By Mike Ssegawa
Journalist Andrew Mwenda and politician Norbert Mao cut their teeth criticising President Yoweri Museveni.
As a shrewd politician, Mr Museveni, president for 31 years and still counting, finally outsmarted both men, who were darling of the political class in the late 90s and early 2000s for lambasting the Ugandan leader.
Mwenda and Mao, in their halcyon days, maybe were driven by youthful exuberance and idealism. They passionately put up admirable intellectual fights and I am sure they both look back at those days with admiration.
Mwenda, at some point, said, give me liberty or death. It explains why he often found himself in police cells and actually served journalism more than many people who have walked his path. Mwenda genuinely believed in his cause. He believed in democracy that respects citizens’ fundamental rights such as freedoms of speech, expression and association. He believed it was the government’s obligation to provide employment, education, health care and basic services like water and shelter. He was willing to risk anything to speak his mind. He won hearts and minds because he spoke eloquently and with courage what many people whispered about or silently clamoured.
Then, there was The Mao who championed the cause of people in the north that he earned himself the respect and admiration of rebel leader Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Movement. Mao was also instrumental to ending the war in the north, which left thousands dead and millions displaced. He too spoke to power with courage things many people feared to say, including the excesses of the Ugandan military in the north.
The glorious pasts of Mwenda and Mao earned them a place in Ugandan society. They sit at high tables when notable Ugandans are invited.
Mwenda owns Independent publications as well as a media/political consultant for the mighty of this part of the world. His opinion matters. Mao on the other hand is the president general of the Democratic party, the oldest party in the country, having served as legislator and local government leader in Gulu.
However, the two men have changed a lot, especially in their outlook towards the Ugandan leader Mr Museveni, how Uganda is governed as well as the cause of the opposition.
Whereas the two men in the past associated with opposition causes, now, they highly despise opposition elements. For Mwenda, they’re a bunch of fools, while for Mao, opposition is a platform for self promotion. He however cheers anyone doing business with government and castigates anyone offering support to strong opposition leaders such as Kizza Besigye, Erias Lukwago, Betty Nambooze, Ingrid Turinawe, among others.
The difference between Mwenda and Mao is what makes one of the two men better than the other.
It is alright to have an opinion or even change it depending on circumstances or new knowledge at one’s disposal at any given time. Mwenda does not shy away from showing he’s now pro-Museveni. And it’s not a sin to support Museveni even if he doesn’t say what changed in the man he so vehemently criticised in the past. Mwenda is a honest person because he doesn’t hide behind anything. We all know where he stands.
On the hand is the DP leader Mao is very confusing. He says he is a leader of an opposition party. However, Mao would vehemently attack “fellow” opposition leaders as if all he wants is being left in opposition alone. The same Mao however has been fuzzy as his close associates in the party have one by one left the party to work for Mr Museveni. Mao has not distanced from any of them. Instead, he attacks anyone who questions how these DP elements harmonize their ideologies by working for Museveni who they oppose and still remain DP members. DP has no formal arrangement with Museveni, which leaves one option; Mao and Museveni have a private arrangement.
It explains Mao’s attacks on Besigye who seen as Museveni’s archrival. It explains his tender love for Museveni and the NRM party while he vehemently hates the Forum for Democratic change.
You cannot distinguish between Mao who claims being in opposition and Mao who is sending ambassadors to Museveni’s government.
Mao cannot eat his cake and have it too. He too surrendered. He should come out of the closet like Mwenda. There is nothing wrong with saying the gap between his thinking and Museveni has shrunk over time, and now he has no fundamental differences. There is nothing wrong with that. It is called honesty. It is better than pretending to be in opposition when in actual fact, he is a legendary snake in the green grass.