Bobi Wine: The Politics of Tribal Stigma in Uganda’s Politics.
I have been cautioned by some members of the DP National Executive Committee where I am a member as National Youth Leader for talking sensitive issues ‘carelessly’ and in an ‘inappropriate forum’. I will just say this and keep quiet for sometime. This time round I agree this is a very sensitive topic others discuss only at night, my intention is not to fan any ethnic emotions. I have been very outspoken against tribal stigmas. In 2016 EALA election to give UYD endorsement to Mbidde who i thought was being unfairly treated with diatribes bordering ethnic slurs using UYD, I too may be next or may have been already who knows. I believe Uganda is enough for all of us, we should not repeat historical mistakes, am simply trying to trace the origin of tribal stigma in Uganda’s politics which has no doubt stunted democratic progress and is slowly killing organised politics and national cohesion
Keen followers of Ugandan politics will agree with me that political parties in Uganda are in need of institutional redemption. Since the introduction of multiparty politics again in 2005. This period witnessed tribal elites forming groups within their own political organisations that undermined their own political organisations’ growth. There have been many of such formations, a case in point being Ssubi 2011 which was a very potent force with a former Katikiro and top Buganda politicians in its ranks and had DP beaten to pulse in 2011 resulting into DP loosing its central region/Kampala stronghold. This was preceded by an internal election which saw the first non Muganda ascend to the top of the party leadership. This elephant in the room created a fifth column that undermined formal party structures for long and created tumult in the party deflecting pressure from NRM to internal pressure making Mao the leader of the party come out to state that openly that perhaps the tumult is a result of a tribal stigma, in 2016 there was TJ Platform until the recent reunion activities which has given the party some breathing space. There are a myriad of such examples in our politics.
The latest victim of tribal stigma thanks to NRM propaganda Bobi Wine. The NRM thinks in their opinion the magic wand to tame the wild fire spread of people power and the popularity of it leader is the tribal card. This if not tamed seems to be slowly working and causing a second thought in the minds of some. Last evening online, an ardent supporter of people power based in the diaspora from the East of Uganda was pissed at why some people are saying that People Power is Buganda Power. Then another friend from the North (Lango) in the diaspora- the humble Miltonian as I call him tried to soothe him to be patient and give the nascent movement a benefit of doubt.
I have also followed Bobi Wine closely locally and internationally. In his speeches the last being at the Town Hall meeting, he appears already conscious of this tribal stigma. In his speeches he is fast at stating that he is talking like a Ugandan but not a Muganda, this he says even without being prompted. That tells you there is something deep in his psyche he is aware about, perhaps even troubling him, something like complexes he is dealing with. As if he has realised that tribal stigma could be the Achilles heels of his power parade. He is perhaps asking himself whether Uganda is ready for a Muganda president in a country where identity is sensitive in politics, am sure Norbert Mao had to ask the same question in 2011 whether Uganda is ready for an Acholi President, and even Obama in 2008 whether America is ready for a Black President. The two countries may be at different levels of democracy but race is still an issue in America up to now just like tribal acceptance in Uganda’s politics.
Ethnicity is an issue that cannot be ignored in African politics. Proffessor Mukandawire made this famous statement that African politicians are nationalists during day and at night retreat in their tribal cocoons. A plethora of others who I cannot enumerate all because the scope of this writing is not about enumerating all of them and have studied the subject of ethnic mobilisation in African politics have also arrived to a similar conclusion of the subtle role tribe or ethnicity plays in political mobilisation. Patrick Loch Othieno (PLO) Lumumba who refers to Raila Amollo Odinga as non other than a low intensity tribal warlord thinks the practise in Kenya is rather overt compared to the rest of Africa. I use concepts tribe and ethnicity interchangeably because I am alive to the conceptual contests in the field of anthropology about those concepts pitting African anthropologists on the one end and western anthropologists on another side which I live for the curious reader.
Ethnicity is deeply entrenched in the body politic of Uganda and has manifested in resource distribution, political mobilisation. In terms of political mobilisation subtle ethnicity was seen in the formation of political alliances prior to independence, and colonial politics of divide and rule that created tribal animosities determined the choice of allies. Take the case of the two nilotic neighbours of Acholi and Lango as a microcosm. Contrary to the popular view of religion and Obote overthrow, the disagreement between the two dates back to the colonial period where British General Bwanatong incited them against each other over the death of his beloved local guard in the early nineteen hundred. Another example of colonial perpetrated animosity is the Buganda-Bunyoro lost counties which still play in contemporary politics.
The struggle for independence however managed to unite the various tribes of Uganda, but this was short lived. Because after the exit of the British colonialism, decentralized/internal disunity emerged akin to the current he Rwenzururu movement struggle, where after attaining independence from Toro, small fights emerged like Obundiga Bwa Bamba etc within Rwenzururu.
Uganda’s recent history which heralded President Museveni and the current statusquo witnessed the formation of new alliances overtly based on ethnicity. This time the Bantu speaking group (Buganda and the West) rallying behind Museveni and successfully wrestling power from the North, The Banyanya stigma emerged and for long the north lived with that stigma. This is the time the North and South drifted even further. Museveni ruled for two decades with indifference to the plight of the North, the rest of the country being bystanders. Northern leaders fled to exile, young university students Norbert Mao and group emerged to fill the vacuum and fighting tribal stereotypes against the North. It did not last long when the alliance started to crack and President Museveni started to consolidate his own ethnic group in the army, police and nearly all sectors of government to run the country, today the entire country accuses Museveni of running a family rule supported by his western ethnic constituency.
Museveni’s rule has yet brought a tribal stigma on his Banyakole/Banyarwanda ethnic group ever since the exodus of their other alliance partner which made the emperor naked. This stigma has seen many Banyankole/Banyarwanda positioned in civil society try to speak the loudest to try to debunk the notion that western Uganda has enjoyed the most of Museveni’s tenure at the helm of Uganda and that they are not liable for his continued stay in power. In an attempt to seal this debate they have cited how their own was only one who dissented in corum that heard the Age limit constitutional petition. They even add that the main man in the orchestra of electoral malfeasance is not their own, and then the question of who pays the piper pops up.
If there is indeed any disquiet about Bobi Wine and his movement, he can cure that by integrating it to reflect the country, family, tribe is important and even international but you dealing with an ethnically sensitive country because of historical mistakes. This am sure he is alive to because i have never seen someone since Benedicto Kiwanuka to emerge from Buganda with such a nationalistic outlook, its the reason why he has stood out of the current bread of Buganda leaders and he should be guided to avoid whatever outfit he will form from being just another Ssubi 202.
To the young people with tribal missiles used in these cyber wars you ought to know that this country is bleeding and the duty to repair and build national cohesion is squarely on our shoulders, because we will live longer in this country than the old, after all we are friends, OBs, OGs, boy friends, girl friends, exes, etc Your digital foot print should not be one of disintegrating this country. The post museveni transition needs a bridge across generations, tribes, sex among other. Any leader aspiring should show how he is prepared for this, we live in very complex times and you can see for your selves that tribal politicians are loosing favour and gasping. We should rewrite the history of this country and avoid repeat of these historical mistakes. So unenlist from those diatribes
Museveni should go and leave us as one country.
The Writer is a Lawyer and President of Uganda Young Democrats.