As we finalize preparations for Uganda’s 50th birthday anniversary as an independent nation, we need to take stock of what we have achieved as a nation and where we have fallen short in order to pave a clear, equitable and sustainable path for the next 50 years.
Most Ugandans today were born after 1970 – a period dominated by political instability, economic and social hardship – and don’t have the benefit of comparing the civilian regime of Obote I and the military regimes of Amin and Museveni. What has been written about UPC and Obote I of the 1960s found mostly in NRM documents picked and emphasized deficit areas and ignored the achievements. To a certain extent Obote, subsequent leaders and supporters are to blame for not writing their stories to provide a basis for comparison. We hope that between now and October 9, UPC leadership will arrange to fill the gap.
UDU, an umbrella organization of parties and organizations at home and abroad opposed to NRM dictatorship and skewed income distribution in favor of a few, congratulates DP for a successful by-election in Bukoto South, Masaka. Opposition successes in by-elections after the stolen elections of 2011 confirm that the wind of change is blowing across Uganda and that a silent and peaceful revolution is taking place. To deliver the final blow to NRM, we need to understand how a tilted playing field brought NRM into existence and has sustained it in power. At the end of the 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections, the Commonwealth Observer Mission reported that the electoral process (from registration of voters to the announcement of results) lacked a level playing field (tilted in favor of NRM), implying declaring results null and void. But that didn’t happen because the electoral commission is not independent. Because of this NRM favor, opposition presidential candidates didn’t concede defeat. Consequently the president formed and is presiding over an illegitimate government. Here is how NRM was born and has been sustained in power.
A year ago, on July 9, 2011, United Democratic Ugandans (UDU) was born in Los Angeles, USA. One of the topics that dominated the brain storming and other formal and informal debates was restoration of political and civil rights so that Ugandans can associate, march and assemble freely; express opinion orally and in writing without harassment; campaign, vote, count the ballots and announce results without interference. Delegates also expressed the importance and urgency of restoring presidential term limits, establishment of a truly independent electoral commission and keeping the military out of politics as well as taking the recommendations of international observer missions seriously (in 2011 the Commonwealth Observer mission reported that the electoral process lacked a level playing field, implying declaring the results null and void). One of the strategies to effect the necessary changes was UDU’s interaction with the international community – at government, United Nations and human rights organizations levels.
Thankfully, UDU’s work was made relatively easy because many of the officials we met with were largely aware of the human rights violation in Uganda which was unacceptable to them. They therefore welcomed our initiative and the National Recovery Plan which contains information about deficits in democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms and governance (corruption, sectarianism, cronyism and non-accountability; lack of transparency and mismanagement of public funds). Our working methods have varied depending on circumstances but have produced positive results.
This question keeps coming up in our discussions. So let me try to answer it hoping that this time everyone will be satisfied. As noted earlier, Uganda has entered the age of asking questions and demanding answers. Uganda has also entered the phase when citizens are determined to exercise their natural rights and freedoms in political, civil, economic, social and cultural areas. In this we have received support of development partners that have warned the NRM government to refrain from violating rights and freedoms of Ugandans. The age of taking things for granted and maintaining rulers and ruled status quo is coming to an end. Adjustments on the part of authorities used to handing down instructions and using force to ensure compliance are needed. Let it be known to those still in doubt: Uganda is moving forward and the message is clear for all to read. Those attempting to stop or turn back the clock are only inviting trouble. When the French and Russian mobs led by women demanded government relief from food and fuel shortages, the respective governments ignored their calls and summoned police to disperse them. By the time they realized that the situation was serious it was too late. The rest we all know. Museveni and his team should not underestimate the power of unemployed, hungry and angry masses.
The late Kabaka Mutesa II of Buganda stood firm against the proposed reforms by the late Governor Andrew Cohen. The Kabaka felt that they were not in the best interest of his people and his kingdom. He also rejected the idea of an East African federation because it was not in the best interest of the people of Uganda and his country. He was forced into exile for maintaining his stand. His vision and courage won the hearts and minds of all Ugandans who dropped their differences, joined with Baganda and demanded the return of the Kabaka. The Governor who was a sensible man read the reading on the wall and returned the Kabaka to his kingdom. Perhaps with the Kabaka’s advice, Baganda in Obote’s cabinet persuaded the government not to join the East African federation in 1963, inter alia, because the exercise was rushed. The idea was shelved until very recently.
With a professional eye, it is difficult to see what NRM government has done right. However, it is very easy to see what it has done wrong. The costs have by far exceeded the benefits, raising serious questions about how long Ugandans should sustain NRM in power. So far, surrogates for the government have failed to convince the public. That they have failed comes through when asked to provide success stories. They don’t even know how to successfully attack their opponents, ending up embarrassing themselves when asked to substantiate their allegations. Let us illustrate what has gone wrong.
People all over the world have struggled to reclaim their birth right to vote, some losing their lives in the process. Uganda’s independence restored our right to elect representatives in parliament, district councils and lower houses. The purpose of electing representatives in these institutions is to promote and protect interests of all the people in the constituencies they represent. In ancient Greece all eligible citizens met regularly to discuss matters that affected them. As such they didn’t have representatives. This arrangement worked when numbers were small and distances short. When they are large over a wide area it becomes impossible, hence election of representatives.
The United Democratic Ugandans (UDU), an umbrella organization of political parties and organizations at home and abroad opposed to the NRM government, expresses its deep concern about endless investigations and torture of democracy advocates in Uganda. There are Ugandans that have been languishing in detention or on bail under extremely difficult conditions because the government is still conducting investigations. There ought to be sufficient information before a person is arrested and if additional information is needed it should be gathered within a reasonable time. And if there is insufficient evidence the person should be set free. In Uganda it appears that a person is arrested first and lengthy investigations follow. This approach creates a lot of social, financial and psychological hardship and torture on individual members concerned and their families, relatives, friends, well wishers and places of work.
Uganda has entered an enlightenment phase in which an increasing number of citizens are demanding full expression of their human rights and fundamental freedoms. The government needs to adjust to this new environment of protest and refrain from arresting people demanding correction of democracy and good governance deficits. If Ugandans are arrested in the name of maintaining law and order or national security then they should appear in court as soon as possible.
Yesterday, July 2, 2012, I wrote an article appealing to Ugandans to come together quickly and save Uganda from Museveni’s notion of metamorphosis or complete overhaul. Museveni prepared step by step what he wanted to achieve including sending messages or making observations in the form of questions after he has stated his view for those who cared to know where he was headed. For example, in his interview with John Nagenda shortly before he became president Museveni through a question posed by Nagenda (perhaps with Museveni’s encouragement) made a statement to the effect that there are two races in western Uganda – Ugandans of the white race (Museveni’s race) and Ugandans of the black race although both races speak Lunyankole language. He sent a convoluted message about white superiority and black inferiority. But his supporters including those in Ntungamo district have made it clear who is who and who deserves what in Uganda.
If we, Ugandans don’t wake up quickly and unite under capable, visionary and patriotic leadership, we are going to lose Uganda as we have known it and become underdogs in a new entity. What is happening in Uganda right now has a long history beginning with Yoweri Museveni. Museveni knew very early in his life what he wanted to achieve for himself and his Batutsi people. He wanted a Tutsi Empire covering initially the Horn of Africa and Great Lakes region using Uganda as a base. I went to Ntare School with Museveni. As a prefect, I had a duty to study the behavior of students to recommend those that had leadership qualities. Museveni appeared to me as a restless individual with a mind fixed on something I could not quite understand. Museveni started a student organization while still at Ntare School. He supported the creation of East African integration and federation.