By Okodan Akwap
On Thursday, April 11, the day the Sudanese leader, Omar al-Bashir was toppled, Mr Godfrey Ojore, a newsman with the Soroti-based Etop Radio, rang me for a quick comment. It was about 5pm in the evening. I was tired. I was rushing home from work. I had not watched or listened to the news. I was, therefore, not prepared for a news interview.
My unpreparedness turned out to be a blessing. I spoke from the heart. And my heart took me back to the early 1980s when I was a news reporter with The People newspaper. With clarity it, reminded me of a chain of events that culminated in the successful execution of people power.
I told Ojore that yes, what had happened in Sudan could happen in Uganda too. I took him back 33 years ago when a peaceful revolt in the Philippines resulted in the ouster of president Ferdinand Marcos, who had ruled that country with an iron fist for 20 years.
It all started with the assassination of popular Opposition politician Benigno Aquino on August 21, 1983. Anger welled up among the Filipino. Then it coalesced into peaceful street protests in 1986 when Corazon Aquino, the widow of the slain leader, challenged Marcos in a presidential election.
Marcos fraudulently claimed victory. Big mistake. The Filipino voters poured out onto the streets. They drove Marcos out of the Philippines and Ms Aquino assumed power in February 1986. That is what gave birth to the “people power” phenomenon.
Hardliners in the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) say their party is invulnerable. They dismiss the People Power idea and the man who has polularised it in Uganda – Mr Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, the Kyadondo East MP. They see him as an upstart politician.
To be honest, in the beginning, I too was inclined to think that Bobi Wine was going nowhere. But when my one-year stint as acting deputy vice chancellor for academic affairs at Kumi University ended in March, I took advantage of the Lent season to calm down and reflect deeply on the political events unfolding in our country as the race to 2021 general elections heats up.
I realised that both President Museveni and his perennial challenger, Dr Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) desperately need Bobi Wine, but for different reasons.
Besigye knows that taking on Museveni again after losing four times is a bit of a stretch. He needs an alliance with Bobi Wine, who, realistically, can use the legitimate people power followership to trigger a political change of major proportions in this country.
Museveni needs to be seen as tolerant. Thus, Bobi Wine should have round-the-clock protection from any physical harm. Museveni must particularly avoid a repeat of the Philippines situation when the killing of an Opposition politician triggered a mass revolt.
Museveni must see Bobi Wine as a keg of explosive powder. If Bobi Wine wants to stage a concert, he should do so. Let him rant and rave against the government at his concerts or rallies. Let him move freely. Police must ensure that he enjoys security of person and property.
NRM is more vulnerable now than ever before. Bryan S. Turner, in his book, The Body and Society, notes that the notion of vulnerability is derived from the Latin vulnus or ‘wound’. It signifies the human potential to be open to the world and hence to be wounded.
NRM people say they cannot be ‘wounded’ by the Opposition. This is flawed thinking. Vulnerability applies to more than physical harm. They may be more mentally, spiritually and morally vulnerable than they wish to admit.
Gone are the days when we seemed to have just one openly angry man – Besigye. Now there are millions of loudly angry, unemployed and desperate youth out there clamouring for change, perhaps any change.
In Sudan, demonstrators cited poor governance, corruption and absence of justice as major grievances. Those things have a permanent home in Uganda. Bobi Wine may be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Dr Akwap teaches at Kumi University.
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