Big Interview: I am returning to start from where I left, says Kakwenza

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Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, an acclaimed Ugandan author known for his critical views on the government, has announced that he will soon return home.

 Rukirabashaija says he intends to resume his activism from where he left off.

 The critical writer was in 2021 abducted from his home by security operatives and detained him for several days at an undisclosed location that neither his lawyers nor his relatives were allowed access.

He was slapped with charges related to offensive communication contrary to section 25 of the Computer Misuse Act 2011 for allegedly abusing President Museveni and the Commander of Land Forces, Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba through social media.

During his detention, Rukirabashaija was subjected to torture, as evidenced by the pictures he shared, displaying extensive welts crisscrossing his back and scars on various parts of his body.

In February 2022, he fled the country into exile after release from detention.

The Nile Post interviewed Rukirabashaija, who provided his perspective on various ongoing events in Uganda.


Excerpts below


What is your perspective on the current political and social situation in Uganda?

Ugandans are currently held captive by a few people in power. Maybe I should call it political apartheid because it is a system or policy that segregates on grounds of political belonging.

Those who worship impunity or those who are willing to trade their conscience for bootlicking the regime, are enjoying it at the expense of others. There is too much mediocrity celebration and that has plunged our country into the abyss.

Uganda recently celebrated its 61st independence anniversary, how do you interpret and what significance does this anniversary hold for the country?

You cannot celebrate the independence of a country like Uganda. Literally what is independence? We are dependent, the only independence that we have is flag independence. Look at our current debt. Look at how the revenue that we collect is actually made by a small faction of Indians.

Real independence is when the economic and political power is in the hands of the people. The glorious revolution in England in 1668 catapulted a small circle of the royals that were subjecting the people to the gross apartheid of extractive political and economic institutions.

After the revolution, the institutions became inclusive and that lay grounds for greatness. Look at Singapore; the three models, honesty, meritocracy and pragmatism paved a way for greatness. In the 1960's, it was poorer than Uganda but by 1980, it was a first world country. Does it have resources? No.

Are you concerned that FDC may face a similar fate as the Democratic Party (DP), which is currently collaborating with President Museveni, as a result of internal conflicts?

Mr. Museveni patronizing FDC leaders is not democracy but self-defeating. The Soul of the Forum for Democratic Change has survived Museveni's repertoire of violence for 18-years and it will surely survive his patronage. As a member of the FDC, I have been a witness to the threats and fear that have haunted our party since its inception.

Many of us have faced the wrath of the rogues, and several have lost lives, in the dungeons and on the streets, during this struggle for a democratic change from rulership to leadership. Despite all that, we shall not fold our hands in despair like spectators as the people Patrick Amuriat, Nandala Mafabi and others with whom we entrusted the party leadership plunge the same into the capitulation of Museveni’s patronage, to follow the likes of Nobert Mao’s Democratic Party (DP) and Jimmy Akena’s Uganda People's Congress (UPC).

Democracy is not about annihilating the opposition, but about fostering an environment of mutual recognition, reciprocal altruism, and respecting a social contract that upholds the rights and dignity of all citizens. When you suppress the opposition through violence, patronage and intimidation, you undermine the very foundations of democracy.

 What is your opinion on whether Uganda would be able to function effectively without the support of the World Bank, following its announcement to halt loans due to the Anti-Homosexuality Act passed by Parliament?

The World Bank has been giving us loans as far as I remember. Uganda has been dysfunctional with these loans. The thieves who have been stealing this money will be highly affected, not Ugandans. If the loans we have been getting had been put into production, of course if we had honest people to steer that, Uganda would be far. I remember in 1998 or so, Uganda’s debt was written off, most of it. Where are we now? We collect about 22 trillion shillings in revenue but our budget is about 49 trillion. Then more than 10 trillion is stolen. We are just stupid as Ugandans.

 Do you believe Ugandans should remain hopeful about witnessing a change in leadership from one president to another in the foreseeable future?

