Art and the “Ghost” of “Military Dictatorship”: Expressions of Dictatorship in Post-1986 Contemporary Ugandan Art
by Angelo Kakande
Although military dictatorship has distorted governance, the rule of law and constitutionalism, and caused fear, hopelessness, loss of life and property throughout Uganda’s post-colonial history, it is also a rich and productive metaphor whose visual expression is steeped in a corrupted Western concept[ion] of modern public opinion. In this article I engage this proposition to re-examine selected artworks in the context of Uganda’s socio-political history in the period 1986-2016 – a period of Uganda’s history dominated by the ruling National Resistance Movement (also called the NRM). During this examination, I borrow lenses from political theory, critical theory and visual culture studies to write Uganda’s art history. I close read and cross-reference relevant scholarship on African literature, the print and electronic media, Uganda’s jurisprudence and political history. This multidisciplinary approach is essential because Uganda’s artists often access social, economic and political archives whose contexts they share and critique through art. I argue that whatever the ideological biases (propagandist or otherwise) and [re]sources the artists tap into, their works demonstrate that the ghost of military dictatorship – whose history is longer than that of the NRM – is a productive metaphor whose visual expression is steeped in a corrupted concept[ion] of modern public opinion and undemocratic processes of state formation. The article examines the role of culture in the [de]construction of the thirty years the National Resistance Movement has been in power.
In 2014 Uganda hosted the Kampala Art Biennale 2014. Many contemporary Ugandan artists have participated in biennales before this one. However, organised by the Kampala Arts Trust, the Kampala Art Biennale 2014 was unique. Kampala became a site for a continental cultural discourse. Different events were held at several sites; many artists were invited from across the continent. I am focusing on exhibitions at the Uganda Museum and Makerere Institute of Heritage Research and Conservation. It is here that some artists presented works in which they critiqued dictatorship. On several occasions I have also watched and shown to my students Abazeeyi be Bbama (2008), a video in which Mzee Mutini Bakiddaawo and Mzee Muteeweta Lukambuuzi use humour to demonstrate that military dictatorship can be a productive metaphor that can inform visual discourse and participate in what Ebenezer Obadare (2016) calls “the subtleties of socio-political resistance and state-society relations in Africa” (p.59). A combination of the issues raised in the works exhibited during the Kampala Biennale 2014 and Abazeeyi be Bbama has motivated me to write an art history based on the interesting link between Uganda’s art, military and the law. It has invited me to re-examine the ways in which Uganda’s modern art is shaped by the debate on the role of the military in the country’s statecraft and to analyse the contrast between some post-1986 art forms affirming the military regime in Uganda and those that are oppositional to it.
Okot p’Bitek critiqued Uganda’s post-colonial history as a period in which dictatorial post-colonial leaders held hostage the very populations they were supposed to free from colonial bondage (p’Bitek 1988). Recently I wrote an article in which I analysed the political economy which produces such dictatorship (Kakande 2016a). I used ceramic art and Plato’s formulation to argue that becoming a dictator is the proper course to choose if the social, political and (especially) the legal conditions create an environment where dictators can get away with it. Since the legal system had allowed the rulers to get away with it, dictatorship has been the proper course in Uganda. I demonstrated and argued that this debate has informed Uganda’s ceramic art.
In this article I extend this debate beyond ceramics to include other forms of visual expression on the theme of absolute power in Uganda. I examine artworks in which the issue of the military, and militarism, were placed in high relief. I cross-reference the works with examples drawn from pre-1986 contemporary art only where this is necessary to stress a certain point. I, however, do not dwell much on the forms of visual expression critiquing the Obote and Amin regimes since this has received ample scholarly attention and is beyond the limited scope of this article in which I have re-examined art in the context of Uganda’s socio-political history in the period 1986-2016.
Many artists in Uganda may have produced work on the theme of post-1986 military dictatorship. However, its archive is difficult to access. I have, thus, purposively selected and examined artworks whose archives have been preserved and are accessible.
I have borrowed lenses from critical theory, disability studies and visual culture studies to assess the proposition that although military dictatorship has distorted governance, the rule of law and constitutionalism and increased fear, hopelessness, loss of life and property throughout Uganda’s post-colonial history, it is also a rich and productive metaphor whose visual expression is steeped in a corrupted concept[ion] of modern public opinion and undemocratic processes of state formation. To engage this proposition, I have close read and cross-referenced relevant scholarships on African literature, the print and electronic media, Uganda’s jurisprudence and political history. This multidisciplinary approach is essential because many contemporary artists in Uganda consciously access social, economic and political archives and question them through their artworks. They directly and indirectly participate in a robust debate on post-1986 Uganda. I start off with an examination of artworks in which the military (and militarism) has been celebrated before turning to those in which it has been criticised.
New idioms, old “ghost” of “military dictatorship”: Uganda’s contemporary art and the “pro-people” military government
In 1977 Elly Tumwine graduated from Makerere University’s Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Art. (Margaret Trowell, a British missionary and art educator, started this school in 1937.) Tumwine briefly taught art before joining the National Resistance Army (the NRA) – the armed wing of the National Resistance Movement (the NRM). Led by Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, the NRM mobilised the NRA “to fight the tyranny that previous regimes had unleashed upon the population” (National Resistance Movement Secretariat 2015, 8) and took power in 1986. Tumwine rose through the ranks to command the NRA in 1984-87. In 1992 the NRA was renamed the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces (UPDF) through Section 2 of the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces Act (1992), a law which created the UPDF as a “people’s force”. Elly Tumwine is one of the few highest-ranking officers of the UPDF; he is a general. He has also served in several portfolios in the intelligence agencies, in the legislature, as head of the General Court Martial and as a Minister of State for Defence. He is currently one of the officers representing the UPDF in the Parliament of Uganda, a position he has occupied since 1986. He is not the only artist who has served in the army, intelligence services, legislature or government. Unlike others, however, General Tumwine has continued to practise art. He has been a patron of the Uganda Artists’ Association; he regularly exhibits his work locally and internationally. As such a discussion of his work is relevant to my essay; it enriches our understanding of the post-1986 construction of the military as a people’s army through Uganda’s contemporary art in the period 1986-2016.
