Delivering a eulogy on the floor of Parliament for Col. Charles Engola Okello who, at the time of his demise was holding the ministerial portfolio of Labour and Industrial Relations, a decorated general deliberately wasted a golden opportunity to address the deep-seated animosities that pervade our society today. Instead, he remorselessly poured gasoline on the blazing flames of popular anger.
By any standards, Lt. Gen. James Mugira is no ordinary Ugandan. He holds advanced qualifications in Law, and has served in several positions, not least as head of military intelligence (CMI), coordinator of the Joint Anti-Terrorism Taskforce (JATT) and currently holds the twin positions of Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of the National Enterprise Corporation (NEC), the business arm of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF).
From the outset, it is worth stating that the CMI and JATT, over which the fifty-nine-year-old has superintended ranks high on the list of most infamous public institutions in Uganda for their notoriety in the routine abduction, rampant torture, and frequent extrajudicial killings of Ugandans. It is public knowledge that the two entities are dreaded and often talked about in hushed tones. In fact, Mugira himself was the subject of a lawsuit (Miscellaneous Cause Number 118 of 2009 at the High Court in Kampala) by Francis Atugonza in 2009, then Hoima Town Council LCIII Chairman, for unlawful detention and torture.
In this suit, Atugonza sought redress against the actions of Mugira together with his colleagues, Maj. Benson Monday, Maj. Abel Kandiho, Lt. C.K. Asiimwe, and Lt. Alex B. Tumushabe. In another incident during Mugira’s tenure at the CMI, a young man attempted to flee from a torture chamber in Kololo by climbing over a perimeter wall, only to find himself in the compound of the residence of then ambassador of Denmark to Uganda, Stig Barlyng. More than most soldiers, Gen. Mugira has been at the helm of deploying Uganda’s state apparatus of violence and coercion against citizens.
The horror stories are legion, but the above examples should enable me to make my point: not only was Mugira the worst possible choice for the delivery of a eulogy for a person who died due to violence-related causes; his statement revealed a level of intransigence characteristic of those who wield unfettered power, and was glaringly tone-deaf. There isn’t enough word space to narrate the indignities that Ugandans have suffered under varying degrees of military rule since Independence. Land grabbing, electoral malpractice, rape, exile, persecution, and an assortment of crimes against humanity committed by successive regimes, including the incumbent group, which has ruled for longer than all previous ones combined.
As a result, three major fault lines exist, and under Museveni’s reign, have gotten deeper and wider: ethnicity, religion, and socioeconomic status.
One would expect that as a person of significant exposure, of advanced age, and who has been in charge of the brutal regime preservation project in Uganda, Mugira should have exercised restraint and judgment in condemning Ugandans who have regrettably (but understandably) made it a habit to celebrate misfortune or the deaths of people associated with the ruling establishment. Mugira is apparently not aware that hundreds of Ugandans have, in the past three years alone been killed, maimed for life, are locked up without trial, and fled to exile because of the ferocity of the establishment he serves. And this is to say nothing about prevailing socioeconomic difficulties such as the impossible cost of living, over-taxation, collapsing public infrastructure, unemployment and generally poor quality of life that millions of Ugandans are experiencing.
In its long reign, the so-called National Resistance Army has had the privilege of ruling over a hardworking, hospitable, affable, peaceful, understanding, and very forgiving lot of people called Ugandans. Faced with the same conditions that led the NRA to wage a bloody and destructive five-year bush war which claimed half a million lives, Ugandans have chosen to speak, write, sing songs, draw cartoons, present comical skits, and occasionally hold peaceful protests to express their discontent.
Mugira and those of his ilk, including Gen. Museveni, who regularly insult Ugandans, calling them pigs, idiots, fools, and other uncharitable terms, should be thankful that the recipients of their misrule are seeking justice, not revenge, like they did as young men.
In a situation where erstwhile liberators have become oppressors, Ugandans have every right under the sun to respond however they deem fit, whether through nonviolence or otherwise. Surely, it cannot be a rapist dictating how loud, or if at all the victim should scream. Mugira should pray that Ugandans continue choosing peace over war, despite his regime’s penchant for violence, sectarianism, nepotism, and all forms of corruption.
If nations want peace, they should avoid the pinpricks that precede the cannon shots of war.
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