on Thea's Blog (Uganda), 20/Jan/2011 16:17, 34 days ago
A couple of weeks ago President Museveni came to Fort Portal in a gigantic helicopter like a ripe avocado. He spent the week giving speeches and opening factories and schools around and about. The grand finale was a rally in Fort Portal town itself. Feeling it was an essential part of my cultural and social education, I went along.It was advertised as 4-6pm but I’ve been in Uganda long enough to know there was no point in arriving until at least 5.45. There were a good few thousand people at the sports ground, mostly in the bright yellow t-shirts of the NRM that had been handed out liberally over the preceding week. We were frisked on entering. It was anunusual kind of frisking - more an evaluation of my feminine attributes (the lady gave my boobs a squeeze and patted my bum) than an effective screening for bombs or guns. I proceeded with some speed into the fray.The sports ground was flanked by two stages. Revealing of the savvy nature of Museveni’s campaign, the biggest one was for the musicians and dancers, while a far smaller platform on the other side of the grounds was dedicated to the political candidates. Well over 60% of the Ugandan population are under 25 and really aren’t that interested in the crumbling regime of a crusty oldsexagenarian president. Clearly mindful of this, Museveni has given himself a makeover of cool. One of his most effective campaigners is indeed Bebe Cool, Ugandan’s favourite popstar, who accompanies him on most of his rallies whipping the youthful crowds in to a frenzy with his muscle-bound torsoand high-energy songs. Either by accident, or by careful design, the president’s famous rap incident has evolved in to the catchphrase of the campaign ‘Do you want another rap?’ ‘Yes, ssebo!’. (Even I joined in for that bit!).So a strange but clearly not un-deliberate situation emerged whereby the warm up speakers (NRM candidates for mayor, MP, LCV, women MP etc) were in direct competition with the entertainment stage. Both were fighting for the attention of the crowd, although generally the musicians appeared to have the upper hand. Once or twice, a boring speaker was cut short by the volume being turned up on the music stage. The crowd absolutely loved the spectacle and after thirty minutes of this hilarious carry on, a fantastic, high-spirited, excited atmosphere had been generated.Just as it was reaching its peak, in a masterful moment of event engineering, Museveni all at once glided through the centre of the crowd on top of a landcruiser. An omniscient, omnipotent deity, smiling paternally at the crowds, seeming to bear the message that the Movement, and by extension himself, are above music, above politics, above all things. The speech that followed was largely forgettable and delivered in rather tired and slightly bored way. However it hardly seemed to matter as the magic spell had already been cast. Even the crowd’s angry response to the failure of the agricultural advisory service (which the president cleverly channelled towards a scapegoat woman manager) seemed to lack any real vehemence since everyone was too drunk on the party atmosphere. I too found myself a little intoxicated by the spirit of the event and as we left, just for a moment, seriously contemplated buying a Museveni baseball cap.