A couple of years ago I was setting off on what some would consider the trip of a lifetime.
An airport taxi driver picked me up. He was young with a Middle Eastern complexion, perhaps a recent immigrant to Jersey City or Newark. It was unseasonably warm for a late February day, and he had the car windows down. Egyptian pop flooded out onto 8th Street.
“Where are you going?” The driver was in a chatty mood.
“Antactica,” I said excitedly.
He looked at me blankly through the rear-view mirror.
“Oh. Are you from there?”
* * * *
Before you laugh too hard at him, think about how much you knew about Uganda before you started reading this blog. Or what you knew about Rwanda before the genocide. Or how about this… what do you know about Tuvalu? Where the heck is Tuvalu? I couldn’t even locate it on the map. I’d wave a hand at the South Pacific, say “it’s there,” and hope no one wanted specifics. (It’s famous for global-warming reasons).
In the interests of educating myself, I’ve taken a page from my pal Yancey’s book. Every morning I read BBC Africa. And because I have a personal interest in Uganda, I also read the Daily Monitor each morning.
What’s the latest in Uganda?
The opposition leader is still in prison. Secret police called Black Mambas patrol nearby, outraging advocates of transparency and justice. And horrifyingly, Uganda’s attorney general has recommended that the opposition leader not be allowed to run for president, because:
"Although he is presumed innocent until proven guilty, it certainly cannot be said that Besigye is on the same level of innocence as that of the other presidential candidates."
Furthermore, the attorney general stated that if the opposition leader is presumed innocent, then rebel leaders—like the Lord's Resistance Army's Joseph Kony—might demand that they should contest on the ground that they are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Whoa, I can barely think for all the alarm bells screaming in my head. Comparing presidential candidates to murderers? Implying that an accusation alone defines a man’s guilt and morals? This is crazy.
One good thing that has come out of the situation is freedom of the press. When I was in Uganda, commentator Andrew Mwenda was arrested for sedition because he commented that the president’s helicopter had been "junk" when that helicopter had gone down, killing Sudanese VP (and long-time rebel leader in a complex and deadly Sudanese conflict) John Garang. The government had arrested Mwenda with a public reminder of how speculative radio broadcasts in Rwanda had led to genocide. (Hmm, someone has a rather unsophisticated but unashamedly manipulative press agent in his office.)
Now, Andrew Mwenda freely criticizes the President in the Monitor.
The independent Monitor has been closed before by the government. But right now, with the world watching and the opposition candidate in jail on a seemingly trumped-up charge, the Monitor seems immune. Which must give them great confidence and bravado, as they have seized the moment and covered the President’s misdeeds with gusto.
But I wouldn’t want to be working for the Monitor when all this blows over. The world’s attention span is short, and no doubt a scorecard is being kept. Retribution will come. Let’s just hope that Museveni is becoming a benevolent dictator instead of a vindictive despot.