I was born in 1990- I am a “Museveni Baby;” which is what Uganda’s citizens who have not seen any President but Museveni are sometimes called. President Museveni or as he is affectionately known “Sevo” has been in power for roughly 30 years now and so any Ugandan of 29 years and below has known no other President but him. The 2016 elections are coming up so elections and leadership change have been on my mind a lot lately. I distinctly remember two elections as a child because of the impact that they had in my home.

I remember as a child of 5 years in Bugolobi flats, welcoming my mother and God mother who had lined up under the big mango tree next to Block 13- which was our polling station- to vote. The area had been cordoned off with ropes and children weren’t allowed close by so we waited for them at the swing next to Block 9. We checked their ink and excitedly asked if they had voted for “Our man” Museveni.

As children, Museveni was “Our man” because he was our parents’ man. We read their hope and saw their excitement when they spoke of him so we accepted that he was good. And back then, he was. He had only been in power for 10 years then and from what I’ve read and been told, many Ugandans were very optimistic about his policies and promise of a fundamental change.

I also remember the 2001 election. I was 10 by then and I remember the bitter arguments that happened in our living room as my mother tried to convince my father and elder brother and sisters that all Museveni needed was another chance to finish his work. My Sisters, two of whom were voting for the first time seemed to know a lot about politics, they assured my mother that the guy had had enough time. It was time to move on before he ruined even the little good he had done. My mother was adamant. I think she voted Museveni again (it is secret ballot after all, so I can’t be sure) but this time we didn’t wait by the swing to check her ink or ululate for our man. He was no longer all our parents’ man.

By the time Besigye joined the fray, I was old enough to understand most of what was going on around me. I remember the public declarations that “Besigye has AIDS,” the rape charges,  I remember the lady with the gigantic head-wrap testifying in court and the newspaper reports that she was wearing a wire through which answers were being whispered in her ear. I later read Justice Katutsi’s judgment in that case while at law school and it is one of the few cases that I printed a copy of and filed.

I remember Sejjusa’s Black Mambas surrounding the court and the outcry from the legal fraternity. I remember a picture that The Daily Monitor ran of Justice Leticia Kikonyogo and the sad look on her face as she commented on the “rape of the temple of justice” stayed with me.

We all watched as this government’s treatment of Besigye and the opposition got progressively harsher until they eventually abandoned all pretence of legality and just started clobbering the man on the street in full view of local and international journalists’ cameras.  There was a Facebook group called “Abuse Arinaitwe Gilbert Bwana” where Ugandans who were angry about Bwana’s actions went to hurl creative insults at this face of the terror being unleashed against Besigye and by extension, all of us.  Some of those insults were hilarious.

I remember sitting through a Makerere Law Society Dinner at one of these posh hotels in town the night after Besigye was almost blinded in the street, the First Lady was the Chief Guest. Halfway through the dinner, a man in the back started grumbling LOUDLY about how “some people are sitting in our midst while robbing our country dry and killing us“ and other things to that general effect. He was removed from the premises eventually and I saw one of the organizers shove his head. People later said the guy was drunk. All of us the sober ones sat there like good sheep and let him get man handled and dragged out for saying something many of us were thinking.

I voted for the first time in the last Presidential election. It wasn’t as exciting as I’d thought it would be. First of all, I couldn’t figure out who to vote for. By that time Besigye had lost two elections and we all knew who would win the election. I didn’t trust that my vote would count for much but I didn’t want to be one of those people who complain about a situation but do nothing to change it. I had to vote! I eventually went and picked the ballot paper. I knew all the presidential candidates but couldn’t place most of the candidates for MP except Nabilla Sempala who we all know. I voted for my candidates, got the ink and left. After the result was announced, Besigye appeared to address a press conference, his face the picture of frustration, disappointment, but he still had faith in Ugandans because he spoke to us, called us to action. He announced that he would not be going to the Courts, it was up to us to take back our country.

So, the 2016 elections are coming up and interesting things are happening. Museveni is being challenged by his long time friend? right hand man?, Amama Mbabazi; Besigye is the FDC party flag bearer despite his earlier promises not to run again and I’m not sure whether he is going to run or is waiting for reforms. There are so many presidential candidates, (including a friend’s long lost father lol) and so many letters being written.

I want to share my thoughts on the upcoming election and the state of Uganda’s youth right now but the above preamble was necessary for some context.

The Parade of horribles

The level of political apathy going into this election is alarming. No more “Abuse Arinaitwe Bwana” pages, not much outrage about blatant abuses of power by police and other organs of government. We are watching the treatment the Police meted out to Besigye now be used on Amama Mbabazi and some of us are gloating about him getting what he deserves, we don’t realize that his treatment like Besigye’s before him is setting precedents for how we shall all be treated. Uganda Police recently undressed an FDC official while trying to unlawfully keep Besigye and his team from getting to Rukungiri. Ugandans on Twitter expressed their dismay through the Hashtags #SomeoneTellKayihura and #EndPoliceBrutalityUG, highlighting similar cases of police brutality and asking the Inspector General of Police to do something. Anywhere else in the world, there would have been an apology and swift action against the responsible officers but not in Uganda. The Police issued a statement basically telling Ugandans to tread carefully and the @ugandaupf Twitter account started posting pictures of police womyn in full uniform and make-up to “remind” Ugandan womyn what a “dignified womyn” looks like, telling us to respect ourselves first before they can respect us. It’s hard not to laugh at just how strange these actions are and many of us do just that. We discuss our country’s politics like it is some joke that we can laugh about and forget about later and yet it’s a reality we are living with every day. When it is reported that Besigye was tear gassed, do we imagine that the gas was aimed exclusively at him and hit only him? The people being dispersed from these meetings are Ugandan citizens exercising their rights as guaranteed in the Constitution. We similarly sat back and watched when Father Lokodo shut down a meeting of LGBT  Ugandans and human rights advocates in Entebbe in 2013, was that not a precedent set for the disruption of lawful assemblies and gatherings  on flimsy grounds?

