Where is Comrade Asuman Basalirwa?

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OP-ED– Dear reader, as you know by now, we have lost many good fighters to the struggle for change and against new imperialism in Uganda. [Museveni is just a good emissary].

In all fairness, the struggle has taken really long and will surely swallow many comrades along the way. Even when I know activism has an expiry date—and will myself expire one day—I cry every time I learn that another committed soldier is about to fall or has expired [and the enemy cherishes expired products].

By the time Norbert Mao announces commitment to a marriage, surely the groom is not taking a virgin girl. To use Mao’s own language of cohabiting, they would have been romping under the cover of darkness for a long time.

Notice also that before cohabiting begins or in the course of it, elders and curious villagers are able to tell the presence of an affair. The gossiper’s crime is sweetening the tale, not a lack of truth.

You could tell from the glances and coy looks lovers throw at each other; when they choke talking to or about one other; and the pleasantries and other gifts they exchange. It could be the things they say about each other, and the places they both patronise.

Night crawlers will be full of stories of the night escapades of this couple, about how they saw them in dimly lit corridors and street corners. As expected, the couple, blinded by love and gifts, will vehemently deny these truths, dismissing them as rumours. But the villagers and gossipers will always be right.

They know when the moon shines, and from whence the rains come. The female lover soon becomes pregnant, and we are left wondering how we even started arguing over it. There is no smoke without fire, folks! There is a lot of smoke billowing over my friend, Asumani Basalirwa.

He remains a generational soldier, an advocate of the High court, and [hitherto] an incorruptible soul. Comrade Basalirwa and I not only share a religious affiliation, Islam—with extensive intellectual and aesthetic aspirations lending itself open to endless debate—which we have discussed on end, but have also cultivated a semi-academic space in which we discussed points of law, politics and activism.

I used to know where to find Comrade Basalirwa, but not anymore. Besides spotting him on TV—in un- Basalirwa-like tameness—fellow travelers do not know where to find him anymore. When you called Basalirwa’s phone those days—which he always picked up or made sure to return if missed—he would ask you to go meet him at State House, by which he meant, the Justice Forum offices in Mengo.

But that was before he became a member of parliament. He remained generous with this and related gestures most of his first term as MP. But in this recent outing, he is a new man.

In many months, the JEEMA president has not been seen at his state house. Activists and JEEMA staff never see the president of their definitively community party, which thrives on endless on-the- ground organising.

It is true Hon Basalirwa has an office at Parliament Avenue, where he also sits on several—extremely lucrative deal- cutting—committees. Not his crime; that is the game. But no one is ever too busy to abandon their old homestead and its village elders.

Having suckled one, the old homestead remains permanent in one’s routine. But as we have established about new lovebirds—especially with rich mafia-like suitors—they tend to abandon their parents’ homesteads.

If they do not immediately move in with the suitors, the suitor buys them an apartment in some posh neighbourhood, busies them with deals and safaris, and soon old friends and elders are quickly forgotten.

Dear reader, I became more worried when, on July 4, pictures of brother Asumani Basalirwa, with core members of his family, visiting the speaker of parliament, appeared on social media. Renowned for her undercover matchmaking skills, Museveni’s rising fixer star, speaker Anita Among, made sure to publicize the meeting as part of her public relations.

They are seen exchanging pleasantries, smiles and gifts. Can you imagine they even prayed for her to have a longer spell and more power and blessings as speaker! Isn’t this the person Basalirwa and entire opposition are supposed to fight to kick out of office?

I know the speaker is colleagues with Basalirwa, but I fail to believe he does not understand the implications of this PR masterclass—what is clearly surrender and servility on his part, and matchmaking genius on her part. It dents the larger opposition landscape.

There is more. Before the social media extravaganza, I had listened to Basalirwa speak at an event in Bwaise where a fire had gutted parts of a Muslim-founded school. To the dismay of comrades and activists in the opposition, brother Basalirwa, doubling as speaker’s emissary, spent his entire time showering praises on his newly found lover, the speaker.

It was not the assignment, but coyness with which he went about it. Recall that this man is president of one of two—and now the only surviving—authentic political parties in the history of Uganda.

Why do I appear to be making a mountain out of a molehill? (a) Old and recent history continues to show us, there is no smoke without fire; and a calamity that befalls you but finds you sufficiently prepared never runs away with everything. (b) Basalirwa is young and a generational talent.

Losing him to Museveni’s shameless misfortune will be a big heartbreak. Thus, we need to work on ourselves early enough. Should this public outcry of mine never live to be true!?

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The author is a political theorist based at Makerere University.