The recent weeks have been a cascade of parte after parte from lavish homecomings, opulent thanksgivings to national birthday celebrations courtesy of our political leaders.
On September 8, President Yoweri Museveni and chair of the ruling party National Resistance Movement (NRM) celebrated his 79th birthday. The celebration organised by the NRM Office of the Chairman (ONC) also sought to commemorate the Katonga battle. Historical accounts posit that the Katonga battle (September to December 1985) was the final and fiercest battle, which ushered in the fall of Kampala and victory for the NRA/NRM.
So significant was/is the battle that the NRM government named one of the national medals, Order of Katonga - the highest military decoration awarded to individuals for extraordinary heroism. Museveni received the Order of Katonga in February this year in recognition of his enormous contribution to Uganda’s liberation struggles.
The first awardee was former Libyan president Col. Muammar Gaddaffi who received the award in April 2004 for his contribution to the NRA bush war. Former Tanzanian president Mwalimu Julius Nyerere was awarded in 2007 for his efforts against colonialism and Idi Amin.
In his birthday celebration remarks, a jovial Museveni thanked all those who fought in the Katonga battle and assured the war veterans that he would soon call them for a meeting where they would talk about their challenges. ‘Museveni awooma’.
In the lead-up to the celebration, senior presidential advisor, Political Affairs and head of the Office of the NRM National Chairperson (ONC), Hajjat Hadijah Namyalo Uzeiye, visited Katonga in Mpigi district on September 4. Namyalo listened to the grievances of the veterans and promised to return with household income-generating items like sewing machinces, chicks, hairdressing tools and machines.
The ONC will return like a dazzling yellow Father Christmas, dragging sacks of shiny trinkets. Yet in 2011, the regime set up a vocational school, the Katonga Technical Institute to honor the men and women who fought the Katonga battle.
In 2018, Uganda Radio Network reported that the school was on a slow and steady decline owing to poor management and lack of funding. A stark departure from the glory of the Katonga battle.
Thirty-seven years after the bush war victory, Museveni is in the evening of his supremacy as Uganda’s longest-serving president. Leading one of the youngest populations globally, Museveni is the official jjaja of the nation whose citizens he christened bazzukulu - his grandchildren.
Oddly, many bazzukulu can hardly articulate the ins and outs of the Katonga battle. In a September 17 article for the Conversation, historian Derek R. Peterson writes, “Most of the 41 comrades who launched the bush war have died or retired.” Peterson comments that with most Ugandans being born after 1986, the memory of the bush war heroism is dimming.
What do the bazzukulu make of the Katonga battle? More than you suspect apparently. The ONC asserts that the bazzukulu organised Museveni’s birthday and the Katonga Spirit celebration.
The event was a massive success with a mammoth crowd in attendance because in these matters - we go with crowds. There is no shame in helping your crowd come to your party, complete with free lunch lunch, transport and party paraphernalia. The crwod was so successful the ONC media desk gloated that the opposition quaked like quislings.
Yet, when the euphoria of birthday cake and the Katonga celebration wears off, what does the average muzzukulu/Ugandan look like today?
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in its 2022-2027 Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS) for Uganda highlights that the average Ugandan is a 17-year-old Ugandan girl.
The USAID CDCS explains, “The average 17-year-old girl lives in a rural community where she has limited access to high-quality education and health care; she is unlikely to finish primary school and may be unable to read or write, which limits her agency and ability to make informed decisions; she struggles to find reproductive health information targeted to her unique needs; she lives in poverty and her family struggles to cope with shocks and stresses; she is disenfranchised by the political system and is blocked from participating in community-level advocacy, and she is also at high risk to be married young and to become infected with HIV.”
Such a mouthful of pessimism these foreigners and their donor aid imbibe!
Fortunately for this unfortunate 17-year- old Ugandan girl, she exists in the realm of Katonga. May that fire that imbued the veterans of the Katonga remember the 17-year-old Ugandan girl and set her ablaze!
The writer is a tayaad muzzukulu