Uganda's prophets of doom are real and walking among us

Wednesday March 7 2018

In a fascinating prophecy made 50 years ago,

In a fascinating prophecy made 50 years ago, renowned poet Prof Timothy Wangusa, in his parody of Psalm 23, thanked the state for filling his pockets with cash as a senior official in the face of the currency devaluation. In 30 years, devaluation and inflation have reduced half a million shillings to a mere 3,600 shillings, but senior government officials are shielded with pocketfuls of allowances, as Wangusa foresaw 50 years ago. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NMG 

By JOACHIM BUWEMBO
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Welcome to Uganda, the land of prophets.

Unfortunately the accuracy of the prophecies have a chilling effect even on the prophets themselves.

Almost a year ago, a prominent woman activist appeared as a panelist in a live TV show with a top police officer and they got into an argument.

The activist was so irritated by the officer’s condescending smile that she scolded and told him that very soon he would not be wearing that smile. A couple of weeks later, the officer was killed in a hail of bullets in broad daylight as he drove out of his home.

In January, pop musician Moses Ssekibogo aka Mowzey Radio was injured in a bar brawl and a radio/TV presenter nicknamed Kasuku reportedly said the musician would not recover even though he was admitted at one of the most modern hospitals in Kampala.

Ten days later, Mowzey Radio died and some people called for Kasuku’s dismissal.

But the most fascinating prophecy was made 50 years ago by renowned poet Prof Timothy Wangusa, in his parody of Psalm 23, thanking the state for filling his pockets with cash as a senior official in the face of the currency devaluation.

At the time, Uganda’s economy and currency were strong, with favourable trade balance. The words “devaluation” and “inflation” were unknown outside of economic classes and textbooks.

Four years later, the shilling started collapsing following the declaration of a so-called economic war by the military ruler who took power two years after the poem was written. Industry and trade collapsed.

At the time of Wangusa’s prophecy, the dollar was exchanging for seven shillings. With the devaluation in 1987, two zeros and thirty per cent were struck off all shilling values, cash and deposits, and 10,000 shillings yielded about one dollar. Today, it takes 3,600 of the “new” shilling (which is equal to half a million of the “old” shilling”) to buy one dollar.

In 30 years, devaluation and inflation have reduced half a million shillings to a mere 3,600 shillings, but senior government officials are shielded with pocketfuls of allowances, as Wangusa foresaw 50 years ago.

At the end of the country’s ninth parliament’s five-year term in 2016, MPs were given a “refund” to the tune of $30,000 each, in what they had each supposedly been spending on petrol.

Lake Victoria

But the most irritating prophecy to have come true was made a couple of decades ago by former MP and environmental activist John Ken Lukyamuzi. John Ken, as he is popularly known, was an apprentice of the late Kenyan Nobel Laureate Prof Wangari Mathai, and so his capacity to annoy the state is not surprising.

A couple of decades ago, John Ken claimed that Lake Victoria had been sold off to investors by the powers that be. Everybody called him mad.

Last week, a national judicial commission of inquiry into land grievances learnt with shock and disbelief that 52 crater lakes in western Uganda had been leased to investors for their exclusive use for 30 years.

The commission was further informed that local men found near the lakes are shot at by company guards, while women found within 100 metres of the land around the lakes’ shores are raped. This information was submitted to the commission by local leaders. Prophet Ken may not have been so mad after all.

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