Saturday, June 13, 2015

Returning home after nine years

I returned to Uganda on 11 June 2010, nine years after leaving the country in anger and fear.   I was met at Entebbe International Airport by Sam Njuba, Francis Mwijukye, activists and some journalists and I stepped right back into opposition activism as if nothing had changed.   The party arranged a press conference for me at the Forum for Democratic Change, (FDC) head office in Najjanankumbi and I addressed it speaking about the political mobilization work I did abroad in North America and my intention to mobilize grassroots women to participate in the forthcoming election.

My daughters took the brunt of my return to Uganda street politics.  In the United States where we had no maids, I was the mom who took them to school, fed them and watched over them.  We had become so close and called ourselves the 'three musketeers' always doing things together and knowing each other so well.  Then when we returned home and they immediately took second place to my passion for activism and they were not happy.  Not from the moment I was separated from them at Entebbe Airport to talk to journalists and ended up traveling in a different vehicle than the one they took to my brother's home in Rubaga.  Hannah was only two and Joannah was four when they left Uganda and it was rather amusing seeing Uganda now through their eyes.  They cried when the car hit a pot hole thinking they were in an accident.  They saw a mad person on the street eating out of the trash piled beside the road and asked me 'who is that?'  At the registration center in Bugolobi where I went to register as a voter we stood in line together and there were empty water bottles littered all over the place.  I had to restrain Joannah from picking up litter and looking for a trash can where it was supposed to go.  The first morning in Rubaga when the Imam's prayer came blaring out of a close by mosque, the girls came running to my room scared out of their wits at the alien sound of someone shouting at that early hour.  It was then I realized that they had both lived most of their lives away from Uganda and while I thought of my journey to Uganda in 2010 as returning home for the girls the journey was the first time that they could remember leaving home.

The team of activists I had worked with all those years ago were now part of a legally recognized political party, the 'Forum for Democratic Change,' (FDC) and I had been voted in as Deputy Secretary General for International and Regional Affairs in absentia.  Political party politics had been reintroduced thanks to political pressure from activists and donor partners but the monolithic Movement system had been entrenched by then and the structures which had belonged to the system in which all Ugandans were arbitrarily drafted was hijacked by the Movement Party.  So while other parties had to build structures from scratch ahead of the 2006 elections, the NRM simply usurped state structures and was therefore miles ahead of the game.  The same structures and the usual tricks ensured that the Movement Party won another rigged election in 2006 and the Supreme Court gave a finding similar to the one in 2001 - the cheating was never enough for the Supreme Court to reverse a rigged election.  I had followed the 2006 elections from the United States and was not close enough to tell that story.

What had not changed when I returned in 2010 was the harassment of opposition activists ahead of another election.  Activists were campaigning for constitutional amendments and changes in the electoral laws to get rid of an Electoral Commission that was appointed by the president, giving him undue influence over its decisions and methods of work.  In the place of Kakooza Mutale who had terrorized activists in 2001, Ugandans now had what was known as the 'Kiboko squad,' a rag-tag militia that worked in cooperation with the Uganda Police to cane activists who demonstrated in Kampala.  I arrived shortly after Kizza Besigye and a new breed of street hardened activists had been caned by the squad. 

Living abroad all those years I had tried to visualize how the change to multiparty politics would have impacted our core team of activists and I fantasized that we maintained the same passionate spirit for change but having never participated in the internal struggles for power within a political party I was in for a rude surprise.  My dear friend Beti Kamya had been edged out of the leadership and subsequently out of the party.  I had pleaded with her from afar not quite understanding what issues could have arisen to make her want to leave.  However, it did not take long before I too was being called the new 'Beti Kamya,' who had returned to disorganize the party.  My passion to work for change had overridden my ability to tolerate internal discord.  When we campaigned in 2001 our focus was on the Movement as the single target of our messaging.  There was never any need to look over my shoulder to check if Beti Kamya or Winnie Byanyima or Kizza Besigye were saying the same thing and reacting the same way as all the other leaders of the campaign.  I just knew that they were.  We were a team, a great team.  So in 2010, I had no patience for internal bickering and my ability to negotiate internal party positions was really low, so I walked into FDC like the proverbial bull in a china shop and before long I had more enemies than friends at the party headquarters.

At 50 I know that no matter how close we work as a team, over time priorities, interests and ideas evolve, creating a new dynamic to which even some of the most committed team members may not relate.

— feeling confused

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