If Ugandans go on the streets or adopt an armed struggle against Museveni, we shall have a change in leadership. Before that, we shall wait for him to die because elections cannot remove a junta from power. When I see politicians planning for the next elections, I shudder. In 2026, I shall not spare any politician from the opposition who will contest in the selections. They could not even fight to reclaim their stolen victory but are optimistic and looking forward to the next election. Some are in the contest for opposition popularity and not the struggle to remove the dictator.

 What is your assessment of the current Parliament in Uganda, considering that many people believe it is heavily influenced by President Museveni?

My problem with this Parliament is being radical in paternalistic legislation in lieu of being radical with legislation that is supposed to extricate Ugandans from impoverishment. What do you expect from a parliament that is led by a schemer like Anita Among? They do not know that the law is very important in steering the development. Instead, they use their legislative power to enrich themselves and squander at the country’s coffers. The subject of law and development should be taught to these people who masquerade as honourables/legislators.

 How do you perceive the issue of torture of suspects under detention by security agencies, and what measures do you think should be taken to address such concerns that have negatively impacted the country's international reputation?

Torture, among other things like genocide and slavery, are among the three absolute norms of the international law.

By absolute, I mean, no exceptions. What hurts me most is that the judiciary that is supposed to enforce the human rights laws, only stops at pussyfooting on the issue and lip sticking the same because they care about their careers since they are appointed by the torturers. You find a well-educated judicial officer like Douglas Singiza capitulating to the whims of appointing authority instead of being subservient to the absolute norms of international law.

The National Unity Platform(NUP) leaders led by Robert Kyagulanyi believe that discrediting President Museveni abroad can help in removing him from power. What are your thoughts on this strategy?

Museveni has a strong propaganda machine abroad. He invests a lot of money in the government’s public relations. The western governments and other organizations rely on civil society organisations in Uganda and that is why he tries to hamper their activities and also bankroll a few to cook reports. But me, as a torture victim, I am not sleeping. I have been moving the whole world since I fled and I have done a great job. Kyagulanyi, too, is doing a great work in exposing the lies of the propaganda machine. My book, The Savage Avenger, was received thunderously and that is an indubitable evidence of human rights violations.

  What inspired you to become a writer, and when did you realize that writing was your passion?

Read my book, Banana Republic where writing is treasonous. The biographical part of it narrates all.

 How has your experience as a refugee influenced your creative work, and do you believe it has altered your perspectives or artistic vision in any way?

I am not a refugee; I have not asked for asylum anywhere. And I will not. Point of correction. I took a medical break from the struggle. Though I am here for medical reasons, I recently enrolled to study for my master of laws.

So really after my PhD, I will return home and continue from where I stopped. Of course many books are coming soon.

What message would you like to convey to other writers who may be encountering similar challenges in their own countries?

Writers, through social protest literature, offer a professional diagnosis of the problems in which the societies or countries get encapsulated. Writing is like the wind that blows off the robe of hypocrisy for the people to see hidden streaks of misanthropy and authoritarianism, abuse or manipulation.

You know that no despot or tyrant has ever won a war against writers. If you love history, King Leopold of Belgium lost Congo because of writers. Napoleon would fear writers.

So, I pity Museveni. Writers everywhere should know that we are special people and we must use our skills to shine light in the hellholes of impunity.

How can the international community provide better support to writers and artistes who face persecution or censorship in their respective countries?

The international community, as I have always said, must force their governments to respect their foreign policies on human rights. There is no one who wants to live and write from exile. These western governments offend their foreign policies because of geopolitical expediency and that is hypocrisy.

What do you hope will be the lasting impact of your writing, both within Uganda and beyond its borders?

Writing has a lasting effect. Look at Shakespeare’s literature 400 years after his death? Look at the Animal Farm book? And several others. My books have already created an impact, I have won awards because of my literature, they are on many universities syllabus in the literature department. So I believe there is more impact ahead.

 Have you been able to maintain connections with the literary and activist communities in Uganda while living abroad? How have these connections evolved or changed over time?

Yes. We have always been a family and we shall forever be. Before I fled the country, I was the chairperson for writers in prison PEN Uganda. I belong to other writing groups.

 Are you currently involved in any projects or initiatives aimed at addressing the issues you faced in Uganda, such as freedom of expression or human rights?

I am working on a lot of projects. You will see the results.

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