An X-feed of a one Andrew Mujuni Mwenda last week did the rounds, castigating Alfonse Owiny-Dollo, the Chief Justice of Uganda, regarding his firm stance on the nomadic pastoralists or the Balaalo in Northern Uganda.
Dollo, while addressing the burning issue of Balaalo invasion and occupation in Northern Uganda on Radio Rupiny 95.7 FM, had dismissed as ill-advised, claims that some leaders from Acholi were tribalistic for demanding that the Balaalo be ejected. Dollo said the nomadic pastoralists had previously been evicted from Bunyoro, Teso, and Lango without the natives in those areas being labelled tribalists. “I asked him [President Museveni] ‘Why is it that when Acholi people demand that the Balaalo must leave, then you say Acholi people hate other tribes.’”
For those who don’t know, Owiny-Dollo comes from the Acholi ethnic group, who occupy a sub-region that was wrecked by war for more than two decades from 1986 to 2006.
Dollo is a trained lawyer and conflict resolution scholar, who has risen through the ranks to the top top-tier of the Judiciary in this country. But for an ‘outsider’ to the heavily sectarian politics of our country, his rise was either on merit, or in the belief that he would best fit the endorsement of a wicked intention against his own people; call it a set up. In case Dollo did the latter, just in case that was the intention, who would accuse a foreign hand of being behind such an aberration? But the verdict is yet to come.
But who is Owiny-Dollo?
I first met Dollo in 1991 as a student from Acholi who was privileged to lead the Acholi Makerere Students’ Association (AMSA) at a time war was ranging in Northern Uganda, and we could not travel back home for holidays.
Together with, among others Betty Bigombe, who was fondly called Atuku, then an NRM government minister; Hilary Onek, then managing director of National Water and Sewerage Corporation; Charles Alai, then a minister; then Maj Fred Tolit, an NRA officer, Livingstone Okello-Okello, then a government valuer; Ali Kisekka, a UPC party stalwart; and then Capt Charles Otema Awany, then in-charge of Military Transport. They were Acholi leaders, who cushioned our stay as displaced students in Kampala and gave us hope, and comfort.
Two things defined Dollo for me; his astuteness both in legal practice just as in ordinary life. We have since remained friends and exchange banters regularly. He is a refined man, and his Acholiness is never in doubt, and we need not apologize for it. Dollo is very rich in our cultural history, and is a great dancer, drummer and shocks many whenever he strokes the drum and calabashes and falls in step with both the bwola or larakaraka dancers.
Dollo was one of the framers of Uganda’s 1995 Constitution as he represented Agago County, and later became minister for Northern Uganda, as well as International Affairs, until he opted out of politics. So, he is a technocrat, with Law as his calling.
But make no mistake, what is not politics, and what is not political? The line between politics and daily living or livelihood is as thin as between being very a genius and being mad; one usually inadvertently overlaps the other.
Dollo is measured, witty, humorous, and down-to-earth, but can also proverbially hold the bull by the horns and balls whenever the occasion demands. He seems to live by the biblical wisdom that “to whom much is given, even more is expected.” And this is the man Andrew Mujuni Mwenda has challenged to a duel.
So, who is Andrew Mujuni Mwenda?
I first knew Mwenda in 1993 when he joined Makerere University and fate hosted us both in the Great Lumumba Hall. Then, Mwenda was one of the promising young men in this country. He was and remains sharp, witty but with a knack for shooting his motor-mouth in all directions; except this time he has chosen a fight he either does not know or whose potential ramifications he may not fathom.
During his heydays in journalism, Mwenda exuded moral authority, but this Mwenda has increasingly estranged itself. In any case, he was a deep-end investigative journalist with links to people high and mighty in the power and business ranks in this country.
Sometimes, Mwenda would dig real insider-information and wow this country. He enjoyed such a cult following among intellectually-honest Ugandans, including yours truly.
Before he lost his soul to the finer things of this world, Mwenda was in the same league with Teddy Cheezi Cheeye of Uganda Confidential newsletter, dubbed the paper that splits the atom, because it spared no one. No wonder Cheeye’s demise in what was officially a local boda boda accident at Nakawa traffic lights junction, caused tongues wagging. Perhaps Mwenda then got his cue right and timely too.
Back in his glory days, Mwenda was ballistic and spoke truth to power. I recall a statement he made and I repeat without fear of retribution when he described the Head of State Yoweri Museveni as “a modern-day Nyungu ya mawe” or pot of stones, a nickname of a charismatic war leader of the Nyamwezi in West-Central Tanzania. The historians here have heard of that hegemonic warlord and his bands of footloose soldiers or the ruga-ruga and was reputed for his dictatorial streaks and conquests and appointing cronies as military governors, political and economic agents.
In his several diatribes, real or perceived, Mwenda attacked some members of the First Family for which he ‘enjoyed’ some space in the coolers in this country.
Mwenda’s road to Damascus
Then something radical happened to this Old Man of the Clan and son of Kanyandahi, except this time it was like a Damascus moment for Paul-turned Saul… a reverse gear for Mwenda in preaching virtues. But one needs not be surprised, for the allure of power or sometimes self-indulgence, is like pregnancy. It is not visible until the passage of time reveals it to all and sundry.
