Over lunch and later what us, Ugandans, refer to as “evening tea” I was asked several times about the T-shirt. As it happens, the t-shirt in question was a gift from Rwanda’s last election. It was a specially printed good quality black shirt with a black and white image of Rwanda’s president known here as uncle Paul or to the world as Paul Kagame. It should not come as a surprise around the world that Kagame is a great conversation starter.
Now before universities and think tanks abroad feted the Rwandan president, that is, long before, he was seen almost exclusively dressed as a sophisticated, brooding Rwandan leader, Ugandans were accustomed to getting into a fit, talking about Rwanda. It could be a sort of sibling rivalry or just neighbourly envy. Rwanda is seen as the lost brother Joseph who sold to terrible circumstances set up a magical future for himself – and am sure as Kagame-nites like Mr. Andrew Mwenda may argue for the rest of Africa too. At work today, between breakfast and lunch, a young journalist said, “ Rwanda was the only place she had seen progress that did not need to be explained”. “ In Rwanda I felt even ordinary people understood the vision of the country”. She was responding to political reporter who after seeing the T-shirt simply said, “I hate Kagame”. And so we got into it for a couple of minutes. I argued that Ugandans are envious of Rwanda for good reason. In Rwanda there is a sort of efficient authoritarianism. In Uganda – there is authoritarianism that is effective but not efficient. So Rwanda’s manicured streets, its health systems and spirit de corps may have be arrived at with the same means and for the same ends- power in the hands of armed revolutionaries, but in Uganda with its laissez faire version, is a lousy bargain for public goods. The T-shirt therefore may be rightly seen in Uganda not as support for Kagame whose politics is as divisive at home as it is abroad, but as rebellion for Uganda’s underwhelming public service record. Perhaps tomorrow I will wear a Che Guevara t-shirt too.
It appears to me though that the effect will be the same.