Uganda: political heroes and the challenges of development work

“What benchmark do Ugandans use to determine their heroes?”

Dennis Matanda has long been the devil's advocate of the Ugandan blogosphere, calling for a return to colonialism and raising the possibility of a “violent end” to the current regime. Recently he published the first half of a two-part series on why Idi Amin is the “Greatest Ugandan who ever lived.” In his quest for a Ugandan hero, Dennis rejects current president Yoweri Museveni and former leader Milton Obote in favor of Amin based on the following reasoning:

i) He was able to build the International Conference Center from Government Resources
ii) He had the balls to make unpopular decisions in terms of the Indians in 1972
iii) He gave Uganda a bad name in the International Press
iv) He went against Israel and lost [French Jet – Hijacked Passengers]
v) He made the Scottish Skirt Look Good!
vi) He did not eat any of his kids
vii) He took French TV around his country on a tourism drive
viii) Yoweri Museveni, about 20 years later, did exactly the same thing
ix) He did not actually kill over 500,000 Ugandans in those 8 years
x) He was the star of the film: The Last King of Scotland

Similarly inspired by The Last King of Scotland, the fictional story of Amin's personal doctor, Joshi is also seized with Amin fever:

I still think of Idi Amin as a merciless brute (or is that what the West wants me to think?), but he has had me since before the movie saluting around the house. I do mini marches in the corridors and in the kitchen. And best believe it isn't the slick cut salute of the American Marines, or the Royal Marines, it the one used by the gallant forces of the UPDF and Uganda Police.

Though Dennis and Joshi are presumably joking about their affection for the brutal dictator, other Ugandan bloggers are seriously battling with the recent trend towards positive reevaluation of past political figures.

The May 1 death of Brigadier Nobel Mayombo, the former Ugandan Chief of Military Intelligence (CMI), sparked a number of conspiracy theories and an intense argument over his legacy. As CMI, Mayombo was responsible for establishing “safe houses” around Kampala. Ostensibly intended to detain terror suspects, the safe houses have become infamous as torture centers for political prisoners. Despite accusations of personal involvement in the torture and interrogation of a number of prisoners, Mayombo has been venerated by most Ugandans after his death.

Moses Odokonyero describes the media reaction to Mayombo's death:

The New Vision comforted itself by portraying its late board chairman as an impeccably white angel. Not so with Andrew Mwenda and Timothy Kalyegira, two of Uganda’s most controversial journalists, both of the Daily Monitor.

“History will make its statement on Noble, and I hope it will show that he was a good man, who served a bad regime,” wrote Mwenda, currently a Knight Fellow at Stanford University, a childhood friend of Mayombo. “As I reflected on the death of this icon of our times, a disturbing question hangs over my conscience: how did this intelligent and charming guy get drawn into service of a regime that is increasingly repressive, corrupt, nepotistic and violent?”

For his part, Timothy Kalyegira could not understand why everybody was praising the late Mayombo as a brilliant and intelligent man. Did he get a first-class degree at university? Did he develop a new doctrine that is being used to train young army officers? What benchmark do Ugandans use to determine their heroes?“

Minega fears this benchmark may be too forgiving. Using Mao and Amin as worrying examples, he rejects the idea that the actions of political figures should be reassessed after their deaths and wonders:

So how far will this ‘subjective’ evaluation of history's brutes take us? Will Hitler be rehabilitated as a guy who just got ‘a little carried away'? Will Pol Pot become a pop icon and be used to advertise coca-cola?

The hazards of development work

Two bloggers in Uganda are wrestling with the harder aspects of their jobs in the aid and development field. Attacks on World Food Programme staff in Karamoja and Pader have left Be Silent wondering how to give help:

How does God want his people to be helped? Do they need the help? Yes they do. Do they know they need it? That I do not know especially if they are treating the people who give them help in such a way.

Probably next month I will be going to these places to carry out some work. Before today I was so excited about the whole experience not forgetting the allowances but now am thinking of going to Mbarara, Tororo and making sure all the other places are taken care of by my colleague.

In Hoima, a Peace Corps Volunteer struggles with being an outsider in a Ugandan community, what he calls the lion in the cage effect:

It is almost as if we're here for the amusement of the adult and children both. Is the white man eating, sleeping, reading, or crying? Let's look in his bared windows and find out. I must be more entertaining than the local drunkards because even they stop whatever it is that they do to watch me walk past.


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