Letter to a Kampala Friend

Nairobi, 20 September, 2015.

Dear D.A,

I hope you are doing well my brother. It’s been a while since we last talked…oh, am sorry I changed numbers. But my old number should be back on some time next week. The last time I met you in your magnificent office at the imposing twin towers, I didn’t get time to talk to you at length about your party. You seemed to be busy handling complaints on behalf of Mzee–did the other man from Mbale/Sironko secure the RDC position?

And that is what I admire about you my brother: your ability to tolerate BS. The world, my world, is not generously sprinkled with such characters. Perhaps it’s something that has rubbed off your boss. How do (seemingly) intelligent people like you and, before you, my good friend Morris manage in an atmosphere so hostile to logic and understanding?

Anyways, it is a question I think will better be answered in person. How about tea next week when I come back?

I have been off the Ugandan news scene for a couple of weeks now but I endeavour to follow the on-goings. However, I couldn’t quite believe my ears when I heard that you people (excuse my plurality here; but you are still NRM, non?) sat and decided to spread the “gift” of sole candidature to the rest of the CEC executive, dropping young people like Hakeem Lukenge and Odrek. I have been following the latter’s writings and campaign in the press for quite a while now. I must say I saw this coming. Do you young people still think they’ll come a time when the old guard will simply pack up and leave office for you? That cabal?

I would like to disabuse you of that notion my brother.

And I hope in the future you will remember the words of small men (in size, and nothing else) like us who attempted to prevail over you while you were hounding out your party Secretary General last year, and claiming that it was a step towards “sweeping out” the old guard. Well, tell you what, we are having the last laugh. Aren’t we?

That party you claim to serve my brother is an exclusive club of old folks brought together by different circumstances almost forty years ago. Some were naive young people from the university, others were running from the law while many just enjoyed the others’ company. But now they are joined at the hip by a singular desire to stay. You are marginal players…if players at all, in that organization’s running. The ideology you so claim to profess you know very little about. Which is why the old guard must have enjoyed the exchanges between your two young turks – Morrison and Odrek – in the papers. Talk to Kajabago Ka’Rusoke,he seems to understand these things better than anyone else.

I don’t know why you people are so worried about succession in that your party. Your old folks seem to think the laws of biology do not apply to them, like, indeed, most national laws. But like my friend Hakeem (I have met him a couple of times. Knowledgeable fella that one!) said on the news last evening, this river cannot be stopped. No amount of bunking of the river banks will stop the river from bursting.

But you are not alone.

On March 15, 44 BC, Gaius Julius Ceaser lay dying from 23 stab wounds at Pompeii’s theater in Rome. In his will he asked his grandnephew Octavian to succeed him, overlooking his wife Cleopatra (with whom he had a son) and friend Marc Antony. Octavian (who would later be called Augustus, the first emperor of Rome) was clearly an underdog but he quickly re-organized Julius Ceaser’s private army to defeat Antony and Cleopatra by 42 BC. He went on to win favour with the Roman Senate, ruling as emperor for two decades.

However, for all his achievements, Augustus failed to do one thing: handle succession. After Augustus, the empire hurtled to decline; (mis)managed by erratic and semi-deranged rulers like Nero and Caligula.

The Roman case therefore provides us with some of the earliest examples of what can happen to a country/institution if the process of succession is not managed well. Often if leaders leave it too late, or keep postponing the decision, the inevitable – problematic succession – happens. And if the same affected mighty Rome, we can only wonder what will befall your beloved party…and country.

These are debates you young people should be involved in. Not hopping from State House to Kololo and carting away groceries from both camps.

And before I put this to rest, my brother, I must say I am enjoying my stay here. It is amazing the pace a country can move at when reform happens, when new constitutions guaranteeing individual freedoms are passed and there’s change (or semblance of change) at the top. Mzee Kibaki, whom Moi chastised as “adui wa maendeleo”, might have had his shortcomings but he set this country on the correct path. He made these two boys’ work a little easier. Turns out even people who’ve been previously in bed with government, given opportunity, can cause tremendous change.

I can’t help but draw eerie comparisons with Uganda and the fight between your party and it’s former SG.

Often I catch my cynical self imagining that maybe the former PM could do a Kibaki and upset some people who have long thought they were the very best we could have, and what we haven’t achieved under them we will never have achieved anyway. The strange thoughts that my mind is always conjuring!

I have got to go. That tea-do should be coming next week–and don’t stand me up this time. Plus, I could have carried you a few reads from Nairobi (I know you love Castro) but the way our shilling is being battered here, my tiny stipend is almost done. And people here are saying your election is to blame for the Shilling’s woes. They are wrong, aren’t they?



One thought on “Letter to a Kampala Friend

  1. Very interesting the kind of things one can find if they look hard enough.I enjoyed these letters more than I care to admit. I have a proposition for you mon ami(I can call you that,right) It behoves me to make this proposition in person as any other way would be pedestrian and we can’t afford that,no? Tea next week?

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