By Yusuf Serunkuma
We all watched his seventh COVID-19 address. We came to our TVs hoping for more clarity on an earlier address, which had done everything to confuse the country.
I recall a tweep cynically noting that what mattered was not what President Yoweri Museveni had said, but rather, what the enforcers (the prized LDUs) understood. The picture of his press secretary, Linda Wamboka Nabusayi reading a long list of queries that the president had not addressed spoke volumes.
It spoke of a messy State House, uncoordinated and incoherent – not just in this COVID-19 fight (for you would have expected more organisation in these times), but supposedly in everything else.
Nabusayi is the president’s press secretary – which means she works closely with her boss. She is not a random journalist. Why would she be reading comments the president had to address in the course of the presser? Had she simply forgotten these or had they just come in? Had Museveni identified the earlier queries himself, and Ms Nabusayi was only meeting him here?
Nabusayi’s list was too long and embarrassing. It topped a rather painful long hour where the president not only sounded like a debater, but also as a simple advisor, or a smart old man, but not the goddamn president of the republic.
It is debaters who say things like, “I think,” “I would suggest”, “my advice is,” not presidents. Didn’t you see him giving amnesty to suspected abusers of his directives off-head, and also suggesting an arrest of a district chairperson just like that? Just like that.
Look, my compatriots, this is the president of the country, and I do not mean to take away his right to the presidency – another debate altogether – but even his most impassioned surrogates are worried about his incoherence and off-the-cuff directives. Directives need to be carefully thought through for they have real-life and real-time implications.
The sheer enormity of contradictions, and ill-thought through recommendations speak to a rather troubled State House. Why?
Touted as a speech of clarifications, it instead turned out like another well-organised minister’s meeting with the president making some wise “suggestions,” which sadly, are supposed to be read as directives.
It was in the course of this meeting that ministers – I mean, Museveni’s own ministers – turned journalists asking questions and seeking clarifications on behalf of Ugandans – in the course of the goddamn address itself.
This revealed a rather difficult relationship ministers enjoy with their boss. They actually never meet him. They never think through directives with him, but are required to explain them further and implement them.
Sadly, when they meet him at pressers, like the average wananchi, they are awestruck by his snow-white cotton shirts. Coronavirus has even made any meeting with their boss even more difficult and will be so for long.
But these contradictions, and lack of clarity in Museveni’s addresses reveal a starker reality: there are no experts or chaps with experience (political-economic, sociological) around the president.
If they are there, their presence is simply symbolic but not functional. How else does one think about these terrible blights? Unlike Milton Obote or Julius Nyerere’s inner circles, Museveni seems to lack the brains expected of a presidential frontline.
I recall one time at The Independent, when my friend, journalist Andrew Mwenda (now hiding in his village in Kanyandahi), describing Museveni’s intellectual company as composed of “distant and near relatives, half-educated, hitherto unemployed and perhaps unemployable lanky youths just arrived from the countryside.”
This is itself a tragedy, and we might be in for a thorough coronavirus beating. With the entire world in a state of panic, we need not lose our curious selves.
We need to continuously press, ask the hard questions and challenge authorities to do better. This critic has to be honest and hard as could be possibly made.
Despite Museveni being charged with – or unfairly monopolising – responses to this epidemic, the virus is non-discriminatory, and might have all of us wiped out (well, not necessarily).
Source The Observer.