Mwenda is one who is talked about and exhibits tastes for niceties and high-end tastes. He rubs shoulders with and does business with and for some not-so-reputable leaders in the Great Lakes Region. Some his new-found businesses include white-washing evil and punching holes in the credentials of those who think, even in refined and dignified manners, that the Emperor Must Be Naked.
I am, therefore, not surprised that Dollo, an Acholi at the echelon of the Justice system, must be in Mwenda’s crosshairs. It is public knowledge that Mwenda fraternizes with First Son and heir-apparent; of course, nothing is wrong in it. Mwenda is also unashamed in articulating and defending LGBTQ+ agenda.
Conflict of interest, wide web of relations
In attacking Dollo, Mwenda cleverly hid his conflict of interest. Just in case you did not know, there is blood relations between Mwenda and some top military General who headed Operation Shuuja in DR Congo, before he left it to a Gen Dick Olum as he took over from Gen Muhoozi Kaneirugaba, the First Son and Presidential Advisor of Special Operations, and an avowed Standby Generator in the succession talk and a ‘son’ to the Gen Caleb Akandwanaho, alias Salim Saleh, who operates from his tactical headquarters in Purongo, deep in Acholi and a known apologist for the Balaalo Must Stay (BMS), to which push the Chief Justice, as an Acholi is perceived to belong. There may be nothing wrong in this wide web of relations, except if you zoom in the lens.
Mwenda, a civilian, has severally been seen to freely don UPDF uniform, hop into and out of war choppers and yet other civilians in this regime are arrested, tortured and jailed for merely donning red berets similar to those of the UPDF. But Mwenda enjoys such privileges that contravene the UPDF Act and gets away with his breaches.
Since it is on record that many of the Balaalo and their godfathers are either from a certain region from where Mwenda comes, and that most are Generals or affiliated to top Generals, businessmen and politicians from a certain region in this country, Mwenda and his wide web of relations, including a sister who is a minister, may know or may have their hands in the pie that the choice land in Acholi Sub-region has become. This is the elephant in the room. If it is legal and legitimate, Mwenda and his breeds need not fear neither rant against nor try to blackmail Chief Justice Dollo.
Stop the blackmail
In insinuating that the Acholi are selfish yet have land or have also settled in other people’s land, is a nonsense that smacks of blackmail because it is contextually very wrong and insulting, It is a feeble attempt to justify what may appear like “someone raping your mother and bringing a cotton gauze to mop her bleeding, and you are supposed to prostrate at such act of “twisted goodwill.”
To Mwenda, I ask, did any Acholi move at night to buy land, to cheat peasants anywhere by confusing hectares with acres? Did any Acholi move with guns and military uniform in the name of land acquisition, and with funding allegedly from Bank of Uganda, or money being cleaned from the proceeds of looting from neighbouring countries, or taxpayers or even from proceeds of dodgy mineral deals in this country? Mwenda and his kind should give this country a break.
Acholi know what they don’t want
As Acholi, we may not know what we want but we know what we do not want. I read Minister Frank Tumwebaze reportedly defending Gen Muhoozi against being accused of insulting the dignity of the just-wedded Kyabazinga of Busoga, by him asking the king to go and pick his gift of cows from Ankole. Minister Tumwebaze is reported to have quipped, ” … this is not how things work in the Ankole culture …” He urged people to first learn about people’s cultures before arguing about things they don’t know.
Relatively, one may ask, are the Acholi not entitled to preserving their cultural integrity against a Balaalo intrusion, occupation and cultural arrogance? To Mwenda, I say what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Contentious matters of or in this country must be settled by the stance of decorum represented by the Dollos, lest the lost generation of Acholi, by some stroke of hard luck, will have their day, regrettably, with disastrous consequences for all of us.
Bold writer like us should be your friends who shine a torch around the dark corners of your political manipulation of facts and information, for the good of all of us because this is the only country we have and share. Mwenda and his types should not be like the fool who breaks a radio for announcing the death of a loved one. I am also a mere messenger inspired by the cause of truth and justice.
Climb down you high horse
For any avoidance of doubt; and on record it is the soberness, honesty, restraint of the likes of Dollo that may be postponing a looming and simmering situation from potential explosion.
This high horse ridden by the Mwenda and ilk in keeping with the maxim of might is right is a foolhardy stance that has not learnt from the lesson of history in Uganda, the region, the continent and the wide world.
This Government needs the Dollos who speak the truth with decorum and finesse not the hoodlums who are mobilised to caricature him as a tribalist.
On the contrary, the web of relations among the Mwendas and their kind and the positions they occupy in this country needs closer interrogation before Dollo is unreasonable crucified on a baseless cross, of being tribalist for speaking his conscience informed by the law; a Law which he participated in crafting through the CA some three decades to date.
We had such opportunity to forget the woes imposed upon us for over two decades. We have given our illustrious, sons and daughters to the service of this country, is that the way the Mwendas want to reward us?
Robert Obita Adongakulu is a contemporary of Andrew Mwenda, and an opinion leader from Gulu City, Northern Uganda.