On January 25, 1986 when the Uganda National Liberation Front military government was defeated by your National Resistance Army (NRA), I did not exist in any form. Not even as an idea. Not even as a foetus. I was born almost two years after that day. This means that as you celebrate the feat of leading Uganda for thirty one uninterrupted years this 26th day of the month of January, the year of our Lord 2017, I will wait for ten more months before celebrating my thirtieth birthday.
Our generation of Ugandans, born in 1986 and after deserves to be named after your stay in power. We deserve to be known as the Museveni generation. We grew up knowing that your name is a synonym for presidency. Indeed we said things like, Kenya has changed its museveni, to mark the handing over of presidency in that country from Moi to Kibaki and from Kibaki to Uhuru Kenyatta. To us, the office of the president is you, and you are the office of the president. That is reductionist. You are more than the office of the president. You have defined much of the reality in which we have grown.
We remember our childhood, teenage and young adulthood days by the various policy and political events in which you were the central player. Whether it is the start of the Universal Primary Education programme in the 1990s, under which most of us attained elementary education, or the 2000 political challenge for the presidency of your organisation (system), the National Resistance Movement by Kizza Besigye, or even the 2005 Juba Peace Talks with the Lord’s Resistance Army, or the 2011 Walk to Work protests: you were the lead player that shaped those events, and as a result, you dominate how we remember our own personal histories.
You have re-imagined and created Uganda in your image. You have been in power for longer than the combined years previous leaders stayed in office. Today, I like to think about these realities as merely that: facts, without imposing any value judgement. My letter to you, Yoweri has nothing to do with whether it is right or wrong for you to have shaped our generation through your short and continuing stay in power. I know that your handlers and propagandists are itching already, to tear down whatever I wish to say, if they sense that this letter is criticising your short stay in power. I wish not to indulge them.
Yoweri: I want to ask about a side of you, that I wish to see more of. Can I call you Grandpa? I have read that people called you Mzee, even before I was born, you were already called Old Man. To a person born in 1987, age-wise, you qualify to be a grandfather. But also, given your role in shaping the conditions and realities of my short life on earth so far, I think it is respectful to call you Grandpa. After all, where I grew up, they taught us not to call elders by name. I apologise for the bad manners exhibited in the previous paragraphs. Can we cut out the handlers and propagandists at this stage? They should not care what grandchildren tell their grannies.
Grandpa: I wish to see more of your intellectual side. I remember glancing through my father’s copies of Sowing the Mustard Seed and What is Africa’s Problem in the late 1990s, when I was too young to appreciate your wisdom. As a young adult, I would read you in detail and appreciate that you wrote that scholarly verification of Fanon’s Theory of Revolutionary Violence in Mozambique during your undergraduate study. That thesis is important for my political commitment to and interest in the fight against imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, to borrow bell hooks’ naming of the system of our oppression. I also appreciate that you published selected essays on protracted warfare that military strategists world over should also be thankful for.
I appreciate most of your speeches, where you forget to score points against perceived Ugandan political opponents and go off on tangents in which you seek to interpret phenomena on your own terms as an ideas man. Most times I pick interest in how your neo-liberal practices as president contradict your ‘freedom fighter’ rhetoric. Your actions have entrenched the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy’s hold onto Ugandan society. But I remain greedy Grandpa, for your written material and intellectual things, and so allow me, as you would a grandchild, to ask for more. Please publish more, Grandpa. Our generation deserves to read more narration of events that have shaped our lives from your perspective. Just as you disagreed with your teacher Walter Rodney at University of Dar es Salaam on the issue of the existence of God, you know for sure that some of us will disagree with your viewpoint as is expected in a situation where there are two and more working minds.
I know that some of the propagandists in your employ are now tempted to respond to this blog post by attacking me personally, and listing all your publications. They probably think that I am not aware of the long list of your publications. I do not know if they sometimes think that our generation does not know how to use Google to find information, or they are the ones who do not know how helpful that search engine is. So, indeed we Google a lot, and specifically I, look out for any intellectual material authored by yourself there is, online. I also look for the same offline. Our generation is after all not able to live fully digital lives because of what you would call infrastructural bottlenecks, when you wear the bureaucratic jargon on your tongue. Your critics would add the fact that sometimes you pull out of that hat, a vague justification, that gift that keeps giving, of ‘national security’ to try to deny us the use of the internet as happened during the 2016 election. But let me not pay attention to the propagandists in your employ and their antagonists, your critics.
