Thursday, 8 November 2007

Meeting the Big Man

On Tuesday I went to a Youth Forum organised by a friend, at the plush Hotel Africana in Kampala. The forum was designed to act as a precursor to the Commonwealth youth activities later in the month. The highlight of the day was a speech given by HE the President Museveni, which lasted close to 3 hours and covered a vast number of issues. I have heard M7 (as the press refer to him) speak before but it has always been in vernacular or at big outdoor rallies where it is hard to hear. This time we could get everything he said perfectly and it was fascinating.

Perhaps the issue which agitated him most was that of democratic reform. In response to a complaint from a young opposition activist he told her that he wouldn't be taking 'any lectures on democracy' and advised her to avoid 'being like the Jews'. 'The Messiah of democracy has already come to Uganda' he argued, proclaiming the Ugandan constitution 'the most democratic in the world'. He is right in one sense that everything a fully functioning democracy would want is written down, however it is actions that count and if last year's Presidential election is anything to go by (in which the main opposition candidate was falsely accused of treason and rape) Uganda still has quite a way to go.

Museveni has undoubtedly done a lot of good for the country though, and as most Ugandans outside of the capital are still thankful to him for restoring security (their number one priority), he is unlikely to be off anytime soon. I have listed a few more of his quotes and paraphrased some of his ideas below. As the title of this blog suggests I also got to shake his hand at the end. As one of the only two bazungu in the whole hall I must have stood out and I think he was quite bemused to see us there, asking where we were from and what we were doing in his country.

- 'Tear gas is good for trouble makers and remember it is non-lethal'

- 'Love at first sight is a Western invention which is unscientific and dangerous - always do background checks!'

- 'Anyone who tells you that circumcision can solve the HIV/AIDS crisis is talking nonsense' (on recent discoveries that circumcision can cut infection rates)

- 'Anyone who blocks the path of industrialisation is an enemy of progress' (on environmentalists trying to save an ancient forest from sugar producers)

- 'The Commonwealth is in name only, as the wealth is clearly not common to all its members'

- 'Africans still don't know how to be free, slavery and colonisation may be over but its legacy continues'

- 'The world has islands of modernity surrounded by seas of backwardness, don't be fooled by the term 'developing country' - we are backward countries'

- 'Privately owned business is more efficient and less corrupt' (on who will be responsible for extracting Uganda's newly found oil reserves)

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