In the early 1990s Tumwine painted his Raising the Flag. I have been unable to obtain a good image of this work. But the photo I accessed during my doctoral studies suffices as an archive for a rewarding discussion on what the artist intended to achieve in this work. It demonstrates that the artist did not rely on the canons emphasised in the teaching of easel painting at Makerere University: figure drawing, composition, et cetera. Instead he emphasised issues that shaped the politics of the day in the following ways:
First, the image confirms that the artist gave visual expression to the position in the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces Act that the ‘new’ army was a people’s force. He relied on a mood of celebration to achieve this. His painting is distant from the anti-state, morbid themes and disfigurations of the 1970s and 1980s. That way the artist re-directs Uganda’s visual representation away from the rapacious armies of the seventies and eighties; he expanded what Kyeyune (2003) called “fresh reconfiguration art practice” (p. 209) in Uganda beyond the issues of research, curriculum development and “cultural renewal to be in closer touch with ideas of indigenous aesthetics” dominating the discourse at Makerere University. His image is fused into a debate on important issues of political (but mainly ideological) consciousness (p.224) that was raging at the time of its making.
Secondly, the artist is ambiguous on the question of who should raise the flag and participate in the reconstruction of post-war Uganda: is it the able-bodied members of the armed forces and the civilian public? This reading can be inferred from the expression of energy and vitality through raised-fisted arms. If this reading is plausible then it follows that Tumwine, who suffered a disability during the war, did not (and probably could not have) placed disability at the centre of his art. I had interactions with the blind, deaf-blind, deaf and persons with physical disability in June 2016. They argued that they are not represented in the art produced in Uganda. Allan Babeiha graduated from Michelangelo College of Creative Arts to become a commercial roadside artist at Prince Charles Drive. In July 2016 I had an interview with him during which he argued that producing art based on conditions of disability reproduces stigma and embarrasses both the artist and the people with disability. Bruno Sserunkuuma does not necessarily agree; he has promised to start producing art based on disability. If he acts on his promise he will join Simon Banga, who has produced public art for blind audiences (Fig. 1). I have no idea why Tumwine did not openly come out on the question of disability. However, I would argue that Tumwine is not like Banga; his painting seems to be steeped in the ideology of ablism. This ideology often sees disability as a limitation to national progress and wellbeing; disability is a hindrance to public participation.
It seems to revolve around the view that disability is inability and dependency which is also inscribed in local proverbs. I recently made and exhibited a ceramic tile entitled On Euphemisms of Exclusion: Disability is/as a Synonym for Dependency (2016) (Fig. 2), calling on contemporary Ugandan artists to abandon ablism because it amplifies the exclusion of persons with disability from public art and culture. I have held discussions with persons with disability to challenge it; I have organised two exhibitions at Humura Hotel to confront it.
Thirdly, building on a wealth of ideas and strategies developed through formal art education, Tumwine recalled the symbolism (and allegory) of political celebration through the gesture of raising arms, which was earlier on seen in the Independence Monument (1962) (also see Fig. 1). In the independence statue this gesture marked Uganda’s journey to post-colonial independence. Tumwine extends that symbolism to build a harmonious link between the national army (identified by green military fatigues) and the body politic. He constructs a people-friendly army. Constructing this bridge has been the cornerstone of the NRM administration, which had vowed to “build confidence among the population” in the national force and give the army a national character (Museveni 1997, 6) – a character which the army did not have (and could not have had) since the [pre-]colonial days.
Fourthly, the artist constructed the ideal of a new non-partisan army which was later captured in the Constitution of Uganda. Article 208(2) of the constitution insists that the UPDF shall be non-partisan, national in character, patriotic, professional, disciplined, productive and subordinate to the civilian authority. Having been active in the drafting of the constitution, Tumwine was privy to the debates that framed this ‘new’ ideology which the ruling party used to re-define the politics of the country and place the army at the heart of political negotiations. In fact, under Article 78(c) of the constitution the army became a “special interest group” represented in the country’s legislature. This arrangement only affects the ten members representing the UPDF for whom being in the army is the very prerequisite needed to participate in active politics. It is only in Uganda where such an arrangement exists: it is subject to abuse and can be exploited to buttress the “ghost” of “military dictatorship”, to which I return in a moment. It has been used to stifle the political careers of soldiers, including that of General David Sejusa, whose quest to join active politics in the run-up to the February 2016 elections was thwarted through arrests, detentions and refusal to grant his request to resign from the UPDF.
In addition, the military has on several occasions interfered with the authority of the Electoral Commission (currently renamed the Independent Electoral Commission) during the conduct of elections. It has overtly and covertly undermined free and fair elections. This point has been repeated in several rulings of the courts of Uganda; election observers and civic organisation have cited military interference in Uganda’s elections held in the period 1996-2016. Put simply, the military has not always harmoniously shared the political and public space with civilians (and civilian authority) as implied in Tumwine’s Raising the Flag and the law. Instead, it has violently hijacked them.
Tumwine also painted his The Ten Point Programme in the 1990s. He combined image and text drawn from improvised symbols, books and national symbols into a detailed visual narrative. He used a modernist style. He does not demonstrate a mastery of colour. His generous use of black and umber renders the painting dull; his composition is overcrowded. These characteristics then reduce the aesthetic merits of the work. They, however, support a straightforward political statement premised on the NRM’s dictum of the “fundamental change” (Kakande 2008, 212). As Museveni explained in his speech on 26 January 1986, the NRM’s ascent to power was not like any other before it. It was intended to change the economic, social, and political life of Ugandans. He proclaimed that:
No one should think that what is happening today is a mere change of guard: it is a fundamental change in the politics of our country. In Africa, we have seen so many changes that change, as such, is nothing short of mere turmoil. We have had one group getting rid of another one, only for it to turn out to be worse than the group it displaced. Please do not count us in that group of people: the National Resistance Movement is a clear-headed movement with clear objectives and a good membership (Museveni 1992, 3).
In a moment we shall see artists who disagree with this positive assessment and promise. I, however, argue that by aligning his work with this NRM dictum Tumwine celebrated and promoted the NRM and its promise of a fundamental change.
