How Nagenda fell out with Museveni Making sense of Nagenda’s latest outburst
Written by James Tumusiime
Wednesday, 07 September 2011 19:36
Fallen out: John Naggenda
A cat may not look at a king after all!
On May 28, 2005, after Prof Gilbert Bukenya, who was Vice President at the time, lamented in an interview in The Monitor that the ‘mafia’ in government were seeking to destroy him, John Nagenda, senior presidential advisor on media and public relations, wrote in his New Vision column:
“The easier option would be to pretend that Thursday found the majority of us, Ugandans, on a day trip to Mars, and thus not in a position to have read The Monitor newspaper. But we were nowhere else but here and mus,t therefore, however gingerly, sift through the still smoking bombs encountered on that heady day.”
Similarly, many of us cannot pretend that we were on Mars last Sunday when Nagenda used the same newspaper to describe his master, President Yoweri Museveni, as a man who can be “mischievous”; is “more autocratic”, and no longer listens.
Indeed, we have to sift through “the still smoking bombs” that Nagenda unleashed in that Sunday Monitor interview. But before we get there, another quote from what Nagenda said of the Bukenya outburst in May 2005:
“Bukenya is normally a cautious mover, one foot at a time. What happened here? Was it religious, tribal, political in the succession stakes, or none of those; merely a human being driven beyond all endurance? And if so, could there be a return to the status quo, or was this quits, don’t call me, goodbye? And if goodbye, what impact would it have on our nation? And what about tomorrow and tomorrow?”
Again, we can’t help but pose these very questions, but this time in respect to Nagenda’s own outburst, six years after Bukenya’s. Is this the end, don’t call me, good bye? What about tomorrow?
But first things first. On August 27, 2011, Nagenda was his usual self, using colourful language in his New Vision column discouraging his boss from giving away part of Mabira forest for sugarcane growing. The column, like many others before and most certainly after it, was curiously titled: ‘A cat may look at a king’.
“In other words, …if a [mere] cat may look at a king, we have as much right to take an interest in what is going on, at any level. Are you so important that I can’t even look at you?” is how he explained the use of his proverb.
Having substituted ‘king’ with ‘president’, Nagenda went on to make his point much more clearly thus:
“According to my Boss, the President of Uganda, to whom I am Advisor of Media and Public Relations, he is undergoing warfare in what has become known as the Mabira Forest saga. It flared up some years ago, but ended, to him, inconclusively, which President Museveni now views as his fault, for He Should Have Won!
Well, a Cat may look at a King. Your Columnist hopes, praying to God, that victory will go instead to those who oppose their Leader’s plan to destroy the ancient forest, replacing it, sacrilegiously in our view, with Sugar.”
After ranting on about his ‘friend’ Mehta and the Asian industrialist’s thirst for a piece of Mabira forest, Nagenda returned to his boss:
“Sir, you and your colleagues of all categories fought a great Bush War. It was based on courage and fortitude, but also because, uniquely, of the Movement principle of free discussion. Sure, there were kings and cats, but each looked deep into the other. To give thus and then take away is a game of kookoonyo (offering but snatching back!)”
Later that Saturday, August 27, addressing teachers at State House, Entebbe, President Museveni appeared to be reacting to Nagenda’s position.
“Unlike some of those who engage in arrogance over Mabira, I do not drink alcohol or go to bars. I always think about developing Uganda for the well being of Ugandans.”
Now, Nagenda is proudly arrogant and he loves his bottle. He has no apologies for either. Could the President have been hitting at his senior advisor? If we needed evidence to that effect, it was delivered by Nagenda himself when in his next column on September 3, he wrote:
“Your columnist certainly and unashamedly enjoys a drink – come to that, many kinds of the stuff, each having its own place in the hierarchy of a meal. Rather than a Bar, I repair to my seat at our table at the Club.
A drink with others brings camaraderie where many things can be discussed, where for that moment they feel equals. I recommend it. I doubt, however, that I can convince some persons. Let’s admit: Equal-ness can form dangerous expectations!”
We have been told that an NTV interview with Museveni, when the President was in Nairobi, Kenya, at the same time as Kizza Besigye who was in hospital following a brutal arrest in Kampala, was the last straw.
The interview, which embarrassed Museveni, had apparently been arranged by President’s Office staff led by Nagenda. During a meeting in Kampala that followed the debacle, the President told his man off. The disagreement over Mabira must have reinforced rather than triggered this fallout. Nagenda says in the interview that he put himself on katebe (unemployment), but it would appear that he was told, rather crudely, that he was too busy drinking to be useful to the President anymore.
That must have hurt the man who once described himself as the President’s dog.
Nagenda is not afraid to disagree with his boss and has done so several times in the past, including on the issue of the third term, which he vehemently opposed before conceding defeat. As Dr Peter Mwesige of the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) noted, Nagenda has always been his own man when compared to other presidential advisors.
However, even by his own standards of being his own man, Nagenda’s latest diatribe went a notch higher than his usual muted protests here and there. The fact that he chose to do it in Daily Monitor, a newspaper he has vilified all his time in office, underlines the level of frustration and the point he wanted to make.
Soon after he was appointed to his job in the late 1990s, some cheeky journalists were so taken up by Nagenda’s guts that they engaged him in a bet that he was very likely to be fired within one year. They lost the money.
“Those who bet I would not last a year paid heavily more than three years ago,” Nagenda boasted on his website.
But now it would appear that his time has come, however long it has taken. Indeed, as Mwesige noted, Nagenda has quite often held principled positions on contentious issues, notwithstanding his admiration for Museveni and support for the Movement. Yet never before has he sounded so disgruntled, publically, as he did in that interview.
Nagenda appears to be grappling with what other ‘historical’ NRM leaders have faced in the past: a harsh realisation that “we” no longer matter as much as “we” used to. Their influence on the big man has waned as the bus picks on new conductors and passengers along the way, leaving them sulking.
“As far as the man I advise is concerned, I believe he is amongst the top five African leaders of the modern era. Naturally he is not perfect nor does he know everything,” Nagenda said of Museveni on his website.
“If I have on occasion convinced him to take a different path from his original one, then I did not work for him in vain. But such occasions have never merely fallen in my lap; they had to be hard won. It is the way it should be.”
That captures Nagenda’s understanding of his job; to be able to reason with his boss and possibly change his mind.
If he got him to change his mind, then his work would not be in vain. He now seems to have realised that his work is actually in vain. A cat may not look at a king after all!