Of Nalufenya tortures and how to cook a live frog, writes Mao

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DP leader Norbert Mao

On Wednesday 24 October, 2012 during the burial of DP stalwart Tiberio Okeny Atwoma, President Museveni for the first time uttered an apology for the atrocities his army committed against the people of Northern Uganda.

As I contemplate the debate around the victims and perpetrators of torture in Nalufenya and other places yet to be uncovered, I shudder at the short-sightedness of my fellow countrymen.

Anyone with clear eyes cannot claim that the Nalufenya torture chamber was not to be expected under Museveni’s rule.

Nalufenya is not the worst of atrocities under Museveni. Perhaps Nalufenya has outraged many because of the ghastly wounds inflicted on a man who happens to be an NRM loyalist. Otherwise for well-defined opponents of the regime torture, inhuman or degrading treatment at the hands of the operatives of the Museveni regime is not new.

It is a trade mark of Museveni to distance himself from every evil that goes on under his watch. In the early days of the regime all allegations of mass killings, torture and rape levelled against the National Resistance Army but were vehemently denied by Museveni.

Even when the army started forcibly concentrating people into camps (the so called protected villages) in 1996, Museveni denied that it was a policy of the government. It was until the practice became so glaring that he eventually admitted that it was dictated by military necessity.

Now after the revelations of torture in Nalufenya, he wrote in the newspapers that torture is not only unnecessary but unacceptable. This was intended to show that torture in detention centers are not institutional but rather isolated incidents perpetrated by rogue elements in the forces.

It is not uncommon these days to hear the former Museveni apologists turned opposition claim that they are shocked by the regime’s degeneration. But there’s an explanation for the naïveté that gave Museveni so much latitude.

I am told that if you want to cook a frog alive you do not put it in hot water. It will jump out because it is instinctively averse to extreme heat. You put it in a pot of cold water and then put a fire under the pot.

The frog will notice temperature changes and the warmth will make it comfortable and it lowers its guards. By the time the water is hot and boiling it is too late. The frog gets cooked alive.

As the war in Northern Uganda raged there were massive cases of human rights abuses documented. However since the North was so stigmatized and the collective guilt for the atrocities of previous regimes were heaped on the people there, the rest of the country kept a studied ambivalence.

Why do people think themselves immune from the evils of a fascist regime? It is almost as laughable as a person celebrating because a lion that is devouring people has promised to eat him last!

I am reminded here of a folktale. A family decided to set a trap for a rat. The cunning rat saw the trap and avoided it. But because of the imminent danger, the rat appealed for help from the other “members” of the household namely a chicken, a goat and a cow.

“There is a dangerous trap which has been set ostensibly for me but I think it can cause problems for all of us”, cried the terrified rat.

The chicken told the rat in no uncertain terms that rat-traps are for rats not chicken and so would the rat mind its own business. The goat also laughed off the rat’s appeal. The cow looked at the trap once and walked away without even bothering to honour the rat with a reply.

In the night, the family members heard the trap go off and they thought that at last they had got the stubborn rat.

The lady of the house went in the dark to feel the trap. But alas, it had not caught the rat but a poisonous snake! It was too late. The snake bit the lady and killed her.

During the funeral, custom had to be followed strictly. A chicken has to be killed at the gravesite followed by a goat. So the indifferent chicken and goat were slaughtered.

Since the family was a well-known one, there were many mourners. The insolent cow was slaughtered to feed the mourners.

The rat watched all this from a safe distance. A stitch in time saves nine! This to me sums up the story of the belated outrage of my fellow citizens.

Norbert Mao, is the president general of Democratic Party [DP]