I also argue that Tumwine’s fundamental change is aligned with the Ten Point Programme which was the first policy document in which the NRM proposed – among other things – to eliminate corruption and the misuse of power, and to restore democracy. As such his painting does not highlight the fact that the NRM committed crimes during the rebellion. For example, the BBC produced a film entitled Museveni Bush War (2008) highlighting the way the NRA recruited child soldiers into its ranks. This would have been unlawful. The NRM/NRA also committed treasonous acts, punishable by death (under the Penal Code Cap. 120 of the laws of Uganda) when they violently fought an elected Obote-led government and captured power. Seen in this light, Tumwine’s painting begins to support, rather than question, “the backward-looking” ghost of “extra-constitutional overthrow of government” that “paved the way for military dictatorship, judicial restraint and conservatism” in Uganda (Onyango-Oloka 2015, vi).
The backward-looking ghost of extra-constitutional overthrow of government has its roots in the 1966 High Court decision in the case of Uganda v. Commissioner of Prisons, ex parte Matovu which was the first in Uganda’s history and jurisprudence to raise the infamous “political question”. This question asserts that any illegal overthrow of a sitting government in Uganda is rendered legal and legitimate by the act of the successful overthrow and that such an act is itself a law-making act; courts cannot interfere with it or reverse it. The act is only treasonable when the overthrow fails. In other words, anyone can use extrajudicial means (especially the military) to overthrow an elected government in Uganda. The act is only wrong, unjustifiable, treasonable thus unlawful if it fails to capture power. Where it succeeds, courts will not be the correct forum in which to challenge it.
This is the ghost that has framed all bloody coups d’état, coup plots, assassinations and attempted assassinations, paranoia, lack of constitutionalism and rule of law in Uganda’s post-colonial history since 1966. I, however, argue that, as we see in Tumwine’s Raising the Flag and Ten Point Programme, this ghost is a powerful metaphor that is culturally, and especially visually, productive. It has informed a genre of post-1986 politico-aesthetic in Uganda’s visual discourse including the national monuments whose construction Tumwine supervised. For example, it was reflected in The Stride (2007) (Fig. 3).
The Stride (2007) was made during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) session during which Uganda staged a series of cultural and political events to celebrate the CHOGM hosted in the country in 2007. The pro-government print and electronic media dubbed the event a memorable one. It echoed the government’s call on Ugandans to prepare for the CHOGM and reap from the economic opportunities it presented. Hotel owners were especially mobilised through economic incentives and political support. Shimoni Demonstration School and Shimoni Teachers Training College, located at Nile Avenue (in Kampala), were demolished in January 2007 to create space for the construction of “five star hotels”. For critics, however, CHOGM was an endorsement of the ruling NRM’s (especially Museveni’s) questionable track record. Artists such as Tony Bukenya added a visual angle to this criticism.
A graduate of MTSIFA, Bukenya did a series of political-pots, including a small pot (Fig. 4) on whose surface he produced a text in which he fused CHOGM into a host of vexed questions raised at the time of CHOGM. For example, Bukenya refers to “DDT”. The NRM had earlier discontinued the use of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), which is an organochlorine chemical substance. The government had cited health and environmental concerns to support its decision. However, by 2007 it changed its positions and announced plans to spray every home with DDT. This plan provoked angry responses from environmental activists and artists like Bukenya.
Secondly, Bukenya highlighted the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgence led by Joseph Kony. This is the longest and most brutal rebellion in Uganda’s history. Initially it affected northern Uganda and South Sudan. At the time of CHOGM, the epicentre of the rebellion had shifted to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR) and Chad, leaving in its wake a whole generation of Ugandans battered by war, poverty and destitution.
Thirdly, the artist made a poignant reflection on the increasing torture of members of the political opposition, especially President Museveni’s strongest opponent, Dr Kiiza Besigye, whose name is indelibly printed on the pot.
Thus Bukenya joined critics for whom celebrating CHOGM through the symbolism of fast-forwardness inscribed in The Stride would have involved glossing over glaring political and environmental problems haunting the performance of the ruling NRM. I, however, argue that such criticism does not completely erase the artistic merit of the artwork. Instead, it explains the political debate in which the group sculpture became relevant to the campaign to better the (international) image of the NRM during CHOGM. Seen in this context, The Stride becomes the NRM’s visual response to its critiques. It is a representational sculpture and not entirely propagandist, given its location in an enclosed space behind the Parliament of Uganda, which is not readily accessible to many Ugandans. George Kyeyune, Maria Naita and the Kann Artists did the sculpture. They presented an allegorical, heterosexual family filled with energy and vigour. The artists used copper sheets to mimic bronze(?) as they investigated new methods of producing public art at an affordable cost; they relied on common people as points of reference to link the sculpture to what has been coined as “the common man”. Such representation harks back to Maloba’s Independence Monument in which a non-elite mother – traditionalised through the appropriation of bark cloth – symbolised the birth of Uganda as a post-colonial nation-state. Like Maloba before them, the artists deconstructed elitism as the centre of the imagination of Uganda’s post-colonial statehood. This was achieved through the deployment of common people performing an international, elite, state ceremony. I say this because in Uganda national functions like CHOGM are elaborate and professionally organised. Common people (this being the common man) are invited to attend them but they usually play marginal roles like waving to official guests and ululating. As Driciru showed, in her painting Insects and Crowds (1977), their presence merely reinforces (and humanises) the absolute power of Uganda’s military governments. The raising of official banners is usually a function of specially trained members of the prisons and police services and the UPDF. It is not a function to be performed by bare-chested men and peasant women and children. And yet in The Stride an identifiably common, bare-chested man and a peasant woman are accompanied by their child as they wave the official ceremonial banner announcing (and immortalising) the hosting of CHOGM in Uganda.
In addition to The Stride, the NRM government sponsored a decorative programme in which it revised the Independence Park where the Independence Monument (1962) is located. Unlike The Stride, the painting behind the Independence Monument made no direct visual reference to the official functions of CHOGM. Instead, the artists referred to common people and the political elite. The[ir] message was not abstract. It was elaborate in political narrative; the artists were keen on social, economic and political details as they summarised Uganda’s pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial history. They relied on the propagandist view that the NRM brought development to Uganda; it ended the enslavement, exploitation and suffering of the masses. On 21 June 2016 I interviewed a journalist from a private television station located in Kampala. He was born after 1986, just like the majority of Uganda’s 34 million citizens. He, however, has reflected on the record of the ruling NRM and the militarisation of politics in Uganda. He observed that the NRM uses such narratives (visual or otherwise) to re-write history in its favour in order to convince Ugandans to believe that “the country started in 1986” when the NRM took power. I agree with this assessment since it also helps us to explain why the NRM’s official representation of the success of the rebellion is through the militarised figure of Museveni captured in the Heroes Monument (2007) (Fig. 5).
