Saturday, December 30, 2023

The last months of 2023 have been grey as rains pounded the ground soaking soils and wreaking havoc on infrastructure across Uganda as if to clean up stench from the now almost forgotten mabati scandal that had engulfed the country since February to end the year on a gentle breeze. When the putrid storm blew up putting a noose around over forty top politicians mostly ministers and MPs, many thought that the end of times written in the Bible had come. 


The Vice president, Speaker of Parliament, Prime Miniter, her two deputies, 22 ministers and 31 MPs were embroiled in the irregular sharing of roofing iron sheets meant for the vulnerable people of Karamoja particularly the reformed cattle-rustlers (Karacuna) surrendering guns in exchange for settled livelihoods. Each of the named were reported to have received hundreds, some thousands from the now almost forgotten mabati bonanza which some of them used to roof livestock sheds, palatial gazebos, sold in the open market or intended to distribute to constituents to buy support. At the time, President Yoweri Museveni described the scandal a “political treachery” and vowed to take political action. 


Of them, Karamoja ministers Mary Goretti Kitutu, her junior Agnes Nandutu, and finance state minister Amos Lugoloobi are still in court battling criminal prosecution because some of the iron sheets were found in their respective homes. The charges include causing loss of government property, corruption and conspiracy to defraud government. Looking back at subdued and crest-fallen ministers in tears while in dock on the days each was first brought to court was truly sad, and many saw that life as a hunter-gatherer was easier during the olden days but not anymore with the watchful eyes of the media and law alive. 


The most surprising aspect of the mabati scandal is the sheer number of top politicians involved but each claiming they did not know the source of what they were receiving or that they were wrong, and yet they participated in approving both in cabinet and parliament the $1 million supplementary budget in June 2022 to support the disarmament programme in Karamoja. And rather than blame personal frailties many wagged their fingers at real or perceived opponents with alleged vendetta, and the NRM leadership for seeking to throw them to the wolves. But along the way none could make a cogent defence of what they had individually done in receiving the mabati and had to just keep quiet which made them look more like dodgy geezers in Minder, a British drama about a criminal underworld in the 1970s. eventually some offered a faint mea culpa as they returned the iron sheets with bowed heads.


Today there is nothing much to see except few dusty gulls that the wind blew into our eyes and short-lived solitary life the three ministers endured in the police cells, court dock and a stint in Luzira as they awaited arraignment which many Ugandans consider a soft slap on the wrist. It seems fair to suggest that many politicians have complex relationships with understanding boundaries so they will often cut corners or hide behind them because they believe that they are entitled to freebies. 


In the course of 2023, the political rancor caused by Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba birthday bash series morphed into a semi-political movement driven mostly by his young admirers also ebbed. But whether as an adventure or careful stratagem, it helped push the NUP angry legions to the media periphery, and they could find it difficult to regain space. Muhoozi’s activities also lent the complacent NRM followers an additional though temporary false sense of political safety. 


Then came the fratricidal war in the hitherto boisterous Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) opposition political where its founder president Warren Smith Kizza Besigye engineered a palace coup that hasn’t quite succeeded as he would have wished. Nevertheless, FDC has suffered another, probably worse spilt into two antagonistic and irreconcilable factions since Mugisha Muntu and his sidekicks left in 2018. The two new factions now one sitting at Najjanankumbi on Entebbe Road as the mainstream with Patrick Oboi Amuriat and Nathan Nandala Mafabi, and an impostor surrogate on Katonga road headed by perennial political crybaby and Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago fighting for the spoils and further reducing FDC to junk status.


The menace of Kampala’s all-round pollution, noise, congestion, uncollected gabbage, and cracked up roads left its dwellers with multiple headaches but hopefully looking at the ongoing works some of those should be behind us in 2024. Undoubtedly, Kampala’s settings are clogged, and will require updating its physical planning and synchronizing with neighbouring districts to remove many of the rough-hard edges with straight lines that offer little to softly facilitate the much-needed stimuli. Added to this are the traffic, crowds, vehicle sirens, radios, television, social media noise, and advertising billboards littered on every space clamouring for attention making one to understand why their body, brain, mind and pocket are overtaxed when they are in Kampala. Let 2024 be a better year.