Sometime in 2017, we were researching the escalation of land injustice during and after elections when we landed a curious piece of folklore of harvesting Museveni’s weakness for power.
See, for his barely disguised political ambitions – mostly the pursuit of a “democratic life-presidency” – Museveni has become so desperate to the point that his surrogates have a free ride committing crimes using his name – even those they know he openly dislikes.
Although I have no doubt Museveni actually likes most of the crimes committed by his heavyweight and mid-weight surrogates – as this makes them perpetually indebted to him – more crimes are committed nowadays that actually make his work difficult. He would prefer they were not committed at all. But he is so conflicted to stop them!
We were on the shores of Lake Victoria, in Semujju Ibrahim Nganda’s constituency, in a place that neighbours had dubbed, “Mu-fake.”
The name Mu-fake was reference to the new inhabitants. Government had planned to build a port here but had challenges evicting occupants whom it never wanted to compensate, arguing that their occupancy was illegal. But how had they gotten there in the first place?
Respondents in the neighbourhood – Mu-fake residents were unwilling to talk – told us that ahead of the election in 2016, men – over 100 of them – claiming to be NRA/NRM veterans stormed the area in the wee hours of the night and had by morning, erected makeshift uniports.
Made out of timber offcuts, these uniports were painted yellow and plastered with Museveni 2016 election posters. The logic – which is still valid to this day— is that Museveni-support posters offer security of harvest: who would dare touch Museveni’s supporters in the heat of an election?
The uniports became Local Council units from which land would be parcelled out. In order not to be resisted by local communities, who hitherto had cultivated this land, these “NRM veterans” invited willing local residents to come and share in. It was a fete of some kind.
One respondent told us they had acquired so much land in the forest that they didn’t even know what to use it for. But this is not the cutest part of the story.
This place hitherto hosted plots of commercial forests mostly eucalyptus trees. The plots belonged to mostly NRM-leaning public officials who had replaced natural covering with commercial trees.
NRM-leaning public servants tend to have connections inside the palace, but are generally weaker than veterans – or assumed veterans. The new arrivals started harvesting these trees like they had actually planted them. The area MP would tell us that the confrontation that ensued became violent as gunshots were exchanged between these two thievery-all-Museveni-supporting camps.
In the end, the veterans defeated the public servant [except one man, who still owns his plot of forest. His edge over the rowdy veterans was being an active soldier himself].
We have entered another election season and stealing in Museveni’s name is more legitimate business. [But also simply good security if endangered]. Posters have started to emerge in market-squares in and around Kampala announcing support for President Museveni.
Men building in wetlands have also erected Museveni support posters next to their victims. Tax evaders only have to have Museveni-support stickers on their trailers. Motorists in endangered taxi parks have done the same.
Whilst the market vendors and motorists are moved by their condition of precarity, regime-blessed chumps are inspired by the desire to protect and draw more booty. Either way, the national condition is one of precarity as only Museveni’s name appears to guarantees business and livelihood.
But the bigger problem is not with those seeking to harvest Museveni’s weakness for power (and fraudulently, they must) but, rather, Museveni himself. Trapped in the this mesh of men committing crimes using his name, he can neither move forward no backwards. The Jennifer Musisi-KCCA story captures this tragedian dilemma more vividly:
In his effort to capture the hearts of Kampalans, Museveni appointed Ms Musisi to clean up and sort the city. Once in office, Musisi quickly noticed that Kampala’s mess was partly caused by unregulated motorcycle taxi riders. She sought to start there.
When the riders resisted registration and getting more structured, Musisi opted for a little force. She would learn quickly that the cyclists were actually Museveni’s friends. Indeed, it was from the same man that both herself and the cyclists got their power – and impunity.
Whilst Museveni loathed the boda-boda chaos and wanted Musisi to organise them, he could not afford to lose their vote – and the political significance of the their chaos. Musisi would leave the city just the way she had found it. The season is back, and whoever has any crime to commit, just declare support for Museveni; you’ll be home and dry.
The author is a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research