I have told this story before: sometime in 2008, I was a subeditor at The Independent when the [then radically critical] magazine did the story about an enigmatic group, Nyekundiire.
The thrust of the story was that immediately after one election, this group of pro- Yower Kaguta Museveni individuals started to mobilise for the next election. Composed of high-end Yoweri kaguta Museveni lackeys, shady-thriving businesspersons, junior and senior advocates, public servants unqualified but occupying senior juicy positions, gold and other mineral dealers, bankers, big-name politicians, real estate dealers, agents and shareholders of foreign businesses, high-end hustlers, etcetera, this group met occasionally to strategize for the next election.
If ‘No-Change’ was a rebel group, then this was them. Meeting in one of the member’s mansion on a rotational basis, they pledged allegiance and collected funds – huge sums, hundreds of millions – for the next election. In these meetings, they would negotiate the next lucrative deal and how to facilitate each other in their hunting expeditions through their direct lines to key decision-makers in the land.
They also debated who next to conscript. By the time of writing the story, the group was coordinated by Willis Bashasha, then senior manager with Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), and the patron was comrade brother, Sudhir Ruparelia [I have never understood his political crimes that ended in the closure of his bank].
The newest recruit was Peter Ssematimba, who had recently contested for the position of mayor in Kampala, and despite losing to Nasser Ntege Ssebaggala, had generated some energy for the NRM in the capital. He was also a prominent investor, and a genius around these Kampala streets [Was he pastor then?].
It was a bold story, we mentioned names: Kiwanuka Kiryowa, Allen Kagina, Willis Bashasha, Robert Mwesigwa, Shedrack Nzeire, Hassan Basajjabalaba, Odrek Rwabwogo, Robert Kabushenga, Moses Byaruhanga, etc. No-nonsense editor, Charles Bichachi made sure the story ran despite our managing editor, Andrew Mwenda, being conflicted and openly opposed to the story. [The reporter for this story – name withheld – was confident our MD was another of the newest conscripts].
As you can imagine, this is no club for the poor or morally/religiously inspired idealists. The chaps here are street- smart, egregiously ambitious, ruthless and remorseless. To receive invitation, one has to be rich – by local standards – with big plans and ambitious enough to fight their way up.
Joining the club meant both getting facilitation from high offices, but also giving back. The people here win juicy tenders, and also have special pass with Uganda Revenue Authority. If they are unable to enter their merchandise via Lake Victoria Ggaba landing site, URA will look the other way. [But once they turned their horses against Museveni, the watchdogs including URA, parliament, or any Permanent Secretary will swiftly come for you. We vividly recall the story of Nommo Gallery in Nakasero, when Gen Elly Tumwine voiced support for Gen Sejusa’s claims of a Muhoozi project, Speaker Kadaga and then Gender permanent secretary Pius Bigirimana were the attack dogs].
Mind you, Nyekundiire honchos have no public office, but blossom in influence and power. By the time this story ran, they were estimated as only about 200 members. Over 10 years down the road, this number must have multiplied by leaps and bounds. Not too long ago, President Museveni publicly acknowledged the investment potential of this group. [Well, the president may never have received the memo, as this is supposed to be a covert no-press organisation].
Why am I re-telling this story? As a reader of classic tragic drama, I am always fascinated by the lives of heroes and heroines – presidents, queens, kings, or generals. While they are inspiring and charming in the first pages of the play, their fall is often too ignominious to be admired.
Ensnared by their own genius, they either commit suicide (Gen. Othello), self- immolate (Oedipus, King Leah) or are betrayed and murdered by those who once sang their praise (Julius Caesar). But it is not the individual lives of these tragic heroes that make for real tragic drama; rather, the blindness of the company they keep: their hysterical surrogates and many thieves who thrive under these men.
As Mark Anthony would timelessly remind us upon the death of Julius Caesar, a big man does not fall alone. In his fall, many fall with him. Nyekundiire comes to mind as one such group that will surely, and painfully, fall with Museveni. But there is the other side of possibilities: as demonstrated above, these men and women continue to work tirelessly to benefit themselves but also make sure Museveni stays on.
Now that their man is simply zigzagging on despite their hard work, they must be spending sleepless nights. They have amassed immense wealth to simply sit back and see it vanish.
As we have also learned in the past few days, most of them silently acquired assault rifles. Just the same way they have invested their resources in protecting Mr Museveni, they seem ready to go the extra mile.