Uganda: Norbert Mao sprayed pink

And then arrested.  What for? 

What a seemingly ridiculous gesture.  Ugandan authorities sprayed 44-year old lawyer Norbert Mao, leader of the Democratic Party and presidential hopeful, to prevent him from holding a protest rally.  Dissent is banned in Uganda these days, after President Yoweri Museveni won last February's election which opposition groups claim was flawed by fraud and coersion. After spraying Mao and his colleagues with pink liquid they were bundled into a police van and carted away, according to the BBC.  Speaking to Daily Monitor, police spokesperson Judith Nabakooba said "the colour is basically to identify people who are part of the riots.  Normally when we use tear gas we find everybody complaining ‘I wasn’t party’ – but this (pink) water targets the people who are part of the gathering, and you find that when you want to follow them up it is very easy for identification.”

Once in police custody, Museveni has plans for them.  He wants to enact a new law which would incarcerate pro-democracy protestors for six months by refusing them bail. 

In his 1986 book "What Is Africa's Problem?", Museveni wrote "The problem of Africa in general and Uganda in particular is not the people but leaders who want to overstay in power."  He's guilty of the same error having presided over his country for 25 years, since January 25 of the same year his book was published.

There's speculation that the Arab Spring is drifting south and that Uganda's protests will gather momentum.  It's doubtful that pink liquid will douse the flames of aspiration when all it does is attract international media attention to what otherwise might have been a poorly attended rally.  Museveni doesn't appear to spend time worrying about the visual power of YouTube.  Smart phones capture images when news reporters aren't present.  And then comments on Twitter and Facebook will stoke dissent faster than Ugandan police can haul demonstrators into vans.

Norbert Mao's pink liquid will wash off, but the stain on Museveni's reputation will be permanent.  Doesn't he realise, or is he too isolated in his official residence to be aware of the consequences of his edicts?

In July 2010, a blogger called sseki2010 on Skyscrapercity noted the following appointments by Museveni:
  • Mrs Janet Museveni, Yoweri Museveni's wife:  State Minister for Karamoja
  • General Salim Saleh, Museveni's brother and ex-Minister of State for Micro Finance:  Senior Presidential Advisor on Defence, a cabinet-ranked role
  • Sam Kutesa, Museveni's brother-in-law:  Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Muhozi Keinerugaba, Museveni's son:  Commander of the Special Forces
  • Natasha Karugire, Museveni's daughter:  Private Secretary to the President in charge of the Household
  • Joseph Ekwau, Museveni's nephew, the son of his younger sister Violet Kajubiri:  Private Secretary to the President in charge of Medical Services (HIV/AIDS)
  • Miriam Karugaba, Museveni's "semi-illiterate" sister:  Administrator at State House
  • Jimmy Karugaba, Museveni's brother-in-law and husband of Miriam:  Officer in Charge of the Accounts Department at State House
  • Jolly Sabune, Museveni's sister-in-law:  Executive Director of the Cotton Development Authority
  • Hope Nyakairu, Museveni's niece-in-law:  Under Secretary for Administration and Finance at State House
  • Bright Rwamirama, Museveni's cousin:  State Minister for Animal Husbandry
  • Faith Katana Mirembe, Museveni's cousin:  Assistant Private Secretary in charge of Education and Social Services
  • Justus Karuhanga, Museveni's wife's nephew:  Private Secretary to the President in charge of Legal Affairs.
Clearly, nepotism is alive and thriving in Uganda.  Together with corruption, it is the scourge of Africa.  

Recently deposed Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali is renouned for having built a fortune from the business dealings and political positions of his family and his wife's Trabelsi clan.  Leila Trabelsi, the former First Lady, was reported to have extracted 1.5 tonnes of gold from central bank vaults before fleeing with her husband to Saudi Arabia. In January this year, Tunisian TV reported that 33 Ben Ali family members had been arrested as they tried to make their escape.  Recently, there have been reports of warrants out for remaining clan members to face corruption charges in Tunis.  In Egypt, the two sons of former dictator Hosni Mubarak were detained and questioned regarding similar charges, as was the elderly ex-President himself.  Mubarak was said in April to be hospitalised with heart complaints. Ben Ali was evidently in a coma having suffered a stroke.

It's tough at the top in Africa.  

Given the outcomes of the former Tunisian and Egyptian regimes, Museveni and his ilk must fear a similar explosion of Jasmine on Ugandan territory.  But spraying pink liquid on the opposition only shines an even brighter spotlight on the Kampala regime's activities.


  1. Bob, as you may recall, the South African Apartheid regime used a similar tactic during protests in Cape Town. I was in the crowd in Wales Street on one occasion when they were using purple dye sprayed from the top of armoured vehicles.

    Look where that got them...

  2. Not far. Since writing the piece on Norbert Mao, the Daily Mail reported that Olara Otunnu, an opposition politician, has been subjected to the pink treatment. And of course there were reports that as Museveni was being inaugurated, the motorcade of Kizza Besigye, a leading opposition figure, progressed at snails pace from Entebbe airport to Kampala to the cheers of waiting supporters. It took them many hours to drive the 30 km distance. During that time one guy was allegedly shot as he came too close to the departing Nigerian presidential car which managed to extricate itself unscathed. The Wall Street Journal reported that doctor Besigye is "on the verge of upending the 25-year rule of President Yoweri Museveni by leading mounting protests against his former patient". Could any downfall of the regime in Uganda lead to popular uprisings elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa?