Why ethnic tensions are intensifying in southwest Uganda

My career has enabled me to interact with many people from and outside Uganda and to hear many stories (many of them distorted) about who is who and who is doing well and not so well economically in Uganda. There is a general feeling that all south westerners are doing well at the expense of other Ugandans since Museveni came to power in 1986. In other words they think that all south westerners are Bahororo, Bahima, Batutsi and Banyamulenge (all represented in Uganda). This is the group of Nilotic Bantu speakers led by Museveni that has made tremendous progress in wealth accumulation. The other group of Bantu speakers known by the epithet of Bairu (slaves) or commoners in south west Uganda is extremely poor because of historical exploitation by the Nilotic Bantu speaking group since the two groups interacted about four hundred years ago.

I know some readers are not comfortable about this Bahororo and Bairu diatribe. I do not like it either. Actually it was dying out until Museveni came to power and re-established hostilities by suppressing Bairu through the implementation of structural adjustment that has pushed many back into poverty. Museveni is a divisive leader that seems to enjoy the suffering of others. This may explain why he has refused to support school lunches for kids from poor families but he has money for funerals – how else can you understand it.

Why I have clashed with Museveni

Some people –Ugandans and non-Ugandans – close and not so close to me have wondered – directly and indirectly – why I have decided to oppose Museveni when there is no chance of winning because he is powerful at home and abroad. Besides I or someone else could get hurt. Some have even questioned my motive.

This is the first time in Uganda’s political history that I have actively campaigned. I have chosen to participate in order to defeat Museveni in his re-election bid for another five years. He has been president for 25 years already. During this period, as outlined below, the welfare of the majority of Uganda citizens and the environment has deteriorated.

My education and profession were influenced greatly by the injustices of the colonial indirect rule system which was an extension of a repressive feudal system of lords and serfs (rich and poor) in Rujumbura county of Rukungiri district in southwest Uganda. The chiefs and their families lived very well at the expense of the poor who produced goods and services. Through tribute, taxes and free labor the poor peasants toiled for the comfort of the chiefs. Most of the nutritious food (goat meat, chicken, eggs, beans, fruits etc) was consumed by chiefs. Heads of households would disappear for months to work for tax money leaving their wives behind toiling to keep the family alive.

Does Museveni lose sleep over the failures around him?

Some Ugandans mostly from southwest Uganda know why Museveni took to the bush at an early stage in his life and why he is not bothered by rampant poverty and the associated ills but are afraid to speak up lest they lose their cushy jobs or worse. The late Ondoga Ori Amaza shed some light on Museveni’s early engagement in military activities in his book (1998) titled “Museveni’s Long March: from Guerrilla to Statesman”. He recorded that “… the 1980 elections constituted the provocation for the outbreak of the war, rather than its cause.

“The NRM-NRA documents from the early days of the bush war indeed leave one in no doubt that the aims of the war far transcended the mere attenuation of the electoral grievances that arose in the wake of the 1980 general election. In a 1981 article that sought to provide a ‘theoretical justification of the NRA struggle’, Museveni referred to the 1980 election simply as ‘what sparked off the rebellion’ and looked as far back as 1964 in his search for the origins of the ills the war he had launched aimed to cure. Later publications extended the frontiers for the search further back into Uganda’s colonial and even pre-colonial past”. It is true that Museveni’s motive is rooted in pre-colonial history based on the discredited Hamitic Theory and Rwabugiri’s military adventurism in the great lakes region.

Where did all the generous development donations to Uganda go?

The rapidly deteriorating economic, social, cultural and ecological conditions as manifested in the diseases of poverty, ecological deterioration and a breakdown in moral values to make ends meet have raised questions about the destination of massive donor development (as opposed to security and defense) aid money to Uganda. Since 1987 when the government signed an agreement with the IMF that opened the door for contributions, donors (bilateral, multilateral, UN and NGOs) have generously extended a helping hand. Additionally, Uganda was the first country to get debt relief under HIPC (Highly Indebted Poorest Countries) initiative on the understanding that the funds released would support critical poverty eradication programs such as primary education, primary health care, rural feeder roads, agricultural extension and water supply.

Donor funds were released on the basis of meeting aid conditionality (including zero-tolerance for corruption), drawing up, monitoring and evaluation of comprehensive rehabilitation and development programs.

Regarding development programs, Uganda developed excellent blue prints that received international recognition and praise for their quality in design and comprehensiveness. Here are the objectives of five of these development programs that were prepared in consultation with all stakeholders including development partners.

The Application of western concept of stability in Uganda needs recasting

The people of Uganda have really suffered all sorts of injustices – economic, social and environmental – in large part because of western advice to Uganda governments on how to establish and maintain economic and political stability. Britain’s rejection of Obote’s “Move to the Left” and nationalization of industries resulted in his overthrow in 1971 and the installation of Amin. The suffering of the people of Uganda during this period is too well known to be repeated here. But this was considered a period of stability and Amin continued to enjoy support from some western countries until he was overthrown in 1979 apparently with British involvement (New African June 2007).

Since 1981 (except a three year period from 1984 to 1986) Uganda has implemented structural adjustment policies which call for macroeconomic stability. Although macroeconomic stability means many things including balanced budgets, in Uganda it has come to mean controlling inflation to 5 percent per annum. To maintain this economic stability, money supply in Uganda’s economy has been controlled including through raising interest rates. High and variable interest rates of up to 30 percent have discouraged borrowing by small and medium enterprises and investing in labor-intensive enterprises. Many entrepreneurs who ventured and borrowed were not able to repay. They either defaulted or sold their assets including land and/or livestock or married off their daughters at very tender ages to repay the loans that left them worse off.

