An open letter to Janet Museveni about Makerere student’s strike that has left her Confused

RESPONSE To Janet Kataaha Museveni’s Letter, By Karamagi Andrew.

Dear “Maama”,

RE: DID YOU SPEAK AS FIRST LADY, MINISTER OF EDUCATION, PASTOR OR GRANDMA?

To begin with, I have a mother, just like millions of other Ugandans. This is both a statement of fact and a biological necessity.

Even though I am one of those who cannot, for a number of reasons, refer to you as Maama, I am of the firm view that you cannot issue an official statement which has public policy implications and then limit its audience (and by implication, the right of reply) to only those who refer to you by that title.

Once anyone—whomever they may be—comments on issues of public interest, they inevitably invite responses from everyone and everywhere.

Ordinarily, referring to an elder like you by the term “maama” or “taata” is a common usage, particularly in communal settings. The danger and spot-of-bother here is that over time, as the evidence now shows, it warps your understanding of the public duty you owe Ugandans by virtue of the political office(s) you occupy.

This is especially important to point out because your husband, who occupies the Office of President of Uganda has, like you, taken to issuing official statements and making public remarks that are laced with references to Ugandans as grandchildren (bazzukulu).

It is increasingly apparent from your conduct and speech, that after more than three decades of being fed and clothed by taxpayers, the line between public office and familial relations is no longer visible to you. In your minds, Uganda has become part of your personal estate.

I now wish to quickly respond to three issues arising from your patently disingenuous statement, which read more like a tirade, pertaining the state-sanctioned violence against unarmed and defenceless students and members of the public at Makerere University.

By the second page of your document, it was painfully evident that the distinction between private education as a commodity for sale and public education as a social amenity is either unclear or unknown to you. Referencing the fees structure of a private university to help you make your case was an irrelevance.

As line Minister, the University and Other Tertiary Institutions Act of 2001, the Education Act Number 13 of 2008 would go a long way in enlightening you about this distinction…and hopefully inform your policy choices and approaches moving forward.

As absurd as this is, it is not surprising given the rapid erosion of public education and its ungoverned commoditization under your leadership (or lack thereof). Little wonder that you see no conflict of interest having a minister for higher education who owns private secondary schools—in other societies, this is unconscionable.

The other glaring irony is that State House appropriates hundreds of billions of shillings each year (from taxpayers’ money) to pay school fees for a number of those who willingly call you “maama”, while those who do not enjoy the benefits of being connected to you are left to fend for themselves. So serious are the effects of the reckless privatization of education that one female student captured the gravity of the desperation when she revealed on television that “some of us are here selling our bodies to get tuition…” If this does not strike a nerve within you, nothing will.

My second contention is based on Article Seven of the 1995 Constitution which enacts to the effect that Uganda shall not adopt a state religion [and as such is not a theocracy]. It follows that your statement which was anchored on biblical references—especially given the national position you hold—was misdirected and should have been reserved for a different and limited audience (perhaps a church), not the country.

It is not clear whether you spoke as Minister of Education, First Lady, Pastor or as a (grand)mother speaking to errant (grand)children.

I guess this is just one of the manifestations of the incestuous political arrangement that you are part of and have imposed over the country.

Thanks to my Sunday School teachers, I possess an above average appreciation of the Bible. It is my considered opinion that Christian ethos and doctrine do not agree with your selective interpretation of the good Book, for the following reasons:

Your conclusion that God instructs us to be servile and pliant in the face of oppression—because authority and leadership are divinely ordained is inaccurate, at the very least. It could potentially mislead unsuspecting members of the general public, particularly the younger folk.

For all its patriarchal moorings and genocidal tyranny, the Bible, as I will shortly demonstrate, is a phenomenal testament on social justice and should never be misconstrued as a license for repressive rule.

Whenever totalitarian Kings, Queens and other royalty imposed dictatorship or injustice on their territories, liberty and justice prevailed in the end. It is therefore erroneous when you arrogate verses from the Book of Kings to justify repression. I am sure you know how Ahab, Nebuchadnezzar, Jezebel and Ahaz ended.

I invite you to consider Isaiah 10:1, Proverbs 29:2, Isaiah 1:23, Psalms 125:3, Proverbs 28:15, Ezekiel 22:27 and, most importantly for me, Isaiah 3:14 which I wish to partly reproduce here: “…it is you who have devoured the vineyard; the plunder of the poor is in your houses.” I leave the interpretation to you but as far as I understand, these are unequivocal proclamations of justice, equity and fairness that cannot support your propositions.

Now that Mr. Museveni, who occupies the Office of the President has regretted the invasion and ordered the security forces to withdraw—contrary to your own commendation of what you called “Police interventions”, do you still maintain the view that the savagery at Makerere can be justified under Romans 13:1-5?

In any case, whom should we believe now that you two are contradicting each other publicly?

Concerning your accusation of students as being corrupt, I put it to you that corruption is the lifeblood, genetic code and perhaps the only enduring legacy of your regime. Why do you expect kids who have been born and become adults under your rule, seeing scandal after scandal—with impunity, to behave differently from yourselves? Exceptions prove the rule.
“Owaayiba aheekire…” Leaders shape the culture.

As I conclude, permit me to pose another question here regarding the reservations you expressed about media coverage of the barbarism meted out on students and bystanders by the security forces. Would the pictures be different or less horrifying if they were taken using cameras operated by Ugandan (and not foreign) journalists?

Next time you want to patronize us, whether basing on dishonest constructions of the Bible, the law or facts, please think about the structural and physical violence that the majority of Ugandans endure daily as a result of your sustained and intransigent misrule.

Ask yourself whether you would be happy if the same were directed at your biological children.

Our blood is just as red. We feel pain. We have loved ones. We have stories. We have dreams.

Karamagi is a Lawyer (karamagiandrew@gmail.com).