Last Saturday, John Nagenda devoted a section of his Saturday Vision column to vitriolic attacks against The Observer, particularly and especially the paper’s news editor, Robert Crispin Mukasa.
The Observer’s ‘crime’ was the choice of a headline given to a long and winding interview with the 77-year-old senior presidential advisor on the media and public relations. The words Nagenda used to describe Robert Mukasa, and The Observer as a whole, are too despicable to be repeated here.
This is the same Nagenda who, not too long ago, referred to Ugandans as ‘dregs’ and ‘unwashed’ of society. The Ugandans Nagenda savaged had committed the ‘crime’ of being supporters of opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye, who remains a constant irritant to State House courtiers.
But one wonders why a man ostensibly well-read,well-schooled in decorum, a wordsmith, and a senior citizen at that, can engage in gratuitous insults when a simple note clarifying whatever misrepresentation he thought had been committed would perfectly serve the purpose.
For starters, Nagenda does not say that the published text of the interview says anything that he didn’t say; rather, that the headline was the opposite of what he said. So, what was the headline that elicited a rusty and acerbic response?
‘Nagenda warns Museveni on son’. That was the headline in The Observer of Monday April 13. Now, Mzee Nagenda found this offensive and therefore necessitating a litany of abusive and denigrating statements directed at the paper and its news editor.
The key supposedly ‘offensive’ word here is ‘warn’. Perhaps unknown to Nagenda, the news editor does not necessarily make the final call on, and therefore is not responsible for, the front-page headline.
Also, the person fully responsible for the editorial content of a newspaper is the overall editor or managing/executive editor, and not a news editor. At any rate, Nagenda’s ill-thought foul language went beyond Robert Mukasa to the entire editorial establishment at The Observer, moreover in a totally unwarranted manner.
Let’s consider what Nagenda said, from which the editor(s) picked the ‘offending’ headline. Asked to comment on the deeply-held belief that President Museveni is grooming his son who also commands the nation’s Special Forces Command, Brigadier Muhoozi Kainerugaba, Nagenda responded, in part, as follows:
‘But if President Museveni is grooming him [Muhoozi] cautiously to take up from him, then I think the president would have depicted himself very badly…, I would hold him in contempt because everything he has ever talked about the subject leads me to believe that he will never do it. It is done in many countries, but it’s always a disaster.’
Clearly The Observer’s editors aptly construed Nagenda as ‘warning’ his boss that it would be ‘disastrous’ should he dubiously pass on the reins of power to his son. So the issue here is not that Nagenda was misrepresented because clearly he wasn’t; the point is that Nagenda, like many around the presidency, is so wary of annoying his boss.
He is afraid of saying anything that will remotely upset his master, General Museveni. But he finds himself in a precarious situation where he wants to speak his mind, which would inevitably entail making critical comments about the methods of work and the misrule that is so evident today, yet he realizes that he still needs to remain in the good books of the man with the ultimate control over dispensing state resources.
And therein lies a key part of the bigger tragedy facing our country. Otherwise-informed and well-placed individuals like Nagenda are caught up in overbearing survival instincts and thus unable to muster the courage to speak truth to power. They can see the rot that is eating away at the country and know that the current corrupt system, which increasingly displays characteristics of family rule, is untenable.
But the temptation is so high to hide one’s head in the sand, if for nothing at least to remain eligible for a State House-paid trip for medical attention in Germany, a critical need given our decrepit healthcare system.
In his unsavory Saturday remarks, Ndugu Nagenda was at pains to emphasize that he ‘advises’ and cannot ‘warn’ the president. But he knows that, in fact, he hardly does the former job. One of his State House colleagues, the plain-speaking presidential spokesman Joseph Tamale Mirundi, not so long ago cryptically referred to Mr Nagenda’s job as a welfare appointment to do nothing but merely earn a living.
This state of affairs, where just about anyone can be compelled to switch off their brains so as to earn a living, has abetted indifference on the part of the intelligentsia about the future of the country. But Nagenda and other courtiers take matters a notch higher.
With a knack for ridiculing whoever is opposed to the long and increasingly retrogressive NRM rule, Nagenda still carries the illusion of an infallible and indispensable General Museveni.
Thus, in The Observer interview, he couldn’t afford a positive comment about those with ambitions of succeeding Museveni, including former prime minister Amama Mbabazi. Instead, Nagenda’s complimentary comments stay within the First Family: the First Lady, and now the First Son.
The author is a PhD candidate in Political Science at Northwestern University, Evanston/Chicago-USA.