As readers and friends know by now, I am not in favor of removing NRM military dictatorship by force in the first instance. I have used the phrase “in the first instance” to mean that if non-violent methods fail or NRM uses excessive force to crush civil resistance then Ugandans have a right to use defensive force as a last resort. So contrary to critics, I am not ruling out military force and training should continue. But military force should not be used in the first instance. That is the difference: peaceful means should come first and military last if absolutely necessary. Further, the principle objective of regime change must remain the same. But removing NRM system does not mean that all known NRM supporters will be thrown into the ocean with stones around their necks so they drown. No: only those who have committed crimes against humanity will be dealt with according to national and international laws. Those innocent NRM supporters have nothing to fear. In fact they should join with us in the opposition to speed up NRM exit and form a transitional government of all Ugandans to prepare for free and fair multi-party elections.
There are Ugandans who still harbor the notion that a foreign power (s) will dispatch troops to Uganda, remove Museveni and his government and install a new one. And they are complaining bitterly why the suffering of Ugandans has been ignored. It is unclear where they got this idea of foreign invasion from or that the suffering of the people of Uganda is ignored. What is clear is that foreign powers, organizations and individuals have not closed their eyes and ears to the suffering of Ugandans. They are seeing, they are consulting, they are hearing, they are acting privately and publicly. We have read press releases expressing concern about violation of human rights and freedoms in Uganda. We have also seen missions dispatched to Uganda for direct talks with the government. Museveni and NRM image has shifted from a darling of the west to a dictatorial regime uncaring about the welfare of Ugandans. That is a powerful message. Museveni is scared. Some world leaders have spoken eloquently about their opposition to dictatorial regimes that have overstayed in power. They have been warned that they are on the wrong side of history. And you know who these leaders are. The dictatorial regimes they are talking about include Uganda. So let us be very careful how we express our feelings. That is why it is important ideally to have one spokesperson with a command of the appropriate diplomatic language to use to convey messages without ruffling feathers.
As they say one swallow does not make summer. Similarly dismissing a couple of ministers won’t end corruption in Uganda. The problem needs a surgical operation and it can’t wait. This is the kind of situation, an emergency, where there is no room for patience. When the house is on fire, as Uganda is, you need to move fast but use the right tools. Fighting fire with fire as some Ugandans are fond of reasoning could make matters worse. To uproot corruption, we need to define it more broadly and understand the link between it and the decadence in Uganda. Proper understanding of the impact of corruption has been undermined by focusing on factors of secondary importance such as lack of resources, skilled personnel, contraception facilities, long distance from the Indian Ocean, etc.
The people of Uganda are hurting very badly under the NRM regime. Their conditions are getting worse. Ugandans are eating poorly, dressing poorly, sleeping poorly. When people struggle to get one meal of cassava a day; when people can only afford used clothes not even appropriate for their climate; when a whole family sleeps in one room on the floor sometimes with domestic animals; when parents force their daughters into early marriage to make ends meets that is a society in real trouble. I am describing Uganda society which is beginning to say Amin administration was better than Museveni’s. I am saying this from first-hand knowledge accumulated over many years. In my research, I have had the opportunity to interact with many people from all walks of life. I have visited churches, administrative offices, schools, homes, market places and vendors on the street. I have even travelled by bus many times between my home town of Rukungiri and the nation’s capital Kampala to hear passenger stories. I have visited homes at critical moments – at meal times, at bed times. I have also conversed with Uganda bureaucrats, politicians and donors. I have heard and seen it all: not from books but from real people. Some of the stories I have heard and things I have seen are horrible. People want enabling environment (roads, affordable electricity, etc) to struggle on their own but they are not getting it.
The discussions taking place at home and abroad about the future of Uganda are encouraging. When people with diametrically opposed views begin to engage, that is a good sign. The meeting organized by FDC in London late last year (2011) that invited all political parties and groups is commendable and should be emulated. As we progress along this worthy path, we need to remind ourselves about the difference between principles and strategies. By and large principles remain the same; strategies change in response to prevailing circumstances. Let us begin with outstanding principles?
