrates Museveni’s purview of organising: Those who have known his politics tell a story: of the ceaseless focus on opponent, his skill in never underating his competitors, conditioning us in creating psychological fear for those that threaten or intend to threaten his grip on power.
In a young fledging and hybrid illiberal democracy like ours, perhaps it was inescapable that Gen Tumukunde would be treated with typical Museveni’s baptism of fire. Over time, as a consequence of Museveni’s relentless stay in power, there has been an increasingly cultivated narrative of what our politics have become. Habouring different views has become treasonous. Violence has become the sole currency of the political game. Having Presidential ambitions has become criminal.
Yet with this absurd spectre of organising, our hypocrisy on the treatment of Gen Tumukunde is simply astonishing. For decades, Dr Col Kiiza Besigye has been on the receiving end of a fair dose of violence and humiliation of unimaginable proportions. He has been handcuffed before, teargassed, pepper sprayed, bundled on police vans like a chicken thief, charged with treason and rape.
His persecution has opened our eyes to the realities of seeking the mandate of serving in the highest office of the land. He has demonstrated to those who intend to unseat President Museveni that it’s never a bed or roses or a picnic for exchanging pleasantries.
It’s a matter of building and assembling the most formidable force. It’s resilience in the face of violence and negotiating democratic space that keeps shrinking like Mt Rwenzori glaciers it’s debunking of the myth of Musevenism it’s taking on the state apparatchik, it’s well-oiled machinery and it’s tools of coercion.
And am sure, Gen Tumukunde was well aware of what awaited him since he has been one of it’s authors. As we emphasize with Gen Tumukunde, we need to equally appreciate the sacrifices of those who came before him.