The Heroes Monument (Fig. 5) is an interesting example of propaganda art based on the heroism behind Uganda’s ghost of military dictatorship. It is not like Sierra Leone’s Peace and Cultural Monument (initially unveiled as Monument in Remembrance of Our Fallen Heroes and Heroines in February 2010). As such, it does not accommodate civilians, the wounded and disabled, and women heroines who participated in the liberation struggle. (General Elly Tumwine currently heads a committee which recognises and awards them various medals under the National Medals and Awards Act.) This is because it represents President Museveni, although he himself never saw it until the day of its unveiling: different people posed as sitters during its construction; artists relied on Museveni’s portraits published in the print media to capture his likeness.
The Heroes Monument was made to celebrate the attack on Kabamba Military Barracks on 6 February 1981. Also celebrated as Tarehe Sita, this day is a public holiday in Uganda. It has interesting memories for Elly Tumwine, for the UPDF and for the ruling party. It marked the start of a successful rebellion which weakened Milton Obote’s government before it collapsed in 1985 under a coup d’état. George Kyeyune, Maria Naita and the Kann Artists represented this history in a 20-metre tall sculpture made out of fibre glass. It represents an erect, youthful Yoweri Museveni holding a Kalashnikov in his left arm as he surges towards the armoury at Kabamba Military Barracks in western Uganda where the monument is located. This location further militarises the struggle which has commonly been referred to as the people’s struggle. It, however, removes the monument, and its representation of heroism, from the eyes of the larger civilian public.
Similar militarism is seen in another monument called the Unknown Soldier (2012) (Fig. 6) – a concrete sculpture representing an ideal youthful soldier hoisting a flag. It is located at the Kololo Airstrip in Kampala. A “Korean company” (Kasfir 2013:525) made it to mark fifty years of Uganda’s independence. It was not like Cote d’Ivoire’s A l’Honneur du
Soldat Inconnu (2008) (translated: in honour of the unknown soldier) which was part of a grand narrative of a new nation facing a bright future in spite of a torn past and present (Förster 2012). It was in celebration of the triumph, under the NRM leadership, over a bad 1962-86 history. Its reference to an Unknown Soldier as a theme was not new. The histories of the world wars informed the construction of tombs for unknown soldiers in many countries in memory of those who perished during the world wars. This is the context in which a World War II Memorial was built at City Square (currently the Constitutional Square) in Uganda in 1945. The masculinisation of statecraft through references to a committed, patriotic, male soldier as the ideal representation of a people’s struggle harks back to Namibia’s Heroes Acre (2002) and Malawi’s National Monument Park (2005) where male figures – reproduced as unknown soldiers – function in similar ways. Also, the use of an energetic figure to celebrate triumph over a traumatic history that affected an entire country/continent reminds me of Senegal’s Monument to Africa’s Renaissance (2010) where a youthful, powerful male figure is central to a group sculpture celebrating Africa’s triumph over the trauma of slave trade and slavery. I argue that the artists who did the Unknown Soldier and the Heroes Monument were aware of these projects.
In addition, the Heroes Monument draws on other artistic resources. Stylistically its narrative of heroism embodied in a charismatic, militaristic, sitting president and intended to inspire a sense of patriotism reminds me of Muammar al Gaddafi’s statues in Libya before they were torn down during the Arab Spring. Figuratively, the artists engaged the socialist realism seen in monuments in communist Russia, China, Cuba and North Korea, among others. Its literalist imagery can be found in other monuments (and monumental spaces) on the African continent, including Zimbabwe’s National Heroes Acre (1981). Particularly, it reminds me of the use of heroic figurations of Presidents Samuel Shafiihuma Nujoma (the first president of Namibia) and Hastings Kamuzu Banda (the first president of Malawi) as representations of the nation, nation-state and nationalism.
However, the Heroes Monument is not without controversy. I am aware that ambiguities and shifting meanings all public monuments as the histories they represent fade into the past or are overtaken by events. However, my debate is limited to two specifics: First are the major contradictions and fallouts in the ruling party following the 2005 revision of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda through the Constitution (Amendment) Act of 2005. The Act introduced a raft of amendments. Of particular importance, because of its potential to create the kind of situation the Malawi Congress Party did in Malawi in 1970 to entrench Hastings Kamuzu Banda as a “life president”, was the removal of the legal provision for two five-year term limits. This provision was largely seen as the only impediment to President Museveni’s re-election and the very possibility of entrenching what was called the “Museveni political dynasty in Uganda”. The opposition offered limited resistance, including a walk-out from Parliament during the tense debates. Using its majority in Parliament, the NRM approved the amendment. Museveni was guaranteed an opportunity to stay in power for as long as his party wanted him there and so long as he was not above seventy-five years old. In return, legislators received a “cash bonanza” of 5,000,000 Uganda shillings (approximately US$2,700.00). His former allies—including Jaberi Bidandi Ssali, Miria Matembe, John Kazoora, among others—left him to join the opposition.
Secondly, the representation of historical facts in the Heroes Monument was immediately contested: President Yoweri Museveni himself argued that it carries a gun which he has never used. This is correct. In fact, it is Tumwine’s gun that was used by the artists. His personal doctor, Kiiza Besigye, has argued that contrary to the view of vitality and energy in the monument, Museveni had actually collapsed on the way to attack Kabamba. He, therefore, was not on the scene as suggested in the monument. Kiiza Besigye adds that it was Elly Tumwine who fired the first bullet and not under the command of Museveni but under that of Salim Saleh (aka Caleb Akandwanaho), Museveni’s brother. Asked for a comment, Saleh referred the press to the UPDF’s History Department, which was recording the entire history of the rebellion to correct any errors in the record, including those in the first autobiography published by Yoweri Museveni (1997). The UPDF’s revised record has not been widely shared, if indeed it was ever concluded. Instead, on 8 February 2016 Museveni, flanked by his wife, unveiled a revised version of his autobiography. He explained that the revised version was intended to correct past mistakes in the record of the rebellion which brought him to power (Tumwine 2016). However, on 30 July 2016 Norman Tumuhimbise countered Museveni’s published corrections; he launched a book in which he reduced Museveni’s revisions to a pack of “lies” (Tumwine 2016).
