Chicken eaters of this world, beware the ‘Abatalya-nkoko’!

Saturday May 27 2023

Uganda's opposition leader Kizza Besigye speaks as he holds a press conference at his office in Kampala on December 22, 2017. PHOTO | ISAAC KASAMANI | AFP


Old newshounds always swore by the adage that when a dog bites a man it’s no news, but it is when a man bites a dog. It is very true. It is the wont of canines to bite humans but an anathema for the humans to want to return the favour.

So, when reports came out that a Ugandan minister’s bodyguard had shot and killed his boss, it was news, although not at the same level as the man-dog engagement I’m talking about here. You see, a bodyguard is supposed to protect his ward, not to kill him, as the killing of such a man is the preserve of those the bodyguard is protecting him against.

Now, I started scouring Ugandan social media to try and find answers to this puzzle, and in short order I stumbled on no less an illustrious source than Dr Kizza Besigye, physician, former guerrilla commander, opposition leader and Yoweri Kaguta’s former comrade, now nemesis.

I was surprised by the man’s hale-and-hearty disposition, despite the many trips to Luzira Prison and the innumerable baton bumps to the head and peppery sprays into the eyeballs. He looked just fine. He also had lost none of his good humour, sardonic laughter and penetrating sagacity.

To paraphrase what the good old doctor was saying, a case like the one I refer to above, Engola, the killed minister, and Sabiti, the killer, come in the context of an unjust system in which marginalised elements in society — including the police, security and military — are put in charge of the security of those who marginalise and ignore them, although they should know that their security is in the hands of the marginalised.

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Besigye points out in one interview that even when Yoweris’s NRM forces in the Ruwero Triangle were waging a guerrilla war to oust Milton Obote, within the fighters there were disparities between the “amagara gatalya nkoko” and amagara galy’enkoko” — literally, those who don’t eat chicken and those who do.

The dietary divide among Museveni’s fighters was certainly not unique among many fighting groups, even the most high-minded liberation fighters across the world, who had the more-equal-than-others ethos. Apart from the quality of the rations, there were other perks enjoyed by the senior commanders, including sexual favours from junior female officers, and so on. A good look into the archives of many a liberation movement will reveal the veracity of this foible.

In the interview I watched, Besigye decries these tendencies among the liberation fighters, and owns up to the fact that they laid the foundations for a future of a movement-turned government with a fighting force that should have been the nucleus of a regular national armed force but has virtually turned into a militia controlled by the leader, his family and other warlords, a force in which it is not clear how fighters are recruited, trained, deployed, promoted, remunerated and disciplined.

The doctor was speaking to an issue that has preoccupied me for some time now: How do people who set out to liberate their peoples end up becoming gangsters who hold their countries to ransom?

Mozambique, Angola, Guinea Bissau, Zimbabwe, South Africa all the way to Nicaragua: Were all these movements some gigantic hoax, or did something seriously wrong happen in the process of transitioning from liberators to governors?

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I ask these questions because I know that the way we are governed, there are more rebellions in the offing, and our young people will have to realise that to live as fully paid-up members of their countries, they deserve to be treated accordingly, or have the right to rebel and throw off the usurping scoundrels lording it over them.

I think that is the message I got from Dr Besigye, and it should be spread far and wide. For, let us face it, Yoweri and his comrades were justified in taking up arms to get Uganda rid of the Obotes, the Muwangas and the Okellos. Fine! But what right did they have to replace these with their copies? None, I would say.

But the Besigyes of this world always pay the price for having noted something going wrong and having kept quiet, either because they were complicit or because they thought it did not really matter, but eventually discover, with regret, that it indeed mattered, when its consequences bite them and gnaw at their consciences.

The erstwhile “liberators” tend to come out of their bush into the big cities with the blinding bright lights which have a bamboozling effect on them. Whatever they have been fighting up to that moment was based in the big city: The colonialists, the Boers, Obote. But now the guiling bright lights beckon, and the decadent fleshpots are juicy.

At that juncture, the “abalya-nkoko” discover there are millions of chicken coops from which to feed, and soon they all grow so fat that they need to hire thousands of “abatalya-nkoko” to protect them from those who want a share in the chicken feast, sometimes forgetting that these guards have issues with the “abalya-nkoko” generally.

Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]