I hinted to you last Saturday that I might tell you something about Bobi Wine , the ragga megastar, who is also my MP.
Bobi Wine is popularly known as the Ghetto President. But officially he is the Honourable Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, the Member of Parliament for Kyaddondo East Constituency.
Last Monday, Wine was released on bond from a civilian court, where he had been charged with treason, along with 33 others, including a clutch of fellow parliamentarians.
Earlier, he had been freed from a military court that rejected an arms possession charge against him, only for him to be re-arrested and charged with treason.
Treason is a capital offence and the accused could face severe punishment if convicted. Secondly, Bobi Wine and several of his co-accused are still nursing serious injuries inflicted upon them during their brutishly violent arrest.
Indeed, it was mainly the shockingly brutal behaviour of the arresting security forces, and their subsequent attack on protesting civilians, and even journalists covering the events, that attracted international attention and complaints.
Uganda has certainly been in the international limelight over the past fortnight but for all the wrong reasons. Images of MPs limping in and out of court on crutches, and of gangs of “security” men clobbering journalists on their knees and with their hands in the air, are not what Ugandans would like to represent them on the media channels of the world.
My primary concern, however, is to explore the root causes of this malaise of violence, which has its counterparts in most African countries.
I start from my oft-repeated hypothesis that violence and terror are invariably manifestations of a failed discourse or dialogue.
Where, for example, people cannot talk over their differences, the likelihood is that they will fight over them. The current Bobi Wine affair, for example, stemmed from a parliamentary bye-election in the north-western municipality of Arua, hotly contested between the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party and a coalition of opposition forces spearheaded by Bobi Wine.
NO NEED TO REHASH DETAILS
Anyway, we need not rehash the details of the widely-reported fracas that led to the arrest of Wine and his colleagues.
The sad truth is that there was failure between the contending parties to contest within the well-laid down rules of electoral campaigning and vote-seeking, occasioning the inexcusable violent incidents.
But the really worrying realisation from the increasing number of such incidents is that the generations emerging out of Uganda’s prolonged conflicts and the NRM liberation struggle (the bush war) are apparently incapable of negotiating non-violent solutions to any differences among individuals or groups.
The result is a growing segment of the populace that believes that terror and violence are acceptable, if not necessary, ways of solving conflicts, or, indeed, of survival.
On the one hand, you have the bush (“kichaka”) war liberators and their descendants, who were compelled to resort to violence to remedy an intolerable state of misrule.
On the other, you have the slum (“ghetto”) kids, the orphans and other victims of the conflicts, who were left to fend for themselves as best they could within their deprived and chaotic environments. For them, survival, whether by begging, stealing or killing or all of these, became their life’s principle.
The main problem is that people from this “kichaka” and “ghetto” mix are coming into full adulthood and, inevitably, assuming positions of leadership in all spheres of life, including politics and security operations.
Now, if the only principles that these people know to the solution and resolution of problems is “kichaka” (armed force) or “ghetto” (survival of the roughest), society appears to be headed for very troubled times.
The defiant and outspoken Bobi Wine claims to be a representative of the ghetto. His runaway popularity, especially among the underprivileged youth, is an indication of the aspirations and frustrations of this important section of the population. The rampaging security forces presumably came from the “bush” wing, since they claimed to be operating on behalf of the powers that be.
But ghetto or bush, the reality is that neither side can positively solve any of their society’s problems through confrontation or brute force. It is high time that these young generations should start moving out of the violence of the bush and the rebellious defiance of the ghetto towards more civilised negotiated solutions. Otherwise our societies are headed for assured self-destruction.
Performing artists, like Bobi Wine, are conspicuous role models for hordes of their admirers. They should guard against projecting those images of confrontational violence, which appears to be prevalent even among themselves, even leading to several deaths of members of their own fraternity. Attitudes of irresponsible living, like glorying in being “Kings of Uga-nja” (ganja being Jamaican slang for cannabis) are incompatible with the leadership roles that they are destined to play in their new society.
Similarly, the bush wing would do well to remember that one of the cardinal virtues that enabled the original liberators to bring about the fundamental changes with which they are credited was discipline. A memorably endearing quality of those people who came out of the bush was their discipline and respect towards the civilians. Even when they wanted or needed a banana or a piece of sugar cane from a roadside stall, they asked for it or paid for it. They did not use the power of the gun the way previous forces had done.
They came out of the bush, and it was assumed that the bush came out of them. But the recent behaviour of those security forces makes many wonder whether the bush ever really came clean out of them or whether it is re-entering them and their successors. Similarly, those who come from the ghetto to assume positions of leadership have to work at getting the ghetto out of their systems.
We may have been born or forged in the bush or in the ghetto, but surely, as Jesse Jackson once put it, neither the bush nor the ghetto was born in us.
Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and Literature. [email protected]