My letter of assurance to the Ugandan Head of State that I was going to serve the UN and would therefore have to give up over a decade of activism got its 15 minutes of fame on the Internet. My friends, ‘frenemies,’ enemies and total strangers crawled out of the woodworks to pronounce their verdict on my decision to give up activism for full time employment. I do not know whether I was more surprised by the ignorance of my friends or the condemnation of my adversaries. Overall, the verdict was confusing.
Winnie Byanyima was traveling at the time I penned the letter to President Museveni and when she got in touch and asked to see what I had written, her wise political verdict was that it was only a matter of time before the letter was published in the press. She regretted that I had included personal matters in the letter relating to my child’s illness and that I had not confined my remarks to the rules of the UN relating to non-partisanship. I totally agreed with her and wished I had held back on the sentiments but I reminded her of the context. I was sitting at the bedside of a very sick child and had just been told that my daughter would need brain surgery to treat her condition. My thoughts were focused on getting her the treatment she needed and the insurance I needed to pay for that treatment so it slipped into the letter.
Meantime in Kampala, Kizza Besigye who had a serious national agenda found himself defending my new employment on radio talk shows that could have been devoted to more important national matters. He was surprised that even those who knew me well and knew how opposition members are manipulated to serve the goals of the rulers did not understand the dynamics at play. The late Sam Njuba, national chairman of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) was devastated by the news, which was simplified to the easily understood phenomenon: ‘Anne has been bought!’ My erstwhile FDC colleagues who will remain unnamed rose to the chorus: ‘We knew it!’
I burnt a lot of telephone talk time explaining to those who mattered exactly what had happened before deciding that this was a matter that could only be understood with time. No matter what I said there was truth in the fact that the letter that was published on the Internet was mine. I wrote it because I needed clearance to get a job. It was addressed to President Museveni and it stated that I was giving up 12 years of activism to start a career with an international organization. These facts were irrefutable. The context would only be meaningful when the public had exhausted its fury and was ready to hear the story from both sides. In the meantime the only thing that was seriously hurt was my ego and that had a way of repairing itself – with time. So I sat back, popped the corn and watched the movie.
Most surprising was the attitude of my friends and family. A few were embarrassed by my ‘desertion’ of the opposition but many more comforted me for having the courage to abandon ‘Besigye’ and accept the President’s offer! I encountered a friend of the family who declared that he had personally thanked the President for getting me a job in the United Nations! I reflected again on the power of the media and the ‘grapevine.’ Through their careless reporting they had managed to convince so many people that the Uganda government and specifically, the President had got me employment with an international organization. I quickly tired of giving lengthy explanations and let time do its work.
Meantime on the other side of the political spectrum jubilation and condemnation came fast and furious. Anne had finally seen the ‘light’ and dropped the opposition; Anne was not deserving of the president’s magnanimity considering her opposition activism against the government and the UPDF. How could the president ‘reward’ her for her outspoken criticism when there were so many cadres looking for jobs? A relative who was visiting a pro-government family that did not know she was related to me sat quietly through a conversation in which the president was castigated for giving me a job at the United Nations. She later told me that she sat there hoping that no one ever discovered that she was related to me because of the venom in the room. They felt betrayed that instead of ‘giving’ the job to one of their own, the president had chosen to ‘give’ me the job. My personal favorite was in a Chimp Report of that season which called the UPDF in Somalia to arms in an article that ‘quoted’ a UPDF soldier that purportedly stated:
‘It is times like these I wish I were deployed in Somalia, I would cleanse the spirit of our forces by doing the worst. How I wish someone does the honors on my behalf.’
At 50 I know that ignorance is the one thing that unites the supporters of the rulers with those of the ruled.
— feeling surprised.