We have now started hearing stories of armed “crime preventers” killing people over petty squabbles in villages. More crime preventers are being trained and passed out as I write.

We have journalists and scholars posing as “intellectuals” who are basically paid guns for a regime that is desperately hanging on to power at any cost. Daniel Kalinaki, one of the few journalists whose writings I still take seriously and who wrote a book about Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution  was detained at the border a few weeks back and had copies of his book confiscated. Nicholas Opiyo, a prominent Lawyer in town was recently tweeting about citizens who were shot at with live bullets in Apaa while protesting the giveaway of their land to investors. Norman? They are now saying he kidnapped himself, who ever heard of such a thing! Let’s not forget Vincent Kaggwa, and that gallant son of the soil Karamagi and the countless Ugandans risking their safety everyday for the cause of change.

The stories coming out of Uganda now sound like a lot of the stories our parents told us about the people that Sevo “saved” them from.  Everytime I point this out, some older Ugandan usually comes up to say that “at least we can sleep through the night.” Can we really sleep through the night? Muslim clerics are being killed all over the place, a state prosecutor was gunned down on a crowded road in Kampala’s evening traffic jam, sending out a tweet commenting on politics gets you messages from friends asking whether you have bail money! The people in Northern Uganda have not slept peacefully through the night for most of Sevo’s regime… so who are these people who are sleeping peacefully through the night? And why should we ignore the pain of those who aren’t sleeping through the night on their account?

Like I said earlier, I am a Museveni baby, I have only ever heard the sound of the bullets that his men have fired, I have only witnessed beatings in the streets meted out by his Police Force, I have only watched his soldiers/ militia men surround the High Court. These are the facts on the basis of which I speak. Your history was painful, but our present is painful as well, in very similar ways. Your pain does not discount ours.

Prosperity for All?

Now we are being told that Sevo is doing us a favor by leading us and the sycophants that gravitate towards Sevo like flies to shit are throwing “Taata Abeewo” themed parties and expensive concerts for some local artists to kubonga with Mzee. While our roads fall apart because corners were cut in their construction, while our relatives are dying in understaffed and un-stocked hospitals, they are trying to convince us that Mzee has brought prosperity for all. We see the prosperity of course; in the new house that a certain former dead beat puts up in a month after joining Mzee’s crew, in the huge cars and the drinks they water their friend’s throats with so that they won’t comment on their dubious newly acquired fortunes; in the terrible website that supposedly cost thousands of dollars to set up. You don’t even have the decency to do a good job while robbing us.

Sevo, was once our man, I remember that excitement, that hope that I felt from my parents and other adults around me. Sevo is no longer our man and he hasn’t been for a long time. His main supporters nowadays are the opportunists and sycophants who Photoshop crowds into his campaign photos, the uber wealthy who can afford to have an entire community evicted from their ancestral land, the criminals embezzling funds from state coffers in the billions who will never face justice because our system is too broken, those youth leaders who collect the sacks of money that quickly vanish, those local artists kneeling before him for 400million of Tax payers money. He is their man! It’s the classic case of the naked emperor surrounding himself with fools who pretend not to see his nakedness.

Call to Action

This long and sometimes rumbling piece is basically me sending a call to action out to the people of Uganda, particularly to us the Museveni babies, who make up the majority of Uganda’s population. It is our responsibility to change this country and play our part in ensuring that our children do not inherit the mess that our parents have bequeathed to us. Will our children fight the same battles that we are fighting now? Getting tear-gassed on the streets for demanding for jobs? Being whisked away in the dead of night to unknown locations? Will our children’s options be limited to joining the ruling party and kneeling before an old man for handouts?  I sincerely hope not.

We’ve now started fundraising online to send people abroad for big medical operations, we can direct some of that energy and concern to the affairs of our nation. The power of the people is an unstoppable force. It’s a pity that The Democratic Alliance was not able to agree on one candidate, but that spirit of uniting towards a common goal of fixing Uganda should neither be underestimated nor abandoned. We need that unity now more than ever. We, as people who are interested in building Uganda into a nation that works for us all and not just for a few “connected” people, cannot sit back and watch while the law is perverted and used in oppressive ways by the Police and while state resources are being pilfered by a bunch of opportunists. Do your part, whether it is protesting, running for office, writing articles, mobilizing for a political party, do it. But most of all, vote in the next election. The responsibility for fixing this country does not belong to Kizza Besigye, Betty Kamya, Miria Matembe, Olara Otunnu and the JPAMs, it is all our responsibility.

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