First, we must remember at all times that all Ugandans are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Nobody is born more equal and with more rights and freedoms than others. For example, all Ugandans have a right to adequate and balanced diet, equal and quality education and remunerative employment, decent clothing and shelter and pursuit of happiness. Every adult has a right to elect freely his/her representatives and to recall them before the next elections should that become necessary.
Second, Uganda belongs to all Ugandans. Ugandans must therefore share equitably what the country produces. A political party that wins elections must govern for all Ugandans. Apart from specific political positions, all other positions in government must be filled on the basis of competence. The winner-take(s)-all practice must be abandoned.
We have a president who came to power in 1986 advocating what Ugandans wanted to hear and he said it all loud and clear. He said that under his brief administration (because he had more important things to do at community and Pan-African levels) he would end the suffering of all Ugandans children included. In his eagerness to drive the point home, he blamed all previous regimes for failure to take good care of the people of Uganda. The welfare of children was a recurrent theme in his speeches as was the empowerment of women including through reduction in maternal mortality. One of the themes he stressed with implications on children was food and nutrition security. He talked clearly about balancing agricultural production for domestic consumption and export markets. Museveni knew that all parents regardless of their status want good education and health for their children. And he knew that they know that children need to feed adequately in order to study well and stay healthy. So when Museveni talked about the welfare of children including good education, healthcare, decent shelter and clothing including shoes and food and nutrition security he endeared himself to the people of Uganda particularly women who take care of children most of the time.
A lot has been written and said about me directly and indirectly. Given my frank involvement in Uganda’s political economy discourse, it would have been unusual for my views to remain unchallenged. I have already informed readers what triggered my interest in research and writing about Uganda in the context of the Great Lakes region. I began research in the early 1970s and my first book was published in 1997. In doing so I was guided by my faith to tell the truth and be on the side of voiceless, powerless and vulnerable people. In order to empower the voiceless, one has to understand why they are voiceless in the first place. That is why I spent many years doing research using primary and secondary sources. I obtained invaluable information through personal contacts, at times travelling by bus many times between Kampala and Rukungiri. I have done my research in a historical context, not from 1986 when NRM government came to power as some commentators have implied. I have given credit where it is due and criticized where it is the right thing to do. I have credited and criticized administrations in Uganda especially British, UPC and NRM. My belief is that to solve a problem you have got to get to the root cause and the agent that caused it otherwise you will treat symptoms and you will never get the work done satisfactorily. As a result of frank and manner of presentation of research findings some people have labeled me radical, assertive, sectarian and impatient. Let me explain what each one of these words mean from my perspective and why I feel the way I do.
There is consensus that Uganda is in real trouble – politically, economically, socially, morally and ecologically. These are challenges that Museveni and NRM set out to solve and they appeared to have confidence to do that. Instead Uganda has turned into a failed state on their watch and has disappeared from the global radar of success stories. Before recommending a solution, we need to understand why Museveni has not succeeded in managing the affairs of Uganda. Here are some of the reasons.
Let me start with this statement by way of clearing the air. Some have raised questions, even written to me, about my motive for writing so much in so short a time: who is behind it, who are my research assistants and who is funding it? Some have even suggested that I am driven by a desire to unseat NRM government and President Museveni in particular; that I am too radical, too assertive, too sectarian.
Let me make it very clear and hopefully for the last time. Because I was uncomfortable with the way geography, economics, population and history were taught in senior secondary school and at the undergraduate university level – because what they taught did not match the situation on the ground where I was born and raised in southwest Uganda – I decided very early that I was going to study in a multidisciplinary fashion and do multidisciplinary research in order to understand the interconnections and correct distortions in those subjects. It is therefore not by accident that I studied geography, demography (population), economics, international law, international relations, sustainable development and world history. And because I did not want to be influenced by anybody in one way or another, I never asked for or accepted sponsorship, or mentor or research assistance. So I have worked alone to this point.
The popularity of NRM among Ugandans at home and abroad including many in NRM itself has sunk to the lowest level. The uncaring attitude of NRM to the suffering of Ugandans particularly women and children especially during the current economic hard times so soon after NRM was re-elected for another five-year term has driven the point home that Museveni – who is the de facto government of Uganda – does not care about Ugandans. He only uses them in pursuit of his imperial ambitions including changing the demographic composition of Uganda by increasing immigrants, ultimately turning indigenous population into a minority in their own country.