In an Interview with Gaaki Kigambo, Kobusingye, a sister to opposition leader Kizza Besigye, talks about the book, its seizure, and where she drew her inspiration from.
Below is the full interview
How many books had you shipped into the country?
What were you told, that you couldn’t get them beyond customs?
Initially I was told customs had procedures and processes. They were verifying if the contents of the consignment attracted duty (taxes). Later they said the [consignment] didn’t, but there were still some verification to be made.
Finally on Friday, certainly way more than 48 hours after the books arrived in the country, they told me they couldn’t be released because they were deemed to be anti-government and that there was going to be an investigation [about them].
How did customs officials determine that; would they have had to read it first?
I’m very curious to know how they arrived at that conclusion. The book had been in customs presumably a few hours. What are the chances that in a couple of hours someone had read a book of 212 pages and made a conclusion about its contents and the fact that its contents were anti-government? I don’t know. Maybe it’s on account of its cover.
What, of all the issues you wrote about, do you think would qualify your book as anti-government?
Quite frankly, I don’t know when they say anti-government what they mean. I certainly have nothing against the government of Uganda in the sense that I would want to harm its people, for instance. As to whether the contents of the book pay any compliments to the government, they don’t.
I don’t think that it’s expected that citizens, or even non-citizens, are always going to pay compliments to a government that has done a lot to disenfranchise, harm the people.
So, if anti-government means criticising the government, the contents of the book do criticise government and it gives very specific reasons why. What I did with the book is to say when the government of Museveni came to power, this is what it promised, like the 10-Point Programme, and what has actually happened.
What inspired the writing of the book and how long did you take writing it?
It’s been a long journey of seeing things and realising that this is important history, and then not seeing it documented. On many occasions I’d say [to myself] that’s just happened and life goes on. I began to feel uncomfortable that a lot has been written about this country but that it’s really very one-sided.
I started feeling strongly about writing a book when I left to work with the UN. I heard constantly from colleagues who didn’t know much about Uganda but who came here and couldn’t praise the country, and the President, enough. They were forever in love with what was going on.
I wondered how were we able to portray this completely deceptive side of the country where a president [was seen as] a champion of human rights, a free society. I would be quite startled to hear people talk about this fully aware that I knew people who had died in safe houses in this same country.
It was during those times when I would see these two Ugandas; the one I knew very well and the other one that the outside seemed to see all the time that I realised [both realities needed to be fairly presented]. The real work [of writing] started between January and February, 2009 and it took me a total of nine months to complete.
What particularly do you think the government will take issue with in this book?
What’s in the book that they’re uncomfortable with is to be presented with what [they] promised and what [they’ve] delivered. If, for instance, on one hand you promised there wasn’t going to be a rigged election, surely there have been enough rigged elections.
It’s the juxtaposition of those two that makes it uncomfortable. Some of the things I talk about in the book maybe will shock people that don’t ordinarily take too much interest in what goes on around them. For instance, experiences of people in safe houses.
There are many people that have never applied their minds to the fact that you can be picked up for your beliefs; be locked up in a house; you can be held without any communication with your family; you can disappear in a safe house. I’ve simply recorded these stories and I put them in as they were told to me.
I think some people don’t want to hear the story of somebody that reminds them of how deceptive they’ve been or how much they have failed to deliver on a promise. That makes us uncomfortable. It’s only human. It makes people uncomfortable to be told that this is what you said you were going to do and look at how different you’ve done it.
And this is not an issue of I was going to buy you two shirts and I bought one. No. It’s an issue of I was going to allow you to choose your own leaders and now for you attempting to do that you could be killed.
Some people might dismiss the book because they might find it rather odd that a medical doctor who is not been involved in politics should write a highly-charged political commentary.
Many doctors have opportunities that I think we don’t exploit enough. For example, during the 2001 elections, I was a surgeon in Mulago Hospital. One morning, two young ladies and a man were brought into the casualty department.
They’d been crushed by a vehicle because they were decorating a venue where an opposition leader was going to address a rally. Their only crime was that they were supporting an opposition candidate. They were lying in that hospital with crushed limbs for months. They were young people. They owned nothing.
They were probably not going to get anything special. So, medical doctors many times come so close to issues that they should be interested in beyond fixing people’s legs. I saw people brought from Luzira. They had been there and their relatives didn’t know where they were. But that aside, [there’s] my experiences and opportunities that I’ve had to watch the results of a government that doesn’t look out for the interests of its people [and] the privilege that many of us can write.
Writing for me isn’t a challenge as such. I communicate content all the time. It’s usually not content of this nature but I’m constantly communicating about how to improve people’s health. It’s not a very big leap from that to saying there’s a problem here and in medicine we do a diagnosis and we find a solution to a problem. In this way, there’s a diagnosis to be made and once you have that you come up with a treatment plan.
As Dr. Kizza Besigye’s sister, it’s easy for some people to say what else is there to expect from you but grumbling about Museveni’s government.
The book speaks for itself. If someone won’t pick it up and read my preface on account that I’m related to Dr Besigye, then that’s their privilege. Surely, I’m capable of independent thought, and speech.
I’ve had many opportunities to think and live independent of him. Yet some people might [still] have a point in the sense that certain things I feel very personally about I’d never have known if I wasn’t related to a politician.
It’s possible that there are lots of well-intentioned Ugandans that are passionate about human rights but have never come close enough to people whose rights have been taken away to actually know to what extent it happens. Incidentally, putting aside who I’m related to, many of the things I write are directly taken out of President Museveni’s own writings. I quote him word for word. It’s got nothing to do with who I’m related to.
Why would you want to expose yourself after all what your family has gone through under this regime?
When my younger brother was in jail, I thought maybe if he’d come to live with me he’d have been out of trouble but there are some battles you don’t pick. This surely I didn’t pick. You could say you wrote the book but I was quiet for so long. I never take part in rallies.
The one and only I went to was in Rukungiri where someone was gunned down on the street. All what I’ve witnessed I didn’t go out looking for it. I was in the hospital. I taught at the medical school. I spent lots of time going to theatre. That was my job. I wasn’t looking for trouble. Trouble found me.
Even if I said let me be quiet, let me go and work in Geneva [for the UN], how many Ugandans can I possibly protect; just my siblings? How reasonable is that? The three young people I saw in 2001, I still think about them.
So if you don’t say anything, if you just look out for your siblings, there are so many other people who don’t have siblings that can write; that can ever talk to a journalist. So what kind of society do we create? I have two daughters that I don’t want to grow up in a society where they can never advance because nobody knows them.
I never got to where I’m because I was wealthy. My parents put me in regular schools. I worked hard and became a doctor. I’d like for my kids, and all other kids, to do the same. I wouldn’t want them to live in a society where they’d have to identify with somebody in order to get up.
It’s not about privilege. It’s about opportunity for everyone that is working hard. When you create a society where you only have to look out for the interests of people close to you, you are only going to pass on the same legacy to your children who’ll move to live somewhere else or live in a narrow society. I’d rather prefer not to do that.