Uganda must end rule by force and foreigners

Uganda which is blessed by human and natural endowments has failed to develop because of conflicts and foreign interference going as far back as the interaction of different ethnic groups in what later became Uganda (for example, Arab slave traders with European weapons helped Bahororo to defeat indigenous peoples in southwest Uganda). Slave trade, religious, regional, colonial and post-colonial wars created animosities that have torn the country apart and the situation is getting worse under Museveni. Instead of creating a foundation for peace, stability and prosperity for all, we are engaged in zero-sum games. Trust among Ugandans has dissipated as state informers have penetrated every aspect of our being. We are even beginning to get scared of our own shadows (I am confident that out of this fear will emerge courage to liberate ourselves).

The king of Buganda invited European missionaries because he was afraid of Muslim influence coming from the east and the north of his kingdom. He thought different religious groups would neutralize one another and leave him alone to govern his people in peace. Within a short time the three groups (Muslims, Protestants and Catholics) were at each other’s throat and fought one another and together or separately fought and forced the king into exile in Seychelles. When Protestants and Catholics turned on each other, Captain Lugard stepped in on the Protestant side and helped defeat Catholics. The Protestants since then (until Museveni came to power with Catholics in 1986) worked closely with the colonial administration to promote their interests at the expense of Muslims and Catholics.

There is no justification whatsoever for re-electing Museveni

Through his actions Museveni behaves as though he has never understood his role as head of state. He acts as though he is representing western interests in Uganda particularly imposing structural adjustment and joining the west on major issues. He also acts as though he is a representative of Bahororo people in Uganda who are increasingly positioning themselves to govern Uganda for a long time. He sees other Ugandans as a nuisance and despises us as people below his dignity. This comes out clearly from his statements and his body language. These actions that have defined Museveni’s twenty five year presidency should disqualify him for re-election.

Museveni has managed to hang on because of his repressive style of governance with tacit endorsement of western interests and not because he is loved by the people of Uganda except Bahororo. Western interests in Uganda will be served better by letting Museveni go – without western support Museveni would not have lasted a couple of years.

If you think Museveni picked up a gun to save Uganda, you are mistaken

If you think Museveni picked up a gun while still a student at Dar es Salaam University in the 1960s to remove Amin (who had not yet become president) you are mistaken. Amin became president in 1971 after Museveni had left the university in 1970.

If you think Museveni abandoned his family and waged a very destructive five year guerrilla war in Luwero because of the rigged 1980 elections you are again mistaken. Museveni had begun recruiting fighters well before the 1980 elections. He had some 10,000 fighters (Communication from the Chair April 23 1985) – not 27 as he claims – when he launched the guerrilla war in 1981.

If you think Museveni adopted shock therapy structural adjustment to end the suffering of the people of Uganda quickly you are even more mistaken. He was already aware of its devastation in Chile and Ghana. He was also aware (because he had a good source of information) that even World Bank officials had expressed alarm at the negative impact on the African people. For example, in 1984 Ernest Stern senior vice-president at the World Bank was candid when he observed that structural adjustment had failed the Africa region. He continued “We … have failed in Africa along with everybody else … we have not always designed our projects to fit the … conditions in Africa”. Julian Samboma amplified that “… with their usual arrogance, the IMF/World Bank continued to force these self-same policies down Africa’s throat”(New African February 1993). Some African countries like Tanzania and Ghana protested but not Uganda.

How Museveni is changing the face of Uganda

Museveni came to power with a hidden long term plan: to change Uganda’s human and natural landscape beyond recognition. The plan is embedded in his philosophy of metamorphosis which Ugandans interpreted wrongly to mean agricultural, industrial and technological revolution.

To divert attention while mobilizing mass support Museveni presented a carefully drafted and broadly supported ten-point program which won him support mostly in central and western regions. Museveni knew he would discard the program (as well as those who drafted it) because it did not fit into the neo-liberal ideological framework of market forces and laissez faire capitalism and the interests of those foreigners who funded, provided media and political cover during the guerrilla war.

However, because of pressure from some of his supporters, Museveni delayed implementation of structural adjustment until 1987. The minister of finance and governor of central bank and many others who opposed shock therapy adjustment were dismissed or marginalized. The period between 1987 and 1989 was devoted to winning over many other dissenting voices because the strong bitterness of adjustment had been tasted under Obote 11 regime between 1981 and 1983.

Museveni has violent and feudal characteristics

The people of Uganda are resenting Museveni because of his increasing use of violence which he studied in Tanzania and has been encouraged to apply at home by some donors to maintain ‘stability’; his implementation of the philosophy of metamorphosis designed to transform beyond recognition Uganda’s ecological and demographic landscape (having more cattle than crops and more foreigners than indigenous people and another Ivory Coast in Uganda); and his consolidation of feudalism of lords (Bahororo) and serfs (the rest of Uganda) and Tutsi empire disguised as East African political federation with western encouragement.

Through the application of harsh anti-sectarian and anti-terrorism Acts and with tacit donor support, Museveni has violently silenced dissent apparently in the name of political and economic stability. Meanwhile suppressed dissent built into frustration and anger and then into enlightenment and dialectics. Ugandans thus no longer regard Museveni as a leader with divine right whose word is taken at face value. Instead, Ugandans are asking questions and demanding satisfactory answers (enlightenment) and are spending more time in archives and libraries and on the internet unearthing what was hidden (dialectics). Supporters of Museveni at home and abroad should not be surprised at what has hit them.