When your humble columnist (wearing his other hat as a senior adviser to the President) takes visitors to see him, almost invariably President Museveni will arrest the visitors with the question, â€œAnd what tribe are you?â€
It never fails as an ice-breaker, to questioner and questioned alike. But he is also turning the joke around, for as an African boy his (white) masters would have asked the same question, although probably without a smile.
But brothers and sisters I have discovered a brand new tribe in our midst, and done so moreover without undertaking the hazardous trips of doughty explorers of old, like: Columbus (and Chinese Muslim Zheng He before him), da Gama, Magellan. More recently: Stanley and Livingstone I presume. That is just to put you in the picture.
This tribe in Uganda that I discovered I espied munching a non-beef picnic on their vast estates. They are collectively known as the Uts (Untouchable Tribes) and were first seen by our ancestors towards the end of the nineteenth century. Then they were coolies on the building of the railway from Mombasa to Kampala.
Of course some came later and were certainly not coolies. But even the coolies, by hard work, prospered mightily and are now very fine, thank you please! What goes round comes round: they suffered massively under late Field Marshal Amin, but have outlasted him to gain mammoth favour under current President Museveni. I would go as far as suspecting they are his favourite tribe, some way ahead of his own Nkore brethren. Strange but true!
What is more, those at the top, and the figure grows as night follows day, are not to be touched. These are the Uts (pronounced Us but with a heard â€˜tâ€™ in the middle; although some say Oots, to rhyme with Oops).
Currently there are more of them than the native Iks from the Uganda Kenya border, the play of whom Peter Brooks so memorably presented on the London theatre back in the â€˜60s.
Are you laughing so hard you might fall? Then sit!
The latest sapling to stand in the way of an Ut was a young Norwegian man, Executive Director of the National Forestry Authority. Bjella olav wouldnâ€™t give way to the Mabira give-away. He resigned before he could be sacked (as it were, uprooted and sent back to his country).
I very much salute his stand, as that also of his Board, which was summarily expelled earlier when it opposed the ancient Mabira forests being handed over to sugar farming. (White sugar - that cousin to Diabetes!)
But I could have warned the NFA about the danger awaiting it. Under the hat of Chairman of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, with my Board, we refused to sanction golf courses in National Parks.
Our contract was not renewed. We had provoked another Ut. But we are profoundly proud of our stand, and are sure that in the book where deeds are recorded we will be on the plus, not minus, side. What next?
I pointed out two columns ago that debate, on the Mabira and other matters, must continue. Let us all give voice on what so crucially concerns us, to say nothing of the generations to follow.
The mightiest in the land, the President himself, has not hidden what he believes in. He has on every subject, but especially on development, stated categorically what his intentions are and why he wants them followed.
This is his right. But you and I have precisely an equal right. Neither is it criminal, or even disloyal, to disagree with him; especially on a subject of this magnitude. Then let Government, under the President, put in place an honest and serious in-depth study concerning the elimination of an ancient forest for the expediency of sugar. Some of the questions to be asked might be: why sugar?
What on earth is this fixation about sugar? And why, in the name of God, in Mabira?
Environmentally, and this is the most crucial question on earth, what will follow? There are professionals on the globe who can answer this question with accuracy.
If the argument is that more sugar is financially important because by the law of supply and demand it will bring the cost to the customer down, is this so very important? Why? Might it not in fact be more healthy to afford less sugar? In any case this cost argument has never washed in our country â€“ other considerations, including political, being more to the fore.
It is telling and grimly amusing that while the subject is raging the price has shot up! What do they take us for? It would not be the first time. Uganda, our beautifully fertile country, is teeming with vast tracts of empty land which should be put to gainful use, as even the Acholi might agree, and certainly the Baganda do.
Kinyara had shown how sugar could be grown on the present comparatively limited land. Unfortunately the clever people who managed this did not bid highly enough to keep the contract.
I would consider this one of the great tragedies of the last two decades. Is it too late to do something about it? I could put more questions, and so could you, until the cows come home, or the great timber lies dead on the ground.
Surely Uganda can find the right organisation worldwide to ask even more, and find the answers. How will we look when it proves too late for this to be done?