Against this backdrop, I argue that the state-sponsored monuments – including others such as The Journey (2012) – a group sculpture which was also made to celebrate fifty years of Uganda’s post-colonial statehood (Fig.7) – pay homage to the NRM’s political narrative and positive contributions; that way they are propagandist. For example, the NRM’s failure to end corruption, rigging of elections, abuse of power and nepotism cannot be read into the high expectations and energy epitomised by the monuments. Yet these failures continue to haunt the NRM, to the extent of causing internal divisions. For instance, John Kazoora retired from the UPDF at the rank of major to become a critic of the NRM. He published a book cataloguing these failures, asserting that they informed his decision to quit the NRM (Kazoora 2012). In 1992 Museveni conceded to such criticism. He admitted that corruption existed in the NRM ranks and that it was “a cancer” eating away at the ruling elite (Museveni 1992); he has continuously promised to end it. It is interesting to note that this reality has invited pointed criticism that has shaped Uganda’s contemporary art as artists push back against militarism in Uganda.
Taking part in the pushback? Art and public opinion
Opolot William Okitoi graduated from Makerere University’s MTSIFA in 1991. In 1990 he did his Untitled (Corruption) (Fig. 8) in which he placed the ruling NRM elite at a strategic location camouflaged by overgrown vegetation. The painting suggests that by 1990 women had been co-opted by the selfish, corrupt, male elite. This was a poignant critique of the legislation called Affirmative Action Act (1989) which was promulgated to stop the exclusion of women from the public space.
In addition, Okitoi makes an anti-bourgeois statement while proposing a formidable critique of the ruling NRM elite and its selfish preoccupations with the trappings of absolute power: wine and dinners; waiting guards and cars. This visual narrative confirms that the artist was questioning the choices of the new government in power and the claims about a fundamental change captured in Tumwine’s painting entitled Fundamental Change. Clearly, the artist was concerned that the corrupt NRM elite exploited the rural masses. He thus used open hands at the centre of his composition. They receive and convey the excess labour of the working, rural, peasant and agricultural class through a tunnel which terminates into a table where the act of exploitation takes place (Kakande 2008).
Okitoi recalls the working village folks earlier seen in the paintings Sam Ntiro did in the 1950s and 1960s. Unlike Ntiro, however, Okitoi views such folks through the lenses of an exploited (proletarian) class. As if to heighten emotions, Okitoi recalls the politics of naked and exposed children in the paintings of the 1970s–1980s, albeit differently. He introduces the naked body of a baby to the left of the composition to elicit vulnerability. He simultaneously uses this child to further highlight the commitment of the working woman who unreservedly works the fields at the expense of tending to her vulnerable child. As such Okitoi recovered the political symbolism of mother and child from the morbidity in John Alacu’s Mother’s Dream and Mathias Muwonge’s Misfortune (among others) and used it to launch a pointed attack on the corrupt NRM political class. He suggests that the NRM elite are selfish and corrupt; they do not work for the common good (Kakande 2008) and the common man. Few would openly express such an opinion in 1990. For making such criticism, one would have been labelled anti-revolution, or worse, an Obote/Amin sympathiser. Clearly, art provided a medium through which Okitoi could make his point; that his work was kept in the sanctity of the Makerere Art Gallery probably saved the artist from criticism and possible sanctions.
Fred Kato Mutebi can also be mentioned here. He graduated from Makerere’s Art School in 1993. He is a prolific practising artist who was a member of the NRM at one point until after the 2001 elections when it became clear to him that the party had veered off the correct path – Olive Kobusingye (Kobusingye 2010) called it the “correct line” in the title of her book. Mutebi has done a lot of work to make the point that he left the NRM, including his Parting Ways (2005) (Fig. 9) in which a group of marabou storks (a symbolism he has often deployed to critique the political elite in Uganda) had split into two semi-groups going into separate (and opposite) directions.
I argue that Okitoi and Mutebi used art to countervail the heroes captured in pro-NRM literature and imagery. They questioned the morality of the ruling elite whom they presented as villains. They joined members of civil society who were pushing back through the courts of law. For instance, in the case of A.K.P.M. Lutaya v Attorney General (2002) the NRA had “plundered” Lutaya’s farm. Brigadier Nanyumba told court that it was normal for the NRA to illegally take private property in circumstances where “the state may not be able to cater for the needs of the army”. The Attorney General did not particularly deny this practice. Lutaya fought all the way to the Supreme Court of Uganda to recover his property. The Supreme Court criticised (and effectively ended) the practice of grabbing private property by the army; it gave Lutaya compensation for the infringement. Secondly, in the case of John Ogil v Attorney General (2004) Ogil convinced the High Court of Uganda to accept that the UPDF and government of Uganda had no right to shoot and unlawfully detain a Ugandan. The court ended state-engineered torture long before the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act of 2012 was enacted. The involvement of the UPDF in the country’s electoral processes in favour of the ruling NRM has led to the nullification of several results through the courts of Uganda. The case of Muwanga Kivumbi v Attorney General (2007) is also important here: it removed the legal basis for the militarisation of the public space; the court stopped the prohibition of political assemblies and activism.
This debate is relevant to my essay because it allows us to appreciate the frame in which artists like Mutebi, Okitoi, Bukenya, Kakande and others, we are about to see, have been operating. It confirms that their works are aligned with a vibrant public opinion based on the Voltairean concept that the courts are protecting. This concept affirms that the public, public space and civic participation are ideal pillars of a good democracy. As an Enlightenment philosopher, Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet) proposed these principles as a basis for modern public opinion as he conceptualised a citizenship that enjoyed civil liberty, security of property, the right to work and the freedoms of person, of speech and of conscience. However, John Saul Ralston (2013) has argued that in the West these attributes are obsolete as far as shaping public space and opinion are concerned. This is because of the “dictatorship of reason” through which experts – these being Ralston’s “bastards of Voltaire” – hijack and control public opinion, public space and political discourse. Yet these experts rely on expertise grounded in knowledge balkanised into fiefdoms. I am of the view that post-colonial Uganda has inherited aspects of this expert-led bureaucracy through the Westminster system of democracy. Consequently, a lot of government business is conducted by experts through meetings, seminars and workshops which consume a lot of funds, according to the budget speech read in June 2016 (Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development 2016) without adding value to the delivery of public goods and services.
