Last week, news filtered through that Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi’s (aka Bobi Wine) children were leaving the country. In an act of utter unprofessionalism, someone (or some people) at the airport leaked screenshots of their itineraries with clearly legible private details. In any truly civilised society, this kind of egregious privacy breach would result in stern consequences for those that carried it out. But we are not that kind of society; indeed, we are the country that prosecutes CAA staff that pull down the incumbent’s posters from places where they absolutely shouldn’t be.
As expected, the pictures created a frenzy among Bobi’s opponents (mostly NRM supporters) as soon as they appeared online. One by one, they lined up to take shots at him for legally doing what anyone in his position would do – look out for his family. One of the strangest things about Uganda is that we have a terrible penchant for blaming victims whatever the circumstances. This is how we end up with all sorts of campaigns, such as the ongoing “I choose peace” one, aimed at likely victims instead of the real perpetrators.
Anyway, the day after the children departed, I received the following message in several of my WhatsApp groups. It appeared to be a Facebook post by Andrew Mwenda and I later confirmed that it indeed had been posted on his wall. (I rarely visit Facebook following a decision I made 3 years ago to “deplatform” myself there. But I maintain an account that comes in handy when I need to check out stuff like this).
On reading the post, I chuckled at the audacity of someone haranguing a man who’s been through hell for deciding to protect his children and posted the following tweet.
I then moved on to other things because this really wasn’t something I wanted to spend too much time on. But not before a rather illuminating exchange with an NRM member in which I challenged her to state whether she thought leaking the itineraries was right or wrong. She declined to do so after circumventing the question with a series of whataboutisms.
On Friday evening however, while hosting the K-FM Hot Seat, Andrew focused on this issue for most of the show. I was dismayed to listen to the members making all sorts of arguments insinuating that Bobi was wrong to send his children away. That’s when I decided to draft my reaction to the Facebook post above as well as the arguments that some of the radio panelists were making.
The reason for Andrew’s gloating is because he was on a TV show with Bobi a few years ago where Bobi told him he (Andrew) would be the first to leave the country if trouble erupted. He added that he (Bobi) on the other hand would have to stay around with his family since this is the only country he has. The problem with Andrew pouncing on this two-and-a-half year old clip to chest-thump “I told you” via all the channels he has at his disposal (and they are considerable) is because he is ignoring the basic fact that our opinions and decision making processes evolve when we (1) acquire new knowledge and (2) gain new lived experiences. I’m not sure whether the Arua fracas happened before or after that 2018 TV interview but it is worth reminding ourselves that during that sad episode, Bobi’s driver and friend – Yasin Kawuma – was shot dead in Bobi’s vehicle. And this is my biggest gripe with the K-FM panelists last Friday – unless any of them has ever had a close friend take a fatal bullet in their car from the people whose actual duty is to protect them, they had no right to condemn Bobi for making the decision he made to evacuate his family. I found it particularly amusing to hear them argue that this issue would cost him votes when every single one of them making that argument have always said he has no chance of winning the election. Even worse, Bobi (and others) had to endure a lengthy detention during which time he was tortured, framed with possession of illegal arms and forced to miss Yasin’s burial. Since then, he has been tormented even more – barred from holding concerts, barred from consulting the electorate for his presidential run, teargassed at every turn (including his home) and locked up again. I hasten to note that a lot of this harassment preceded the COVID-19 pandemic. By the time his children were flying out, most of his campaign team had been detained and denied bail in a bid to prevent them from participating in the election. During the tragic events of November 2020, all the lives that were cut short were lost at the hands of security forces. These are the same forces that Andrew and his friends are asking Bobi to trust. The same forces that have beaten and maimed his colleagues and innocent bystanders with no compunction whatsoever.
Can any human being really go through all this and not have their outlook on many things in life altered in many ways? Can we members of the chattering class, who have not faced anything close to even a tiny fraction of all this pain and suffering, condemn a man who has borne the brunt of it all? Do we even understand the psychological impact it is having on him. If you said something in the naive expectation that you were competing against humans, should it be held against you when you change your mind after realising that you are actually competing against monsters? I say no.
Luckily for Bobi, since that time, he has also made new connections and new opportunities have opened up for him. He is wiser now and if his decision to send his children away was facilitated by some of his connections, good for him. After all, he is here. Do what you want to him – he is the contestant. Not his children who are not even of voting age yet.
While reflecting on Andrew’s vicious attacks on Bobi and his family, I remembered how Andrew was a coronavirus skeptic many months ago. I distinctly remember him arguing against a lockdown because of the likely economic toll it would exact. Along the way, he changed to a strong SOP believer when he learned more about the disease and also eventually lost some relatives to it (may their souls rest in peace). At some point, he was busy lambasting President Magufuli for his approach to managing the disease (including sharing some videos of doubtful provenance). You don’t have to take my word for it – just go and search his TL and other media spaces for his mixed messaging on C-19 over the past 10 months. Should anyone attack him for his stance at the beginning of the pandemic and for some of the things he said/tweeted at the time that are at odds with what he preaches today? No. Not at all. It is only fair and indeed expected for one’s outlook to change when exposed to new knowledge and experience. That is part of what being human is about. If anything, there is a problem with anyone whose position on something does not change when presented with new evidence. And, boy, has the State given Bobi enough evidence since 2018…