On January 29, a 42-year-old revolutionary with a deeper Marxist conviction appeared on the steps of parliament to take oath of office as the new president of Uganda. That morning he was adorning military fatigues and occasionally wiping his sweaty forehead with a brimmed army kofia.
Museveni had just captured power after a bloody five-year protracted war in the jungles of Luwero against Obote’s second government, a war that led to the massacre of an estimated 300,000 people, according to records. The point of dispute has been on who massacredthe innocent civilians: Obote’s UPC and Museveni’s NRA/Aare yet to9 resolve this impasse.
The Luwero skulls have come to be synonymous with the bloody dictatorial past, a reference point by some people in power especially during election times to remind the wanachi to ‘vote wisely’ in light of ‘where we have come from’.
Reading his speech with impassioned revolutionary undertones, Museveni retorted that his was not a mere change of guard but a ‘fundamental change’ in the politics of Uganda. In that speech, he also castigated leaders who overstayed in power as the very reason behind a myriad of problems afflicting the African souls. He wondered how a president could fly in expensive presidential jets and yet their citizens would go about wallowing in poverty and dying of jiggers.
Museveni announced a new dawn. He pledged a government of austerity where his ministers would ride in double-cabin Isuzu trucks unlike the previous regimes where ministers would be chauffeured in powerful Mercedes Benzes. He also vowed to consume home-made products including buying furniture from Katwe. Actually Museveni’s first bed as president was bought at Katwe. And his Kaunda suits where tailored at Kiyembe, a popular spot for low-cost garments for Kampala’s middle class.
Museveni started off with the army. This has been a landmark in his almost 30 years in power. Taking the soldiers back to the barracks is an achievement that will never be taken away from Museveni. For the first time in the history of Uganda’s anarchy and fascist faces, we witnessed a rather harrowing experience of soldiers facing the due penalty for their (mis)deeds by open firing squad. Looting and kondoism (hard-hitting robbery) that had characterised the Amin, Obote, Lutwa episodes were apparently no more. To the public eye, especially those who had gotten used to “duka duka” (restlessness and sleepless nights over insecurity), these were liberators with a difference. They were not like the wakombozi (Tanzanian-backed liberators) of 1979.
Life started to seep back. People started going about their normal activities as the new regime scratched to establish its footing. Museveni was popular. He was a crowd puller. That was the time he moved freely with a convoy of three vehicles. At one time while traveling to receive his visiting Kenyan counterpart, Daniel arap Moi at Entebbe airport, Museveni is said to have fiercely rebuked the bodyguards who were throwing off people that had thronged Entebbe road to greet the new president.
By the turn of the 90s, Museveni had become the new political sensation, earning praise from world leaders such as President Bill Clinton who referred to the former as among the new breed of African leaders.
28 years later, many of the people who used to line up the streets to have a glance at the revolutionary leader are now asking where the Museveni of the Kaunda suit vanished. They are asking why the man who castigated leaders who overstayed in power is determined to rule till he drops dead. They are left wondering what happened to the man who bought his first bed at Katwe.
One writer would describe Museveni of the Kaunda suits an apparition of the Museveni who now moves with a bullion van- 28 years later.
Long rule Your Excellency!