On August 30, signs of what Uganda has become started showing at Entebbe airport before I boarded a KLM flight to New York to attend an annual conference of Baganda at Westin, near Princeton University.
In the VIP lounge at Entebbe, I met Henry Mayega who, about five years ago, was rewarded with a deputy ambassadorial appointment for crossing from Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) to the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM).
Before his formal appointment, Mayega was roaming FM radio stations as a special NRM mobilizer. At Entebbe, like many new NRM converts who routinely seek to impress their new masters, Mayega was dressed in a yellow T-shirt and was carrying a yellow travel bag.
He really looked almost entirely yellow, more yellow than Arua Municipality MP Ibrahim Abiriga. This gentleman is Uganda’s deputy ambassador to China.
At Amsterdam, we took different flights; he flew to Miami to attend the Ugandan North American Association (UNAA) conference and I to New York to attend the Ttabamiruka.
Mayega typifies the new relationship that the revolutionary has built with many politicians. And I know he despises them and holds the rest of us in contempt. He has reduced us into mercenaries who are in politics to hunt for fortunes.
I know Mayega and I met him several times when I was still a journalist with The Observer. There was a time I met him at Makerere University in the office of the vice chancellor.
I was crosschecking information on how Ms Janet Kataaha had illegally joined Makerere for a bachelor’s degree in education.
Mayega was a personal assistant to the then vice chancellor and we really had a good conversation. But at Entebbe, he only opened his mouth when I greeted him and shut it up for the next one hour of waiting. I think he cannot afford a conversation with an FDC spokesperson.
To the contrary, those who are close to Museveni have, either through experience or security of tenure, learnt to be humble and sociable.
That is the experience I got when I shared many hours of flight with Moses Byaruhanga, a senior presidential advisor, from Amsterdam to Entebbe. Byaruhanga, who told me he is turning 50 this year, even spoke about life after public service and how he was preparing for it.
He kept selling Uganda to any foreigner who lent him an ear, including flight attendants. One female attendant told him she could not spend her vacation in Uganda because the country is chaotic where animals and human beings cross highways like their sitting rooms.
She said she experienced this once when she was being driven to a hotel in Kampala. At Westin Princeton at Forrestal Village hotel, Ttabamiruka, under the theme “Breaking Ground on a New Buganda, Rooted in Tradition,” discussed ways through which Buganda can gain some of its lost glory.
Ggwanga Mujje New Jersey/New York, the organizers of Ttabamiruka, used the conference to also commemorate the 10th anniversary of these conferences. The organizers are a radical group who call a spade a spade.
Their view, which I also share, is that Buganda must be treated as a shareholder in the company called Uganda. Buganda must not be boxed in a corner where it negotiates surrender with the occupier.
Three presentations by Mr Ssewava Sserubiri (former Buganda minister), Florence Bagunywa Nkalubo (former Buganda minister) and Eng Allan Waligo Nakirembeka (former clan leaders’ speaker) energized participants who vowed to stop lamentations.
For Buganda to gain some of its lost glory, it must demand the return of the 9,000 square miles of land currently managed and abused by district land boards.
The administrative structures that won admiration from the British colonialists must be revived and strengthened. And of course Buganda must invest in its youthful population. There were other radical resolutions.
Ttabamiruka is the only conference for Ugandans in diaspora the state does not control. And for me, like I have said many times before, this is where we have gone wrong as a country and as a continent.
Those in power have wronged everybody and keep looking over their shoulders to identify pursuers. It is the reason they send delegations to diaspora conferences not to listen, but to control proceedings.
One of the reasons the diaspora is very attractive to African autocrats is because it is liberated and well resourced. Nigeria, for example, receives in the range of $20 billion and $30 billion from its estimated 20 million people who live abroad.
Senegal, Kenya and Uganda each receive between $1 billion and $2 billion. Recent figures from the ministry of Finance suggest that only tourism has overtaken remittances from Ugandans abroad in earning us foreign exchange. Nigeria recently introduced a diaspora bond to tap into these resources.
As usual, instead of starting a conversation with Ugandans abroad on how genuinely they can help develop their country, we are sending Abiriga-like delegates to wave bisanja at them.
The Gulf countries have learnt from their history. They are sponsoring their children to study at world universities like Princeton so they can return with skills.
For us, those who acquire skills just stay away instead of returning to a country where jobs are given out to those in yellow T-shirts.
The author is Kira Municipality MP and spokesperson of the Forum for Democratic Change.