Also, as we see in Mathias Muwonge’s painting entitled Misfortune (1985), the birth of democracy in Uganda was a stillbirth. The political elite conveniently apply a corrupted form of ‘Voltairean democracy’ in which tendencies of autocracy are common. As a result, politicians who take part in the modern public space are either members of the military or have been compromised through co-optation or severely constrained through military coercion. Interestingly, this debate has morphed into a discussion which is culturally and visually productive. It has informed a countervailing form of contemporary art which merits an analysis.
Art against autocracy: Countervailing the “ghost” of “military dictatorship” in Uganda
I am working on an art and disability project funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The project is advocating for reasonable access for persons with disability who cannot access public monuments in Kampala’s Central Business District (CBD), including the Constitutional Square. In May 2015 I tried to access the Constitutional Square with two students of Architecture whom I had contracted to redesign the access ramp to the World War II Memorial located there. I was also trying to see what it takes to organise a visit to the same site with two groups of persons with disabilities who had never seen many of the public monuments located in the CBD.
I did not succeed. The entire perimeter was full of security officers from different agencies, including the UPDF. They had permanently camped there and prohibited civilian access to the site. I approached a police officer to ask for “special” permission. He refused and advised that I formally apply to the officer in charge of Central Police Station for permission. I complied. On delivering the letter, though, I was advised to write to the District Police Commander (the DPC) whose secretary did not receive my letter upon delivery. Instead, he advised me to write to the Kampala Metropolitan Police Commander (the KMPC). After days of frequenting the KPMC and revising the letter several times under the ‘tutelage’ of the secretariat to the Commander of KMPC, permission was given with strict instructions to visit the monument under the surveillance of two police guards. The DPC was instructed to provide the two police guards to monitor every visit.
However, the DPC flatly refused to implement the order. Why would a police officer act in breach of Section 18(1) of the Police Act which makes it an offence for any policeman to “wilfully or through deliberate neglect disobey…a lawful order”? Why did the DPC disobey orders from his superior, the KPMC? He asked his subordinate, the officer in charge of the Central Police Station, to usher me into his office. He then explained to me that an office[r] superior to his/him, that he did not name, might be unhappy if the order was implemented.
The DPC’s reference to a superior force is not uncommon. The police regularly acts or omits to act in fear of some all-powerful, anonymous, superior force. This force is not new; it has haunted Uganda’s post-colonial history. Its superhuman-ness, superiority, might, existence and omnipresence is potently expressed through vagueness, lack of address and anonymity. It is currently called “orders from above” (my emphasis). In many ways this construction reminds me of Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer who is beyond the law. However, though also beyond the law, Uganda’s “orders-from-above” is informed by local historical conditions in which certain individuals (especially within the military) have assumed privileged positions above the law; they have become the law unto themselves. Such individuals are often part of the executive arm of government. They give orders to the judiciary and Parliament. They influence government processes and the delivery of all public goods and services.
Nicholas Sengooba would agree. He has explained that this “orders-from-above” is a powerful, unquestionable dictator that has distorted the path of Uganda’s post-colonial history. He argues that the “biggest challenge our society has had is that for most of the 54 years of our independence, we have been under one form of autocracy or another. It is mostly about unquestionable orders from above and beyond that regulate society and make things work the way they do in favour of those in power.” I would concur and argue that it is this autocrat, rather than the DPC, who disallowed my access to the Constitutional Square.
Yet the Constitutional Square is gazetted as a national monument. It is also home to another gazetted public monument – the World War II Memorial (1945) – to which I refer elsewhere in this article. Both monuments are protected under the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, the Culture Policy (2015) and the Historic Monuments Act (1967). Most specifically, Section 18 of the Historical Monuments Act provides for the “right of access” to public monuments. This is the right to access monuments I had hoped to enjoy with two groups of persons with disabilities; it is the right that was denied.
Like the Constitutional Square and the World War II Memorial, many monuments located in Kampala’s CBD are inaccessible and barricaded behind metallic fences under the watchful eyes of gun-wielding, mean-looking security forces constituting an effective tool of repression, subjugation and exclusion. Journalist Joseph Sabiti agrees with this observation, arguing that as a result the gazetted monuments are themselves held hostage by the military.
On 29 May 2011 Julius Barigaba highlighted the effect of this militarisation in an article published in The East African. He criticised the way the militarisation of public spaces had turned the Constitutional Square into a torture chamber where fundamental civil and political rights are abused with impunity. In a photo accompanying his article (Fig. 10), Barigaba captures a depressing moment in which a vicious soldier tramples upon citizens either scattered on the ground or running for their safety. The picture had been taken on 12 May 2011, the day when Museveni was sworn in as president. The ceremony, however, coincided with Kiiza Besigye’s return from a hospital in Nairobi and crowds had lined up the streets to welcome him. This led to scuffles as the police and the army struggled to control the crowds and protect the visiting heads of state and government delegations invited to the swearing-in ceremony. As seen in the picture, the security forces used excessive force; some people were injured or killed. These acts eroded the non-derogable right not to be subjected to “any form of torture or cruel, inhuman degrading treatment or punishment” (emphasis added). This right is enshrined in Articles 24 and 44(a) of the Constitution of Uganda. For Barigaba, such military sieges demonstrate that the nation-state was under military siege. This is how he poignantly captured this state of affairs in the title to his article also published online: “‘Peaceful’ Uganda is now a police besieged state” (Barigaba 2011). To maintain such a state, the NRM has deployed a combined force “of military, police and heavy weaponry at the Constitution Square and other strategic points in the city” (Barigaba 2011) to resolve political questions and to crush opposition protests as the country becomes a “police state” under “dictatorship”. Let me now demonstrate and argue that some artists have produced oppositional art critiquing this dictatorship.
