Bread – not guns – is the best weapon against instability

From time immemorial people have rebelled or revolted when they are hungry and feel oppressed including through heavy taxation while at the same time they see their neighbors eating more than enough and living in comfort as in Uganda today. Leaders who understand the dangers of hunger make sure food is available and/or keep prices affordable including through subsidies. The British Corn Laws were designed in such a way that farmers and consumers were protected. In other places soup kitchens are provided to feed hungry people and escape protests. After the Second World War, European countries developed a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to make sure farmers are protected and produce enough food for European consumers at affordable prices. The CAP is heavily subsidized and protected against outside competition.

In places where leaders ignored hunger and prepared security forces with machine guns to suppress hungry people should they try to cause trouble, the outcomes have been disastrous. The French Revolution of 1789 was triggered by unemployed and hungry Parisians. Louis XVI ignored their calls for help thinking that if the situation degenerated into protest, he would disperse the mob with armed troops. He was wrong. The guns didn’t help because the police and soldiers refused to use them. Instead they joined the mob and brought down the ancient regime. Nicholas II of Russia felt the same as Louis XVI. When women gathered in St Petersburg in early 1917 demanding food, the Czar ignored their call and ordered the police force to deal with that mob. He too was wrong. The police and later soldiers who had enough guns including his most trusted Cossacks didn’t use them. Instead, they joined the protesters and the imperial regime expired.

Closer to home, the force that triggered the fall of Ethiopian emperor and the expiration of the empire was famine combined with unemployment. While people starved in towns and countryside in 1973, the emperor himself was seen and photographed feeding his pets on large chunks of beef in the imperial palace compound. The well armed police, imperial guards and the army didn’t help the emperor. Instead they joined the demonstrators and presented their own demands. When his foreign friends realized that the situation had reached a point of no return they condemned him that “… Haile Selassie’s autocratic style made him a flawed leader as emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974” (Alan Axelrod 2003). He was abandoned, got arrested and the empire expired.

In France, Russia and Ethiopia, bread scarcity triggered the revolutions, expired the three empires and the rulers lost their lives. Lenin studied the situation in Russia very carefully from his hide out in Europe. He realized that Russians didn’t want to be involved in World War I, wanted bread and land. He crafted his revolutionary message accordingly. He promised Russians that should they accept him, he would get them bread, land and peace. And accept him many Russians did. He pulled Russia out of the war, distributed land to peasants who produced bread. Therefore bread is a better weapon than guns in preventing or ending instability.

Uganda leaders, their surrogates and foreign backers need to realize that Uganda hasn’t revolted not because Ugandans are docile or afraid of guns but because Ugandans can put food on the table at least once a day grown on their land. British leaders thanks to Bell, Spire and Simpson who studied the situation on the ground recommended and London accepted that land in Uganda belongs to Ugandans and Uganda will be governed as a country for Ugandans, not foreigners. Ugandans were left alone to work the land, produce food for their families and raw materials for British industries. The formula worked very well. In Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe where British authorities chose to take land from indigenous people and give it to white settlers they ended up with hungry and angry people and guerrilla wars.

If Museveni tries to understand why he has been in power for 26 years, he will realize it isn’t because he has guns, military fatigues and foreign backing. It has happened because Ugandans have been able to put food on the table at least once a day grown on their own land. His policy of diversifying exports with food traditionally grown for domestic consumption, his refusal to provide school lunch to primary school children who are dropping out of school in large numbers, his refusal to help youth find jobs and put food on the table and his recent announcement through his prime minister that peasants are going to lose their land to foreign and rich Ugandans for large scale farming and his recent announcement that Uganda government doesn’t have the 9,000 square miles demanded by Mengo government have changed the political landscape and Ugandans are now organizing more than before to oust the regime.

The issue of land grabbing has the potential of bringing Ugandans together as the exile of Kabaka Mutesa II did in the 1950s. Ugandans believed then that the colonial authority went too far and reacted. Increasingly, Ugandans believe NRM authority has gone too far and needs to be resisted. Museveni may dismiss the influence of tiny opposition but he needs to recall the story of David and Goliath. Museveni also needs to realize that you don’t need many people to change the course of history.

