Portrait of a Despot

The Modern Traits
  • Published: March 2011
  • Format: Perfect Bound Softcover(B/W)
  • Pages: 440
  • Size: 5x8
  • ISBN: 9781456775674

US Secretary of State Madeline Albright once described them as the “New Breed” of African leaders. Uganda’s ruler General Yoweri Museveni was one of them. In Portrait of a Despot, the contention, a very passionate one at that, is that Gen. Museveni is no more than a “Modern Despot”; a “slightly more sophisticated version of Idi Amin”; the type who lives and thrives in that grey area of politics beyond which you either become a democrat or an autocratic dictator.

The book also examines how Modern Despots like George Bush Jnr, Yoweri Museveni, Meles Zenawi, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, Tony Blair, and many others who might be thriving quietly in your own country use Deceit, Public Relations, Patronage, Nepotism, Disenfranchisement, and above all, the Law as a tool of political oppression”.

With solid evidence from and or reference to Gen. Museveni’s twenty five years of egregious rule in Uganda, the book demonstrates how the mighty “Portrait of a Despot” hanging menacingly over every strand of life in a given country can have disastrous long term consequences on democracy, good governance, and the development of State institutions. Finally, it brings you to the “Scene of Crime” in some truly epic political battles between President Museveni and the country’s opposition parties and leaders.

The Second Coming of the Devil March 2nd 2007. It’s just after dusk, around 20:00hrs East African Standard Time. We are at Sippers Bar in Hurlingham; one of Nairobi’s many entertainment districts! Soothing African songs of local and regional origin are ruling the airwaves here tonight. The volume is just perfect. And who are the other guests in the house tonight? Well, I would say it was a very healthy “united nations” mix. Ultra skinny-chain-smoking and slightly crazy behaving young African girls of average beauty in the company of greying pony-tail wearing European men; you know, the type of men who, thanks to the Western media, would perfectly fit many people’s imagination of a typical paedophile or sex tourist. On the other hand, you could see middle aged black men [mostly Kenyans] with loosened neck ties, looking big and twiddling nonstop with their latest gadgets; just to impress the obedient, shy looking and thoroughly intimidated girls sitting next to them. By this time of the evening, many are probably on their third or fourth bottle of beer, wine or cocktail glass. It is also unimaginable that the true “Kenyan Institution” that is “Nyama Choma” {Swahili for roast meat} will have survived this sitting. All in all, it is a very ordinary evening in Nairobi town, Kenya’s capital city. Approximately 600miles to the west of Kenya, the atmosphere in the suburbs of Uganda’s capital city Kampala is probably no different from Nairobi’s. Beer, roast pork, giggling girls and music in the background was what I could imagine and hear when an ecstatic sounding Lawyer, a former colleague, decided to drop me a line to break news of the momentous events of the day; a different kind of day. With more than just a slight touch of triumphalism and defiance coming through his voice, he said, “...Counsel, we have laid down our tools in protest. Enough is enough”. Before I even got the opportunity to ask why they had laid down their {legal practice} tools, my friend, like a man possessed by some kind of “Eddie Murphy” talking demon, had already launched straight into the details of what had transpired at the High of Uganda the previous day; March 1st 2007. March 1st 2007 was of course “Black Thursday”; the day when, for the second time in less than two years, over fifty fully armed State security personnel stormed the High Court to re-arrest some of the PRA suspects who had just been granted bail. The only difference was that this time round, the media chose to describe the High Court invaders as “…men dressed in police uniform”. And who could blame them; because ever since the infamous Black Mamba Urban Hit Squad turned up at the High Court poorly disguised in police uniform, no one could be sure anymore that men dressed as police officers were actually police officers. In other words, trust in the Uganda Police Force as an institution of State had completely broken down; thanks to a despot’s decision to abuse the independence and integrity of an institution that should have been totally impartial. Sad; really sad! But as I said, that was the second invasion. The first time the High Court was raided by the Black Mambas was on the 16th of November 2005. That very sad incident had prompted Justice James Munange Ogola, Uganda’s Principle Judge no less, to famously declare that “...the siege constituted a very grave and heinous violation of the twin principles of the rule of law and Judicial independence [and] sent a chilling feeling down the spine of the Judiciary, and left the legal fraternity and the general public agape with disbelief and wonderment”. The Second Coming of the Devil, as I prefer to call it, had also elicited a most epic poem from the same Principle Judge. It was a poem in which the Judge, as a “witness” this time, [what an irony] explained with poetic eloquence what had transpired at his sacred seat of judgement. That poem should be available in the public domain. I say hunt it down and read it as if your very life depended on it. You will not regret it. Now back to Nairobi’s Sippers Bar on the night of March 2nd 2007. It is just over fifteen months since the first siege on the High Court. In a strange if slightly tragic coincidence, unbeknown to the friend calling from Kampala to give me the “breaking news” about Lawyers downing their tools, Samuel Nathan Okiring, a very close friend who I can’t even bear to call “an ex-PRA suspect”, had just arrived from Uganda to meet me. In fact, he was seated right next to me; narrating the gruesome story of his horrendous torture at the hands of almost certainly the very State security operatives who had just raided the High Court to re-arrest his former co-accused PRA suspects. The mixture of emotions I went through at that material time is still difficult to explain. In fact, it is impossible to explain; not if you are or were in my position. Sam Okiring, the “Attorney General of the Rebels”, [as one Kampala friend once called him jokingly] was totally unaware that I was now faced with a very uncomfortable situation; a dilemma in fact. Here was a visibly traumatised friend, a great friend, a brother to me in every sense, sitting very humbly in front me, not knowing what the Kampala friend on the other end of the telephone line had just told me. In fact, to show you how traumatised Okiring was, I will tell you a very sad little story.

Charles Okwir is a Ugandan Lawyer and Journalist. Over the last ten years, he has been a prolific writer on matters concerning the rule of law, good governance, democracy, and the protection of human rights in Uganda and Africa. His articles have been published in several Ugandan newspapers including The Daily Monitor, The Observer, The Uganda Correspondent online publication, and on his own blog “A Twin-Peaks View of Ugandan Politics”. He has also been a regular political commentator on VOA’s Straight Talk Africa programme and on a number of BBC outlets including the World Service and domestic programmes in the United Kingdom. As a political activist, he has delivered papers at and addressed several political conferences and workshops in Uganda, South Africa, Sweden, France and the United Kingdom. Portrait of a Despot is the ultimate interfusion of his legal expertise and analysis, his journalistic skills, and his decade long political experiences.

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Perfect Bound Softcover(B/W)
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