Let me state my second ask. It is related to the first. Grandpa: why don’t you impose a cultural agenda onto your government? Maybe that is a wrong way to phrase it. Let me re-phrase. Grandpa: can you impose a cultural agenda onto your government? Surely, you can’t limit the role of culture in the revolution to the military songs of the NRA. You know that Amilcal Cabral’s concept of the building of national culture and consciousness went beyond that.
I love that in your personal capacity as an intellectual, you have been part of two groups of linguists that have worked on a translation dictionary, and a thesaurus. I have expressed elsewhere my issues with these two projects. I have questioned the dominance of Runyankore and Nkore ways at the expense of Rukiga and Kiga ways, yet they are described as including both the Banyankore and Bakiga nationalities. My critique of the work does not take away its value. I think that it is important work. Indeed as bell hooks says, the critic only engages the work that they ascribe value to. Given the technological domination of the world by White Supremacist Eurocentric media and modes of knowledge, our generation appreciates the labour of those intellectual fighters who keep our own languages and heritage accessible to us. In your personal capacity, you are one of them.
But Grandpa: why do you do these projects as an individual? Why doesn’t your government have a cultural and language policy to support this work, in the process extending it to other nationalities in Uganda, beyond the Banyankore and Bakiga? I could list the various provisions of international human rights treaties ratified by Uganda that require the state to promote indigenous languages and heritage. Indeed, even the 1995 Ugandan Constitution has provisions that support this case. Sections of various Acts of Parliament can also be cited to boost the case for state investment in indigenous languages and heritage. But for now, I choose to write to you a blog post than to take your government to task in the courts of law. From your Kavunuuzi and Katondoozi projects referred to above, I know that you are interested in this type of work, as an individual. Why, Grandpa: doesn’t this interest and personal investment seep into public policy?
As a President of Uganda, your government’s cultural and language policies for the last 31 years have served a colonial and imperial agenda. They enforce White Supremacy in the name of ‘development’ and ‘modernisation’. They turn full lives into commodities, following neo-liberal capitalist logics. They alienate black children from their immediate environments, history and heritage, to the benefit of imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Grandpa: knowing that you are a former student of Walter Rodney, the Guyanese historian and Pan Africanist Marxist who gave us How Europe Underdeveloped Africa among other revolutionary texts, I know that this gospel is a staple on your ideological plate. I imagine that at a personal level, you do not like your own government’s cultural and language policy framework. But why does your government continue to do this damage, Grandpa?
Instead of you always asking UNESCO to fund your personal heritage and language projects, a state institution should exist to support this work. As you know, our generation has its many demands on the state and on your generation, given the conditions of our growing up. You are all we know. We may not yet be big on demanding a cultural and language renaissance, but you can be sure that we will appreciate this in the long term. Why don’t you institutionalise your personal hobby of contributing to projects around Runyankore and Nkore heritage so that other intellectual workers in the indigenous arts, from other Ugandan nationalities can make their contributions? Grandpa: is this too much to ask? You surely can persuade your colleagues in government to allocate some of the hundreds of millions of US Dollars the Consolidated Fund already has, from oil related income (that batch for which the handshake was given) to this.
My final ask is petty, Grandpa. It may even be problematic. Actually, it is. Please Grandpa: do not allow your handlers and various propagandists to come here and pretend to respond to this open letter. I know this last paragraph is a gift to them, as they think that they will use it to delegitimise what they may perceive as an attempt at discrediting you. Grandpa: please prevail on them. They may not see how well intentioned this plea from a child who has no choice but to carry the label with your own name, having been born during your era as Ugandan president, is. I know you are busy, and that this last paragraph could be the reason this letter may not reach you, but I believe that there are spiritual dimensions to our existence on earth and so you may find this letter telepathically. I will be glad to receive a response through action, Grandpa. Or even clairvoyantly.
Furayide: P.O Box Nyanja, Kabale.