Ugandans are hungry, unemployed and increasingly becoming angry at the way Museveni government is stripping them of their rights, freedoms and assets. First it was public enterprises that were privatized into foreign hands virtually for free leaving the public with debts accumulated before privatization. Then followed production and export of foodstuffs to earn foreign exchange with which to purchase guns and silence Ugandans leaving very little food for domestic consumption. Imposition of school fees and health charges on peasants least able to afford them forced them to produce food for cash rather than for the stomach. They became bitter but not rebellious because they still possessed their land.

Now Museveni has descended on robbing Ugandans of their land indirectly and directly. By expanding municipal boundaries deep into rural areas supposedly to create more parliamentary constituencies has indirectly robbed peasants of their land because once land comes under the municipal authority, previous owners lose and town authorities can get rid of them in the name of putting land to more productive use. The compensation they talk about is ‘peanuts’. And the land is sold to the rich or those with connection to access credit. This is the primary purpose of expanding the size of towns. The more districts Museveni approves, the more municipalities are created and expanded into rural lands. However, this method does not appear to have transferred enough land to the rich eager to acquire more.

Museveni has bowed to pressure and directed his prime minister to announce outright transfer of land from peasants to large farmers who will most likely be foreigners including from neighboring countries. Ugandans need to remember that Museveni’s primary concern when he waged the guerrilla war was to become president and use that office to get large swathes of Uganda land for his nomadic people in the Great Lakes region who needed more land to graze more cattle and become rich without losing their herding culture. So Batutsi have trekked into Uganda from as far as South Kivu province in DRC and are occupying land that belongs to indigenous people.

The liberal immigration policy by NRM government is robbing Ugandans of their land. Batutsi are gaining at the expense of indigenous people. Those who are gaining get offended and accuse us of inciting genocide against Batutsi to make us feel guilty and keep quiet while land grabbing continues. The genocide guilt credit has been used up. Ugandans must reject this Batutsi use of genocide guilt to continue to rob Ugandans of their jobs, scholarships and land. Batutsi genocide took place in Rwanda in 1994. They should not use it in Uganda.

Besides, Batutsi have also committed genocide against Bahutu in Burundi, DRC and Rwanda itself and cannot continue to claim to be victims. They are also genocidaires and are alleged to have committed other crimes against humanity. That is why the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was authorized by the UN Security Council to investigate genocide and crimes against humanity from January to December 1994. Rwanda a member of Security Council at that time voted against the resolution because RPF/NRA members were going to be investigated.

Without functional education and now losing land NRM government has knowingly or otherwise introduced apartheid-like system that prevailed in South Africa until 1994 where blacks were denied proper education and land ownership. We wonder whether foreign backers of Museveni are aware of this development. If they are not aware, we are now telling them. If they know they should stop it for the good of everyone.

Museveni is being advised including through the media that he should not yield to pressure but instead must enable his Batutsi people to accumulate more wealth and NRM to buy more guns to crush Ugandans demanding their rights and freedoms including the right to food, education, employment and property. Museveni’s bold statement that Uganda government doesn’t have land that Mengo is demanding and Buganda won’t get federo represents NRM’s determination to rule by force and not negotiation and compromise with anybody. Here are Baganda who sacrificed so much for NRM to capture power and instead of being rewarded commensurately are being thrown under the bus by NRM.

What Ugandans and Baganda in particular need to establish is who is supporting Museveni and making him make such bold and provocative statements? Is he provoking Ugandans to get them angry and force them on reckless projects like military attack on the government so he gets a chance to clean the country of undesirables, real and imaginary? My earnest warning is that we should avoid war but gather courage, pull down the wall of fear and frustrate Museveni through non-violent means until he gives up. Last year’s demonstrations contributed to a drastic drop in economic growth to 3 percent below population growth of 3.5 percent which means that the standard of living has dropped and poverty has spread and deepened. Remember Uganda’s economic growth has dropped from a rate of 11 percent in mid-1990s to 3 percent in 2012. Museveni can’t be sleeping well with this record on his mind tarnishing his image and ego. Let us push it to below 2 percent through peaceful demonstrations and strikes and Museveni will accept to negotiate with the opposition or he will be removed altogether.