For instance, Ronex Ahimbisibwe is a graduate of MTSIFA. He holds regular exhibitions locally and internationally in which he sometimes raises socio-political issues. During the Kampala Biennale 2014 Ahimbisibwe did works two of which are relevant to this discussion: The Burden (2014) (Fig. 11) and Kiss My Ass (2014) (Fig. 12). These paintings are not as graphic and representational as Barigaba’s photo. They are, however, no less effective as political statements. They are stylistically close to each other. The artist uses them to stretch the definition of painting as form and material while confirming his role in the construction of Uganda’s modernism. He used mixed media and collage as he broke the rules of perspective.
Beyond dealing with the issues of art-making, Ahimbisibwe used a modernist style to criticise dictatorship in Africa, which he blames for a catalogue of problems that are breaking the back of humanity in his The Burden. The title for his Kiss My Ass relates to Rick Davis’ movie Kiss My Ass (2004) and Lauren Phoenix’s movie Kiss My Ass (2006), these being the only two I have watched on this theme. Nonetheless, the issues behind Ahimbisibwe’s work are local, regional and continental. The artist relies on image-as-text produced on papers of varied sizes printed with black ink. He lays them horizontally across a carefully planned picture plane to recompose a [meta-]text in which he raises varied issues of governance and human rights.
Key to this discussion, he raises the issue of dictatorship as an impediment to African progress; I say this because the theme for Kampala Biennale 2014 was progressive Africa. He then links it to a number of related issues which constitute a burden for Africans, including: politicians, greed, famine, dependency, HIV/AIDS, injustice, the debt burden, inequality, disease, riots, illiteracy, exploitation, crime, desperation, wars, nepotism, tribalism, fear and displacement, among others. By fusing autocracy into its associated problems and exhibiting them in a public gallery, Ahimbisibwe locates his artworks at the heart of the public discussion on the rule of law, constitutionalism and good governance in Africa. In the process, he visualises dictatorship as a way of countervailing it.
Eria Sane Nsubuga did a related work entitled Abeekalakasa temwesembereza mmundu (Avoid Guns when in Public Places) (2014) (Fig. 13) which he exhibited at the Uganda Museum during the Kampala Biennale 2014. It could be argued that the work taps into Nsubuga’s religious upbringing. However, it was based on his immediate socio-political concerns. He used mixed media. His expressionist style reminds us of Jackson Pollock’s work. However the message, use of space and appropriation of colour is clearly his. He is aware of the cattle economy which he represents in a well-framed photo/painting pinned on the wall to the left of the painting. Livestock and animal husbandry are major sources of livelihood and incomes in Uganda. However, cows are also particularly used in a pointed metaphor to critique the political elite from western Uganda who are accused of dominating the politics of Uganda. Nsubuga’s two paintings, Abayima (2011) and A Man with a Hut and Longhorned Cattle (2011), are directly linked to this political debate which has also shaped scholars like Stefan Lindemann (2011) and popular culture; for example it is partly behind Mun G’s music video Byayanga. However, this debate can lead to serious ethnic tensions and conflicts – as was the case in September 2009 when people hailing from western Uganda were randomly attacked and their property destroyed during the Kayunga riots.
Nsubuga does not seem to pay attention to this general problem. His Abeekalakasa temwesembereza mmundu (Avoid Guns when in Public Places) was based on a specific political agenda. The artist used his image to critique the distortion of democracy in Africa. He sought for divine intervention from “Jahovah”; he prayed for peace – “shalom.” This strategy helps him to resolve conflicts for which Ahimbisibwe has no solution. It is also behind songs like Ronnie Mayinja’s Tusabe Katonda on the Abalina Sente album. I, however, argue that the call for divine intervention does not recognise civic action and its ability to mobilise against autocracy. It does not accommodate the uprisings that unseated the repressive regimes in Côte d’Ivoire, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, among others.
However, in spite of this criticism, the painting poignantly deconstructs Uganda as a post-colonial nation-state. The artist strategically locates the source of his anxiety (and activism) at the centre of his work using a detailed statement from a printed newspaper. The message warned that any persons involved in riots and unlawful assemblies risked being shot by the military and police. The message was printed in the local daily, Bukedde. Owned by the Vision Group Limited in which the government of Uganda has a 53% stake, Bukedde is a pro-government daily published in Luganda. Luganda is a Bantu language spoken by the Baganda, an ethnic group constituting 16% of the population of Uganda. Bukedde is often used for propaganda purposes, especially during times of political tension and electoral campaigns. However, it is also likely that the message captured in Nsubuga’s Abeekalakasa temwesembereza mmundu (Avoid Guns when in Public Places) targeted the organisers of public campaigns and the so-called ‘unlawful assemblies’.
Secondly, in this painting Nsubuga presents a male dominating a space. He crosses his legs to reveal his black leather shoes – all symbols of elitism. Nsubuga seems to use these idioms to critique the educated elite who have been co-opted or coerced into subservience by the “ghost” of “military dictatorship”. I contend that, placed in this context, his painting is close to Kiiza Besigye’s criticism.
Besigye is the most active nemesis of President Museveni and the ruling NRM. He draws his support from the uneducated, urban, unemployed youths and those employed in the informal sector. In 2013 Besigye criticised the middle class, accusing it “of being ‘selfish, opportunistic and self-serving’ while colluding with the military to perpetuate President Museveni’s grip on power” (Arinaitwe 2013). Nsubuga seems to make a similar statement, albeit suggestively.
In his Untitled (Bwana Attacks Kiiza Besigye) (2013) (Fig. 14) which he exhibited at Makerere’s Institute of Heritage Conservation and Research during the Kampala Biennale 2014, Nsubuga was bold as he made a graphic statement akin to Barigaba’s. He critiqued the brutal attack on the leader of the opposition, Kiiza Besigye, that happened on 28 April 2011 basing on an incident that was broadcast live on local and international television since it happened in front of the local and international press. Besigye was flown to Nairobi for treatment after a senior police officer, named Gilbert Arinaitwe Bwana, violently shattered his car window with a pistol and doused his eyes with a toxic substance that nearly blinded him. Besigye returned on 12 May 2011 amid further protests. Like Barigaba, Nsubuga captures the moment when Arinaitwe uses his gun to smash Besigye’s car window. That moment (as seen in Fig. 14) has been repeatedly published in the print and electronic media (see Fig. 15).
