Are you the president we came to see? They asked Otafire then chased him away

Thursday August 10 2017

Like a pack of hungry wolves, they attacked him

Like a pack of hungry wolves, they attacked him and before he could say “fire”, they had doused him with a bucket of water — maybe to put out the fire in him. Like a wise guerrilla, ‘Ota-fire’ took off for dear life, staying alive to fight another day. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NMG 

By JOACHIM BUWEMBO
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Major-General Kahinda Otafire is arguably Uganda’s angriest Cabinet minister. Every now and then, someone so irritates the general that he gives a one-line comment so sharp that media relishes it for weeks, until he releases another one.

No wonder some people prefer to pronounce his name like the English word fire. But recently, “Ota-fire” ran into a hundred other dignitaries far angrier than himself who must have reminded him that a hungry man is an angry man.

Uganda has 75 ministers and 112 districts, so a district chairperson is bigger than say an MP — we have some 450 of those. But hungry district chairpersons can be volatile and guerrilla war veteran “Ota-fire” who knows how to choose his battles carefully did the smart thing when he ran into them in Kampala recently — he ran for his life.

The distinguished district leaders had gathered from all over the country, expecting to meet the president, in these days of economic hardship and impending political upheavals.

A constitutional amendment to remove the 75-years age limit for the president is “suspected” to be in the works and a controversial Bill to empower the state to compulsorily acquire anybody’s land in national interest has already been tabled.

It does not help matters when reckless rumours circulate that the 450 MPs are anticipating a windfall facilitation in the region of $100,000 each to enable them to debate the age-limit properly. Anxiously, the distinguished leaders drove to Kampala expecting a discussion with the president over the weighty issues facing the nation.

They are hungry

Imagine their disappointment when instead of the long presidential convoy, the lone car of General “Ota-fire” arrived at the venue and he wanted to start the meeting.

“Ota-fire” is the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, so constitutional amendments fall in his docket, and he was probably the next best person after the president to meet in these times. But he is not the Minister of Finance, and the district leaders were not impressed. Like a pack of hungry wolves, they attacked him and before he could say “fire”, they had doused him with a bucket of water — maybe to put out the fire in him.

Like a wise guerrilla, ‘Ota-fire’ took off for dear life, staying alive to fight another day.

With no president to talk to, the district leaders started telling their grievances to the press – they were hungry. One leader stared into the camera and said they had been to Kampala for a couple of days and nobody had even given them Ush100 (less than a third of a US cent) to quench their thirst! (The Ush100 drinking water in Kampala is usually scooped from a nearby stream and sold in a loosely tied polythene bag.)

They were that hungry and couldn’t even remember that the same Otafire had just granted public prosecutors a 500 per cent salary raise. They should have engaged the man instead of mauling him.

In fact he later said that he had taken the district leaders good news which they didn’t let him deliver.

The general said the district leaders didn’t just attack him, but in effect attacked the president who had sent him. I would love to compile a book of Otafire’s memorable quotes but they are so many I might not manage to complete it in a year.

Joachim Buwembo is a social and political commentator based in Kampala.