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Amama or Museveni: who was weighed and found wanting?

We really live in strange times! When you see a president quoting to his people the Bible verses in Daniel 5:25-28, you have to pause and reflect.

The said verses read thus: “25 ‘And this is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. 26This is the interpretation of each word. MENE: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it; 27TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; 28PERES: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.’”

But how can one understand these four verses unless they get the context? Well, that entire chapter is titled “Belshazzar’s feast”. Belshazzar was the king of Babylon, the son of King Nebuchadnezzar, and last king before the advent of the Medes and Persians.

In the midst of merriment at the great feast the king hosted for thousands of his lords, wives and concubines, a human hand, out of the blue, started writing these words on the wall. The king personally witnessed the hand doing the act!

He instantly got troubled to the extent that “the joints of his hips were loosened and his knees knocked against each other.” He “cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers.” He told the kingdom’s wise men: “Whoever reads this writing, and tells me its interpretation shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck; and he shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.”

All wise men were brought in, but none of them could read or interpret the words.  The queen, then, came in and recommended that a man called Daniel, with the Spirit of God upon him, who had been elevated by King Nebuchadnezzar for his wisdom and knowledge, be consulted.

Daniel, a Hebrew and former captive, came in and before he gave the above interpretation, he told the king: “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another; yet I will read the writing to the king, and make known to him the interpretation.”

That very night, Belshazzar was slain. Darius, the Mede, immediately took over the kingdom. Darius was one of the two gatekeepers of the royal palace whom the confused and instantly sickly king had ordered to slaughter anyone that tried to come into the palace. Belshazzar himself moved out and tried to come in. His pleas that he was the king came to naught! Nebuchadnezzar’s reign of 21 years had had a similarly bad ending!

Even before Museveni sacked Amama Mbabazi as prime minister, many commentators rushed to say that by quoting the Bible, President Museveni was warning Mbabazi to be careful because he (Museveni) had the powers to sack him. But if that be the case, whose ‘kingdom’ can we say would be ‘divided’? The head of state was not Mbabazi; it is Museveni!

Another way to interpret this is that the parting of ways with Mbabazi could be the start of the evaporation of Museveni’s sweet song.  A kingdom (or a regime for that matter)  does not collapse in a matter of days, or months. It was comparatively easier for Museveni to part ways with other comrades such as Augustine Ruzindana, David Sejusa or Kizza Besigye, but his handling of Mbabazi could be the proverbial crossing of the Rubicon for him and the NRM regime.

Not that Mbabazi was indispensable, but because Mbabazi’s could have been the enigmatic hand that wrote the unpleasing words ‘on the walls of State House’. Museveni has been NRM’s chief executive officer, but this was a joint, not personal, project. The Mbabazi family might have riled Museveni’s family, but the fate of Uganda is preserved elsewhere, not in either of the families.

It is interesting that the one who should not have quoted that scripture has been drugged à la Belshazzar into reading it on the microphone for all and sundry to hear! Well, after all, Belshazzar had been the first to see the hand writing on the wall.

Although Amin overthrew the UPC government in 1971, the regime’s dive started when Prime Minister Milton Obote sent troops to attack President Edward Mutesa at Lubiri in 1966. Other commentators see the genesis as 1964: the Nakulabye massacres and the UPC conference in Gulu, where Grace Ibingira replaced John Kakonge as secretary general. In 1966, Minister Ibingira was thrown into jail by President Obote!

The rest, as they say, is history. But sometimes history gives useful hints on the future.


The author is a Ugandan journalist.

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