The artist seems to have used one of the published images as a basis for his work. He manipulated it while contributing to the debate on the record of Uganda’s political history in which military dictatorship is a lived reality that affects a particular (and not just an abstract) individual. A similar image and strategy was deployed in Budo SSS’s music song entitled Bulibabuti (2015) in which the history of Uganda’s violent elections is traced back to the 1980 elections which were rigged in favour of Milton Obote, forcing Museveni to start a rebellion that brought him to power in 1986. However, Budo SSS denied that the song Bulibabuti was about provoking emotions: it was about writing history; it was about politics as entertainment. Nsubuga’s work is a record of history, a bad political history. He, however, went beyond art-as-entertainment. He used pointillism as a style to layer textures while producing a mottled effect and thus the harsh reality in which many people have been killed or injured during the country’s political contests. Like Ahimbisibwe, Nsubuga seems to deploy a strategy of exposure (but mainly as shaming-without-naming) to countervail the serious human rights violations committed, as it was the case in this incident, as the NRM struggles to retain power.
I thus argue that Ronex Ahimbisibwe and Eria Sane Nsubuga relied on a strategy of using art as political-text to question militarism in Uganda. They transformed contemporary art into visual statements that can countervail the lingering effects of military dictatorship in Uganda. They, however, also demonstrate that the “ghost” of “military dictatorship” is culturally and visually productive; like it did during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, it continued to shape the growth of contemporary art, albeit differently, in the sense that artists rely on written text and not on scenes of mortality and morbidity.
The military elite have hijacked the public discussion and space in Uganda. They have [over]run Uganda’s post-colonial state. They have hindered good governance, the rule of law and constitutionalism through extrajudicial overthrow of governments. Such is the ghost of military dictatorship which is also constructed as orders from above. Unrestrained by the law and public opinion which it has either co-opted or coerced, agents of this ghost have militarised Uganda’s politics since 1986 as the NRM re-writes the country’s history. I, however, have demonstrated in this article that this military dictatorship is also a rich and productive metaphor that has shaped the course of the country’s cultural landscape, art and art history. This is not to say that the works analysed say little or nothing about Uganda’s modernism. However, it is to propose and argue that as they contribute to Uganda’s modernism Uganda’s artists use political lenses that inform their work. In the process they assume interesting positions towards the role of the military in the country’s politics as they [re]produce powerful symbolisms and visual strategies built on the common man, image and text and image-as-text. They have produced a message that is not ambiguous but effective as a political text. Some artists have used their art forms to make a case for a pro-people state and military. Their art is fused into pro-NRM propaganda. Other artists have used their oeuvres to countervail the NRM as a military dictatorship. Their art cannot be distanced from the available anti-NRM propaganda. I, however, contend that these alignments are necessary for artists to position themselves with respect to the all-powerful source of “orders from above”. I thus argue that whatever the ideological biases (propagandist or otherwise) and [re]sources the artists tap into, their works demonstrate that the ghost of military dictatorship – whose history is longer than that of the NRM – is a productive metaphor whose visual expression through contemporary Ugandan art is steeped in a corrupted concept[ion] of modern public opinion and a compromised democratic process.
Angelo Kakande is an ACLS Fellow and NGAAII Fellow. He teaches studio art and art history at Makerere University. He is an artist (ceramist and painter), art historian (with interest in contemporary African art) and a lawyer (with interest in human rights law). He is a graduate of Makerere University (Kampala, Uganda) and the University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg, South Africa). firstname.lastname@example.org
 For example the Baganda say: awava munno tewadda munno. This could be translated in many interesting ways including he/she becomes disabled loses self-dependency and begins to depend on others (including objects) for support. It is also a source of a name: Wavamunno.
 Let me add here in passing that all other public servants – excluding the Cabinet Ministers and Ministers of State who are “political heads” – have to resign ninety days before joining active politics in Parliament and in local governments. In 2006 this situation, and the unfairness attached to it, was emphasised by the Constitutional Court of Uganda in the case of Darlington Sakwa and Athanasius Rutaroh v The Electoral Commission & 44 Others (2006). I contend that the court made a political decision to avoid what Justice Twinomujuni called “a recipe for disaster” had it ruled otherwise. However, it is still relevant to my point for this reason: Justice Mpagi-Bahigeine argued that the participation of Ministers and Ministers of State was inconsistent with the principle of “free and fair elections”; it “does not augur well with transparency, fair play and the rule of law” in the country. Although Justice Mpagi-Bahigeine argued that it “warrants an appropriate action from the responsible authorities” to change it, little progress has been made in this direction. I argue that this is because this unfairness helps the ruling party to use state resources and hold on to power.
 Some hotels were never built; some (for instance Bwebajja Hotel on Entebbe Road) were built but never occupied.
 There is an interesting narrative on the ways in which this so-called Korean company came, and stayed, in Uganda before it “won” the contract to make the Unknown Soldier. Was the bidding as competitive as provided for in the law? I also note that the role of companies like this “Korean company” during the CHOGM events has been controversial; the Vice President of Uganda—Gilbert Balibaseka Bukenya—was jailed over such controversies. They have been at the centre of several litigations in the Courts of Uganda. They have been investigated by the Office of the Auditor General, Inspectorate of Government and the Public Accounts Committee of the Parliament of Uganda. As a lawyer, I am aware of many of these controversies and related issues. But they are outside the limited scope of this article.
 For related reasons South Africa saw the March 2015 protests in which the Rhodes Must Fall Movement called for the relocation of Marion Walgate’s The Statute of Cecil Rhodes (1934). Clearly the events that saw the erection of the monument at the University of Cape Town had faded into history and were overtaken by a new dispensation in which calls for the decolonisation education in the country gained priority. Kasfir (2012: 65-66) argued that such ambiguities and shifting meaning characterise the Heroes Monument.
 Currently there is a debate to remove this age barrier, including a petition asking the Constitutional Court of Uganda to declare the seventy-five year limit in Article 102 (b) of the Constitution of Uganda unconstitutional.
 Emphasis added. See Sengooba (2016).
 For example, the on 12 July 2016 some policemen unlawfully beat up citizens who had converged on to certain roads to see Kiiza Besigye. Besigye was returning to his home after securing his release from prison where he had spent over fifty days. Commenting on the incident, Kiiza Besigye used the notions of police-state and dictatorship interchangeably. See Kafeero (2016).
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