Opposition leaders should drop selfishness and pull together like Kenya and Zambia opposition parties did and defeat Museveni and NRM at the polls. NRM is imploding and should be relatively easy to defeat provided commonsense prevails among opposition leaders to work together to defeat, not sustain Museveni and NRM in power by acting individually in self-interest. Without pulling together the opposition has no chance of defeating NRM individually. That is a fact.

Because I have been pointing out the shortcomings of NRM in a well researched and factual manner and pointing out the primary cause of the problem in the Great Lakes region, those affected are getting nervous and frustrated. They thought they would never be discovered. In retaliation, they have descended on me dubbing me a genocide promoter and a poisonous ageing short man and are threatening to end my life or family members, relatives and friends. So, when something happens you will know who from.

But let me tell them and perhaps once and for all that it is mostly ageing people and some of them short that have changed the world for the better. Deng Xiaoping five feet tall became the leader of China at the age of 73 and turned China into a country that it is today. Narasimha Rao became prime minister at the age of 70 and turned India into the country that it is today. Konrad Adenauer was 73 years old when he became chancellor that turned Germany into what it is today. Nelson Mandela negotiated a very difficult settlement and became president of South Africa at the age of 75. Ronald Reagan who sank the last nail into communism coffin became president of the United States of America at the age of 69.

I could go on with illustrations on seniority but let me give more information on short leaders that have made history. Napoleon Bonaparte one of the best generals in history was below average height in France. Standing five feet and four inches, James Madison was the 4th president of the United States and was among the champions who drew up the constitution and the Bill of Rights.

So, history record of accomplishments isn’t on the side of those who are criticizing me on account of seniority and height alone. If you think it is height and youth alone that will save Uganda or keep a militarist minority in power, you need to think again because you are on the wrong side of history. Uganda needs experienced leaders which come with age. Uganda is in trouble because when Museveni came to power he relied on young and inexperienced NRM cadres and foreign experts. He didn’t want to be overshadowed by bright, well educated and experienced Ugandans, contributing to the mess we are in.

To avoid the tornado that is gathering speed and might hit Uganda and throw it into chaos and instability, NRM needs to realize that compromise and ending hunger, unemployment and poverty are better tools than dictatorship at gun point. Museveni must realize that power is sliding out of his hands largely because of his militaristic strategy encouraged by some foreign advisers and Ugandans who want to stay in power indefinitely. Bread has better and enduring solutions than guns.

Ugandans should avoid rushing into war unless in self-defense and resort to peaceful means which have worked in many places. Museveni’s guerrilla war was launched and supported at home and abroad under favorable conditions that don’t exist today. In fact Museveni wasn’t much in Luwero jungles when the war was fought. He was in exile. It was Baganda foot soldiers and Tutsi mercenaries that fought. M. A. Fitzgerald concurs “Yoweri Museveni, …, has spent far more time in exile, from where he conducted his bush war, than in Uganda…. The NRA foot soldiers are largely drawn from the Bagandan people in the south. Most are supporters of the Democratic Party which was trounced by Obote’s Uganda People’s Congress. … The field commanders [mostly Tutsi mercenaries], like Museveni came from the west”(Africa Report Nov/Dec 1985.

I appeal to Ugandans who are still thirsty for war against NRM to think again. There is no support for war at home and abroad and wounds of Luwero Triangle and Northern and Eastern Uganda wars haven’t healed yet. But there is growing support at home and abroad for non-violent resistance. Let us focus on that.

Eric Kashambuzi

Secretary General & Chief Administrator, UDU