Four decades ago, The Sun, a phenomenal British daily tabloid which, in its best years, would sell four million copies, ran a screaming headline, “Gotcha,” to report the UK’s sinking an Argentine naval ship during the Falklands war. Two decades later, a chest-thumping United States official was to famously say, “Ladies and gentlemen, we got him!” to report the capture of betrayed former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Two weeks ago, a Ugandan minister bettered the British and American patriotic utterances in also announcing the flooring of a state enemy — a troublesome cyberbully based in Turkey who has been pronouncing high-profile Ugandan personalities dead when they are alive. The minister declared not only the arrest in Turkey of Fred Lumbuye but also the estimated time of arrival of the prize prisoner to be whisked to court. However, the Turkish airliner arrived on time at the Entebbe Airport in the dead of the night eagerly awaited by the press and other interested parties, without the wanted man.
Why had Ugandans expected Turkey to hand over the man with a poisonous keyboard without extradition proceedings? Probably because their government had just scored such a victory, getting 20-year-old Julius Sekitoleko deported from Japan at the height of the recently ended Tokyo Olympics. Sekitoleko had walked out of his hotel on learning that he wouldn’t take part in the Games, having missed the qualifying mark. He wrote a note stating he had gone to look for some work to earn a living since he was almost destitute, with a pregnant fiancé, blah blah...
Ugandan officials took this as a major offence, and a minister vowed to go for him, possibly hoping to declare, US-style: “Ladies and gentlemen, we got Sekitoleko.”
Though hunting down a small job hunter in Japan, where many Ugandans have illegally laboured for decades, wouldn’t require a whole minister, Sekitoleko had inadvertently committed a bigger sin — embarrassing Uganda, positioned as a top refugee host.
Even with a Japanese sounding name, Sekitoleko was swiftly put on the next plane by Tokyo authorities, who were anxious to have a scandal-free Olympics that had already delayed for a year.
Landing at Entebbe, he was thrown into police cells for a week as Ugandan officials heaped abuses on him in their “Gotcha” mood. Then they must have realised that charging the youth with corruption on account of accessing a place in the national Olympic team without qualifying would expose the senior people who planned and made it possible.
Fast forward to last week: News broke, again from a minister, that Uganda was to host 2,000 refugees from Afghanistan whom America fears can be harmed by the Taliban. Parliamentarians and public commentators questioned Uganda government’s priorities even before it considers evacuating Ugandans working in Afghanistan. Anyway, as the big persons debated the hosting of 2,000 Afghans, ordinary people did what they do to relieve stress, making fun of the confusion.
They broke the internet with the anticipated arrivals from Kabul, whom they called “Kabaka’s lost subjects from Kabula” since one Buganda’s 18 counties is called Kabula! Social media celebrated the chance of getting Kabul’s marijuana processing experts. Photos of boda boda riders with white female passengers also circulated heavily, but were dampened by others of mean fighters with long beards.
The state must thank social media brigades for lightening the issue of Afghan refugees, for Ugandan prides in hosting refugees who account for 3.5 percent of the humans in the country, not counting the unregistered ones who just walk in.
In fact, Uganda recently had a spat with World Food Programme who stopped procuring food for the 1.4 million refugees locally, citing poor quality, prompting a minister to ask the WFP to relocate the refugees to where food quality is high.
Anyway, please don’t tell anyone that thousands of Ugandans use DR Congo land for farming, that with Ugandan schools closed for nearly two years, our children in the east go to Kenyan schools and that a million Ugandan migrants work in other countries. That would balance the human import-export account, and spoil our narrative of great generosity and hospitality, wouldn’t it?
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:[email protected]