A Christian country governed through the barrel of the gun

Uganda is overwhelmingly a Christian country of Protestants and Catholics. One would expect that in such a God-loving and God-fearing country, people would not use force against one to resolve disagreements or answer questions. Rather one would expect people to treat one another as they would like to be treated. One would also expect the rich to help the poor, the healthy the sick and the strong the weak. That is what we were taught in our faiths. Sadly the practice has been different since the founding of Uganda as a nation.

Islam was introduced to Uganda by Muslim traders and slavers and was established in Buganda by 1860. Through a conversation between Kabaka (King) Mutesa I and explorer Henry Morton Stanley it was agreed that Christians should come to Uganda. Protestants (Anglicans) of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) arrived in 1877. They were followed by Catholic White Fathers in 1879. The Protestants were English and the Catholics French. While one would expect some conflicts among the three religions in a new country as they competed for converts the use of force should have been avoided against the king and among the religious groups. Instead the rivalry led to war and too much bloodshed. Kabaka Mwanga did not like the rivalries and tried to reduce the influence of the religious groups in his kingdom. The three religious groups joined forces and removed the king from power in 1888. Thereafter rivalries intensified. Muslims staged a coup and installed a new king, forcing Protestants and Catholics to join forces and overthrow the Muslim regime. The struggle for power between Protestants and Catholics resulted in a declaration of war on each other in 1892. Being British, Lugard, head of the Imperial British East African Company (IBEAC), sided with Anglicans against French Catholics. Lugard’s military intervention ensured victory for Anglicans, “although they were the weaker side” (Paul Gifford 1999).

Colonization like evangelization of Uganda was conducted through the barrel of the gun as well. Lugard, Colville and Kakungulu among others used force to end resistance to colonial rule. Many lives were lost and different groups were forced into administrative units like districts (e.g. parts of Bunyoro were taken away by force). The most developed institutions during the colonial days were the police, judiciary and prisons symbolizing the use of force rather than peaceful method of solving problems. For example, failure to dig a latrine resulted in caning or imprisonment rather than health education. Coming to school late resulted in caning or garden work during lunch break as punishment.

This was the culture inherited at independence in 1962. It has gotten worse causing untold suffering and loss of lives, destruction of property, infrastructure and institutions and made it difficult for a well endowed country to pull itself out of the poverty trap.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the first two decades of independence, force was used to solve including problems that had been agreed to during independence negotiations. Here are a few examples:

1. Although it had been agreed to by all parties to organize a referendum on the ‘lost counties’, this exercise led to conflicts and loss of lives.

2. Five ministers were forcefully detained because they disagreed with their leader and those who supported him.

3. Those who were unhappy with Obote tried to assassinate him in 1969, but narrowly missed him.

4. When Obote asked Amin to explain the disappearance of public funds in the military, Amin responded by overthrowing his commander-in-chief (Obote) in 1971 with foreign backing.

5. Amin used force to govern Uganda which resulted in massive loss of lives, Ugandan refugees, displacements, expulsion of Asians some of them citizens, invasion of a neighboring country and ultimately forceful exit of Amin and his government in 1979.

Since 1980 post-Amin regimes have also resorted to force:

1. When elections were judged rigged even though cleared by the Commonwealth team of observers, those disgruntled took to the bush and razed the Luwero Triangle as the rebels battled government troops.

2. When the Acholis and Langis disagreed over senior appointments in the military, the unhappy Acholis resolved the problem by removing Obote II’s regime in July 1985, only to be removed six months later by the National Resistance Army (NRA) in January 1986.

3. The war in the north and east was prolonged until the international community weighed in because some officials in the NRM government believed in a military solution only. In the process people died from bullets, the rest was herded into camps where hunger and disease wreaked havoc.

4. Many election disputes have been resolved by force. Ntungamo district, home of the president and first lady, is a case in point. The worst case so far has been Rujumbura constituency in Rukungiri district in southwest Uganda. Here are two examples in 2001 and 2010. (a) “When a constituency in which [President] Museveni got 99.9 of the vote in 1996 election was perceived to have switched to home-boy Besigye, Museveni’s elite guard, which included his son, stepped in to wreak terror and grab voter’s cards in a house-to-house operation. One man was killed and several injured. Museveni got the vote” (Business in Africa April 2001).

(b) As preparations for election of NRM Executive in Rukungiri district were drawing to a close in July 2010, and there was fear some sitting officials might lose, they used the opportunity when there was a nationwide demonstration against the Electoral Commission, and brought in security forces which used live bullets and tear gas to disperse unarmed demonstrators. This incident a few days before the election did not offer the opposition a chance to exercise its right to choose its representatives. The chairman Major General Jim Muhwezi got re-elected. (c)The demarcation for Rukungiri municipality in Rujumbura constituency where Major General Jim Muhwezi is the current Member of Parliament is another case where some form of force and/or intimidation was used. Unlike other cases, there were no discussions with constituents, the relevant ministry of local government was shut out and some district councilors were misinformed about the outcomes of incorporating their land to municipality status particularly the selling of land and displacement of current land owners. Enlightened councilors from Buyanja including Zedekia Karokora the Chairman of the district council; of Nyakagyeme including Major General Jim Muhwezi the Member of Parliament and of Buhunga including a former central government minister refused to have their areas included in the municipality because they know the disadvantages. The new boundaries were drawn in a sectarian manner, targeting helpless, leaderless and voiceless Bairu peasants.

Those who believe that force is the only solution have refused to make the necessary changes condemning those to be affected by this arbitrary decision to ultimate displacement which is a gross violation of human rights. This matter has been brought many times to the attention of the highest officials in the legislative and executive branches in the land for a solution. So far no response has been received. Regarding the dangers of displacement, the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide wrote “Gross violations of human rights, such as arbitrary arrest and detention or arbitrary displacement, often precede genocide”.

Article II of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as ‘any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group…’ including:

(a) Killing members of the Group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Based on the above analysis solving Uganda’s problems has largely been based on forceful and punitive methods. Time has come for Ugandans to revisit the teachings of their faiths and Article I of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.

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