By Lewis David Rubongoya
Last night, social media got busy with videos of singers Jennifer Full Figure and Catherine Kusasira being chased off stage by music revellers in Masaka. In Kusasira’s case, bottles were pelted at her before she was rushed off the stage. In Full Figure’s case, angry youth ran after her while accompanying her with very bitter words- ebigambo ebisongovu.
The revellers accused the two singers of associating with President Museveni’s NRM party and condoning the government’s continued persecution of Bobi Wine, a singer, Member of Parliament and aspiring presidential candidate.
For starters, we must all agree that violence should have no place in civilised societies. Ordinarily, people should live and let live. In fact, the true essence of democracy is in protecting the rights of, especially, those you disagree with.
That said however, we all need to reflect on how we got to this point. We must also not treat these as mere events which can be pushed under the carpet and forgotten. To me, these are signs of what is brewing beneath the surface. Those in other countries, who ignored such signs, would write books much later, after incredible episodes of mayhem, detailing how all signs had been rife that trouble was looming except they were ignored. In our own history, a small book by S.R. Karugire, “Roots of Instability in Uganda” shows how at every turn, Ugandans ignored clear signs, and the result was the Kabaka crisis, the adventurous period of Idi Amin, the Military Commission, the NRA bush war, etc. The cost of all these happenings in terms of human life is well recorded!
Now to Ms. Kusasira and Ms. Figure. I have already highlighted my disdain for violence, which as history has proven, only begets more violence.
In April, 2011, Dr. Besigye was nearly blinded when military and police officers blocked him near Mulago, pepper sprayed him and broke his arm. He was rushed to Nairobi where he was admitted. President Museveni was scheduled to visit Nairobi at the same time and he was asked about Dr. Besigye’s situation. He gave an analogy which I think is relevant here. He lectured those who listened to him about the original cause vis a vis the resultant effects.
Since he was addressing a conference, he asked- “If someone throws a snake in our midst, there will be a stampede. Someone may then take advantage of the commotion and steal someone’s bag. Although the two people are wrong, the person who threw the snake in our midst is more wrong and ought to be punished more, than the person who took advantage of the situation and stole the bag” Logical, right? (Of course at the time, he was saying that the protesters were the throwers of the snake and the police were the pick pockets- which in itself was flawed because the protesters had to do what they did since there was no opportunity whatsoever for them, to peacefully demonstrate.)
However, my interest in the analogy is the concept of the original cause. I hope the NRM enthusiasts can always ask themselves that important question- what is the original cause? How did we get here?
It started with Bebe Cool being booed and chased off the stage at Club Ambiance in August 2018. This was at the apex of the Arua crisis when Mr. Bebe Cool came out to trivialise the torture meted out on Bobi Wine, and the murder of his driver. The fans chanted “Bobi” and Mr. Bebe left the stage unceremoniously. A few days later, he went for another show at Lugogo Cricket Oval and did not only receive boos but bottles being thrown at him before he was forced off the stage. It did not stop there. Only a few days ago, some of the singers who partook in the Tubonga naawe project came out to say that was the beginning of their woes, with citizens boycotting their music. And three weeks back, Catherine Kusasira was humiliated in South Africa. Fans asked her to leave the stage, reminding her that people like her were responsible for the suffering they have to endure in foreign lands, because their country does not provide opportunities.
Fast forward to yesterday. It was the 26th of December. For about 15 years until 2018, there were usually two big music shows in town on that day. One was at Bobi Wine’s One Love beach in Busabala, while the other was organised by Bebe Cool in Kiwatule. (Plus many other shows across the country!) Around 2017, police started blocking Bobi Wine’s shows. In 2018 after his show attracted tens of thousands of revellers, the state scared to the nerve, decided to put a padlock on his shows permanently. So far, 157 shows have been blocked! While this happens, singers who sing praises to the NRM regime (and those who are apolitical) are allowed to stage shows without restriction. Those who sing and speak for the regime are given full state protection and security. To make the point even stronger, the Head of State has personally attended some of these shows! And…..Butcherman has been given VIP treatment at state functions, because in the equation of those who rule over us, he can win over some ghetto youth and stop them from supporting Bobi Wine!
The situation has not been helped by the conduct of these fresh key pillars of the NRM. Ever since her unveiling as a presidential assistant or envoy, Full Figure has insulted everyone and anything that does not support ‘mzei Museveni’ as she calls him. She recently cursed the Ugandans living abroad and asked them who sent them there! Catherine Kusasira, having been appointed Presidential advisor immediately demanded for respect from the NRM leaders in Kampala, threatening to deny them access to the Head of State if they did not acknowledge her authority. Then, as if under witchcraft, Full Figure did not find it shameful to pause with stashes of new banknotes in 50ks and 20ks! She did not even bother to hide the source of these funds. She made it clear this was tax payers money, paid to her for denouncing People Power and its leader Bobi Wine! I think, in her wildest thoughts, she thought that would earn her praise or admiration! Admiration from hardworking tax payers for being given free tax payers money in order to fight against a tax payer who is fighting for the tax payers so that their tax payers money is used properly to improve their lives!
Ms. Kusasira did not wait to be outshone. A few days later, she appeared in a monster UBF Land Cruiser V8, guarded by VVIP protection police officers. The cost of the vehicle has been estimated at over 600 million Uganda Shillings, which amount is sufficient to sort sleeping needs for pregnant mothers in five or six districts in Northern Uganda.
As all this happened, the brutal treatment meted out on those opposed to the government only increased. Even without announcing a concert at Busabala, police has been heavily deployed there this festive season, in case Bobi Wine develops some ideas and decides to sing to those who visit his Beach!
I have narrated all this to make one point. When you squeeze the nose so much, it will eventually bleed. A people who are denied the opportunity to vent out their anger through public protests and demonstrations will always find ways of venting out their anger. The bottles thrown yesterday are a classic example. In many cases, when an angry population cannot reach the powerful leader to express their displeasure, they will always go for that leader’s conduits and agents who are less powerful. If people are deprived of all peaceful channels to express dissatisfaction, they will inevitably resort to violence. (A point that was eloquently spoken to by President Museveni in the 80s.) And, if you employ violence to counter all who disagree with you, you should not be surprised when those who disagree with you resort to violence against those who represent you. It is some kind of vicious cycle.
Above all, the NRM adherents almost always want to condemn the pickpocket and not the person who threw the snake in the congregation! My advice to them – search deeply. Find out what the original cause is and focus mostly on undoing that. I bet 90% of the people at the Masaka show would have been at Busabala yesterday. They would have had an opportunity to listen to the singers they wanted, without being forced to stay in Masaka and be entertained by the singers they did not want. Catherine and Full Figure, would then have also had an opportunity to entertain those who genuinely wanted to listen to them and I bet they would have sang whatever they wanted without a single bottle or stone being thrown at them. That is the bedrock of peaceful existence and coexistence.
What worries me most is that the people who are fuelling these levels of intolerance will soon leave the stage either willingly or by function of nature. But the seeds of hatred and anger sowed now may stay to haunt this generation and those to come.
The author Lewis David Rubongoya is the legal representative of Kyadondo East Member of Parliament Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu