By Okot Nyormoi

Boniface OkelloTo say that Ugandan politics is always colorful is an understatement. If you want to know how colorful it was and why and how one man, President Museveni has ruled Uganda for over 35 years, or if you are baffled by the current spate of machete wielding killings in Southwestern Uganda, you will not wonder or be baffled anymore  after you have read the book titled UGANDA, The Struggle for Freedom and Democracy, Ascent and Descent of “Museveni” by the late Boniface Okello.

It is unfortunate that the author is no longer with us to answer why he put Museveni in quotes in the subtitle of the book. In any case, the content of the book is as vibrant as the color of the Ugandan national flag which graces the front cover of the book. The book is well researched and documented. It was first published in 2014 by Alawi Books Ltd. and is available at Amazon.

Many books have been written about Uganda and the struggle for freedom and democracy. Why another one? A brief look at the author’s biography will be helpful to answer the question. Okello was a law lecturer for six years at the Institute of Public Administration, Kampala, Uganda. Then he became one of the leading thinkers at the Uganda People’s Congress Headquarters in Kampala from 1980 to 1986.  He had a front row seat, a vintage point to observe the events that unfolded in those years. Unfortunately, he passed on in 1998, two years after finishing the book.

Things do not always look the same in the eyes of two or more people. Therefore, this author had a point of view based on how things appeared to him. The book is the legacy of his observation. It therefore behooves those who are keen on following political developments in Uganda to at least read it. After all, there is always something to learn whenever authors put their pens to paper, though these days, it is fingers to keyboard.

So, what did Boniface Okello observe in Uganda during Museveni’s first ten years of rule, 1986-1996? The book chronicles the rise of Museveni from secondary school up to ten years into his presidency.

If you want to understand and appreciate what has been happening in Uganda lately including the murders of innocent people in Masaka city and the adjacent districts, the violence during the 2021 election campaign, mysterious deaths of many prominent people or the frequent arrests and torture of ordinary people in recent years, then reading this book may help you understand how Uganda got there.

Fantz FanonIn chronicling the rise of Museveni, the author showed that the use of violence to achieve political goals ran deep. In fact Museveni claims to have followed Fanon’s theory of revolutionary violence. Fanon was a psychiatrist from Martinique who formulated his theory at a time that colonialism was running roughshod over Africa. He was in Algeria at the time. The accounts which the author gave leave one wondering if Museveni’s claim of using Fanon’s theory is justified in an independent county such as Uganda? Even if one were to argue that Uganda is still dominated by neo-colonialism, it is hard to see how that theory can be applied when the ruling class led by Museveni now constitutes the local agents of neo-colonialism.

Obviously, Museveni’s violence has never been the type of revolutionary violence which Fanon advocated. Rather, it has been and is still a constitutional violence used to achieve a personal ambition of becoming president of Uganda and maybe of the Great Lakes region. It is the type of violence that does not tolerate competitive leadership. To ascend to power, real or imagined rivals must be liquidated physically, and psychologically. The mysterious deaths of Omongin, a charismatic leader of the Front for National Salvation (FRONASA), Lt. Magara, an increasingly popular leader of the National Resistance Army (NRA), and Dr Andrew Kayiira, the aggressive leader of Uganda Freedom Movement (UFM), are believed to have been examples of Museveni’s policy of liquidating rivals.   

Another important point the book makes is the Machiavellian nature of Museveni’s politics. Multiple situations reported in the book show that he was prone to saying one thing, often what people want to hear, but doing the opposite. The book shows that he is a master of duplicity, which some people think is his cultural trait while others think is a military strategy he learned from a Chinese general, Sun Tzu. Of course, such a claim could just be part of his Machiavellianism. The more lies he got away with, the more he was encouraged to adopt it as one of his modus operandi.

The book gives many examples of unbridled lies, bad faith, duplicity, scheming, and unscrupulousness. During the plan to invade dictator Idi Amin’s Uganda from Tanzania in April 1972, Museveni lied about having troops lying low in Mbarara and that they would spring up to support the invading exile troops from Tanzania. As it turned out, there were no such troops. He lied that his NRA and Kayiira’s UFM rebels were going to jointly attack the government military barrack at Lubiri in April. When the time came, his side was a no show. Instead, he waylaid Kayiira’s troops and took the weapons which Kayiira’s UFM rebels looted from the enemy.

One of the biggest examples of bad faith was the Nairobi Peace Agreement which Museveni negotiated with the group which overthrew the Obote regime led by Gen. Tito Okello and the remnants of the Amin regime led by Col. Toko and witnessed by President Moi of Kenya. He subsequently trashed it and called it a peace joke.

Other examples of lies include promising to stay in power for only five years, but when the time came, he extended it to 10 years at the time of the writing. Though he agreed to a constitutionally mandated term and age limits, when the time came, he reneged on both, allowing him to prolong his stay in power for 35 years, contrary to his assertion that Africa’s problem was, “leaders overstaying in power”.

Readers who have not yet done so, will be empowered to answer a question which many people are now asking. Did Museveni rise to power, remained in power for ten years as of the time of writing this book and now up to 35 years by struggling for freedom and democracy? The book can also help readers answer the question of whether Museveni is a socialist and anti-imperialist as he claims.

Though the book is easy to read, it does have some technical problems concerning editing such as interior design, indexing,  pagination, and proofreading.