In Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince the wily author whose name has become a byword for amoral politics wrote that “returning to the question of being feared or loved, I come to the conclusion that, men loving according to their own will and fearing according to that of the prince, a wise prince should establish himself on that which is in his own control and not in that of others; he must endeavour only to avoid hatred, as is noted.”
This brings me to a social media video. A motley crew of children, none being above six years, are pelting a poster of Museveni with stones. A voice asks the children, “What are you doing?”
“We are hitting Museveni,” the chorus replies.
“Why?” the voice asks again. The reply is chorused emphatically, “we are tired of him, he has left us bereft of peace of mind, he uses tear gas against us.”
In the ritual lynching, one child carries a big brick with both hands, and demanding to be given way, hurls it at Museveni’s poster. He targets the head. The children are happy with their efforts. Their faces beam with a sense of accomplishment. What we do not see is their hearts. But we don’t need to see in order to conclude that their infant hearts are hate-filled.
I doubt whether they were born with this hatred but the environment in which they live must be full of hatred against Yoweri Museveni. Like Machiavelli counselled, Museveni has managed to strike fear into the hearts of many and has not had any scruples about being loved. But he has failed to contain spontaneous expressions of hatred. Hate can drown fear.
This image is not good in a country where one President has ruled for more than 30 years and where there has never been a peaceful transition of power. In 1986, green banana stems lined the roads as Museveni and his National Resistance Army marched in triumph. To many it was a new dawn. It began well. But how will end well? Will Museveni go like Kenya’s Moi, reluctant to go but resigned to the inevitability of change, or will he go like Gadaffi cringing in fear as the tables turned and his erstwhile docile victims turned on him.
However all coins have two sides. So the picture of the stone throwing children is not the whole story. Things are tough. Parents can hardly pay school fees. Households are starving. The sick are choking on medical bills. But others are not focused on throwing stones at a poster and other expressions of hatred. Their attitude amidst the pain they daily endure is positive. As John Milton wrote, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.”
Coming out of a supermarket in Ntinda one night, I found a little girl selling avocados. She had only three left. The night was chilly. She was wearing very light clothes. Her feet were in sandals. Yet she wore a bright smile as she persuaded me to buy some avocados. I complied and bought all the remaining ones and asked her about her name and whether she goes to school.
I then told her to go home. “I am running home. Tomorrow is school.” It was past 11 pm. I looked in amazement as she disappeared into the dark night. Here was a young lady who could also pin a poster of Museveni and hurl stones at it but instead her and her family had decided not to be bitter. She told me that she buys the avocados from Nakawa market at a lower price and sells them in Ntinda for a profit. Now that is what we call making a lemonade when circumstances hand you a lemon. Instead of grimacing in disgust, you engage the gears of your mind and make the best of a bad situation.
One day, Uganda will wake up and Museveni will be gone, one way or the other. The question is who will inherit the earth when the much yearned for change comes? Will it be the stone throwing kids or the fruit vendor? I reckon the stone throwing kids will still be seething with anger at any prevailing status quo while the fruit vendor will be rolling up her sleeves in order to fill each unforgiving minute with worthwhile work.