ROCK stands for “Reclaiming Our Country and Kin” and it is the kind of bold, charismatic proclamation you would expect from Joseph Kabuleta – popularly referred to by his initials “JK”. I was sorely disappointed when it transpired that there would be no Presidential TV debate this time round even though TV and other electronic media platforms were supposed to have been key channels in a so-called “scientific” campaign. I am sure I wasn’t the only one that would have loved to see JK’s no holds barred approach on that stage. There is no doubt that JK is a good orator and has the knack for peppering his oratory with sprinklings of quick-witted quips and sarcasm. There is a clip of him explaining his stance on Covid-19 that’s done the rounds on WhatsApp and even though I disagree with some of his assertions in it, it is interesting to see how convincing he sounds.
That said, JK’s candidature came as a bit of surprise to me. Much as his dissatisfaction with the status quo – amply illustrated by his periodic acerbic writings excoriating the regime and some of its key personalities – was common knowledge for a long time, I didn’t expect him to throw his hat into the ring at relatively short notice. By short notice, I mean there wasn’t much in way of preparation from him in terms of setting up some form of publicly visible organisation to act as a vehicle for his ambition. Contrast this with Robert Kyagulanyi who set in motion the wheels of his presidential run by contesting for Parliament and then forming the People Power pressure group. This helped him build the kind of momentum that a newcomer to politics needs for a serious presidential bid. JK didn’t really do anything like that and I’m not sure he did any extensive secret/behind-the-scenes preparatory work. Some unkind fellows have alleged his bid was a result of “prophetic pressure” but, frankly, who cares? As a long time journalist and pundit though with some controversial episodes featuring in his life story, he is not exactly an unknown – many people got to know him through his TV and print sports commentary and later as a religious personality through his Watchman Ministries.
Coming to his manifesto, I was actually surprised that he had produced one. This is because I hadn’t heard about it or even seen a website for his campaign and I hadn’t heard about a manifesto. Given such documents tend to circulate on social media, I hadn’t seen anything on the few platforms I frequent. So I was a bit surprised to learn about it’s existence. Before delving into it, it is worth noting that JK’s campaign has been super-focused on one issue: Financial Liberation. The concept of Financial Liberation as I understand it can essentially be distilled to mean the kind of economic empowerment that results in real/tangible increases in income across all strata of society.
No surprises then to learn that his manifesto prioritises Economic Development. It presents target income figures in absolute black and white (double average household income to UGX. 1,000,000 per month within 5 years) and goes to great detail to explain how that would be achieved. Don’t assume though that this means everything else is neglected. Not at all. First of all, in order to achieve those lofty wealth creation targets, the manifesto makes it clear that a lot of work would have to be done in the areas of Agriculture, Government efficiency & productivity, Taxation, Energy, Industry and exploitation of Natural Resources. Secondly, the manifesto also touches the areas of Education, Health, Sports and Arts and Tourism. It also makes mention of Foreign Policy and National Security, Justice and Democracy. So the manifesto does cover the standard Ugandan manifesto areas. What sets it apart is the relentless focus on wealth creation and the number of “black and white” action points and targets presented for many of the proposed initiatives.
Unfortunately, the aforementioned suspicion that JK didn’t spend enough time preparing his bid also shines through his manifesto. It appears he wasn’t able to put in place a team to refine and polish it. As a result, I can’t talk about its aesthetic side because it has no aesthetics to talk about. It is a simple document that, save for the grey circular patterned background and a few bold headings, could as well have been typed on a typewriter since it doesn’t benefit from any other features of modern electronic publishing. It is really that basic.
On the content side, it is so frustrating that the document didn’t undergo the kind of refinement and polishing that a good editorial team would have no doubt been able to do. It is frustrating because the content is actually good – even compared to the others. The facts, figures and arguments presented would have been so much more compelling with some polish as would have been the design aspects. As an example of the kind of refinement that would have helped, the section on “Jobs” comes at a very end and yet this area is closely linked to the economic development content that is presented at the very start. That section presents the household income targets but mainly discusses Agriculture as the vehicle with Tourism, Industry and Jobs coming much later (in different places at that). “Energy” is wedged between “Foreign Policy, National Security and Refugees” and “Justice”. This kind of disjointed flow makes the manifesto look like an early draft that wasn’t subjected to any kind of further editing. Again, I strongly suspect this was due to limited resources in terms of time, team members and probably financial.
Despite these disappointments, even as-is, the author’s passion and conviction came through to me while reading it. If you imagine JK narrating the same points presented in the manifesto aurally in his forceful manner, you get a sense of how powerful the arguments would be. Try it for the following extract and see:
Uganda has largely implemented an ambiguous foreign policy based on the instincts of those in power, without national interest in mind. We continue to pay a heavy price for the higgledy-piggledy policy of adventurism and reck- less expansionism.
I shall put an end to the current government’s tendency to engage Uganda’s military in unnecessary regional interventions. We have had a combative presence in Rwanda, DRC, Central African Republic, Burundi, South Sudan and Somalia. The facade that the motive is regional stability has been shuttered by the instances of cross border smuggling, and pillaging of natural resources in the DRC.
I will roll back the infelicitous policy of reckless political adventurism and military interventionism.
For decades, Uganda has been home to millions of refugees mainly fleeing political unrest in their home countries. It is home to over 2.2 million refugees, with about 3,000 new arrivals per day. Uganda has had a hand, directly or indirectly, in causing and exacerbating these conflicts.
Uganda will cease to be a destabilizing factor for neighboring countries.Joseph Kabuleta Manifesto 2021-2026, Various Pages
In a way, this makes the manifesto actually feel (and sound?) real and authentic with no lashings of pretence that others may employ to embellish their documents. Please read it – it is only 27 pages long. There is a problem with this kind of authenticity though; in order for you to feel it, you need to have listened to JK a number of times (which despite his higher-than-average name recognition is not a given for many). In addition, it firmly ties the manifesto to a single person and not to an organisation. I’m not sure that many right-thinking people would like the idea of a personality-based presidency after the current one. But for a first attempt and given the prevailing circumstances and environment, let’s cut JK some slack. I am eager to see how he will fare in future if he chooses to step into the river of politics with “both feet”.
P.S: It was heart-warming to read words like “infelicitous” and “higgledy-piggledy”. It would have been even better to hear them on a Presidential Debate set.