One thing that is indisputable is that Ugandans including many in the NRM want change preferably by peaceful means. War has no support domestically and in the international community. On the other hand, the ruling clique in the NRM that wants to hang onto power and hand over to their children when they retire is working hard to keep Ugandans divided as illustrated by the creation of over 100 districts that has killed the unity project which was NRM’s flagship at the start of its administration in 1986. History shows unambiguously that when people are divided they fail and when united they succeed in their endeavors. The purpose of studying history which everyone should do at school or through self education besides passing examination is to draw lessons about what to avoid and what to emulate with modifications as appropriate. NRM has definitely mustered the history lesson of keeping Ugandans divided including encouraging them to seek work abroad so that it weakens the middle class that champions agitation for change. The following paragraphs will demonstrate using examples from different parts and different times how unity brings about success.
In medieval Europe, the lords and the clergy exploited peasants mercilessly. Peasants were taught by priests that in order to get into the kingdom of heaven they had to endure suffering on earth including impoverishment. Women in particular were conditioned by priests to respect their husbands and carry many burdens without raising a finger in protest. Women were considered little more than property. In fact barbarian chiefs and warlords included women in measuring their wealth. As pressure mounted and burdens increased especially during times of war, peasants got cranky and created problems for the lords or governments. In the famous English Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 led by Wat Tyler, Jack Straw and priest John Ball, the peasants of Essex and Kent, out of political, economic and social frustration, reacted violently against imposition of a poll tax to raise money to finance military wars abroad. They were joined by the working class and the poll tax was dropped. “No medieval English government attempted a poll tax again” (Nathan Barber 2006). When Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher revived the poll tax there was collective objection and the idea was dropped, contributing to her resignation as Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party.
The French Revolution of 1789 gives examples of how French unity defeated Louis XVI regarding meetings and voting of the Estates General (parliament) which he convened in May 1789. The king wanted the three estates (one each for clergy, nobles and commoners) to meet separately and vote as in the past, an arrangement that disadvantaged the commoners. The commoners objected and demanded that all delegates meet in one chamber and vote as individuals. They were joined by liberal nobles including Marquis de Lafayette and priests from parishes. They formed the National Assembly and vowed not to disperse until they had drawn up a new constitution for France. The king ordered them to disperse. They refused. Hearing that the king had ordered national or foreign troops to disperse the National Assembly, Parisians mobilized and armed themselves and formed the National Guard under the command of Lafayette for self-defense and protect the National Assembly. The king was also advised that there was resistance in the national army to attack fellow citizens that were demonstrating for a worthy cause. The idea of an attack was dropped and the king yielded. The three estates met as the National Assembly and continued their business uninterrupted. It produced The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, embracing the Enlightenment ideals of liberty, equality, fraternity, freedom from oppression, freedom of the press and the right to property and peoples’ popular sovereignty. The Declaration emphasized that “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights”. The Declaration of the Rights of Women was completed in 1791.
Another lesson from the French Revolution is the unity of women. Joined together by unemployment, food shortages and high prices, some 7000 Parisian women regardless of their classes marched twelve miles from Paris to Versailles (the king’s magnificent and quiet residence where the National Assembly was meeting) and back to express their frustration to the king and National Assembly. They forced the king and the National Assembly to relocate to Paris in order to witness the suffering of the people at close range and adopt appropriate legislation. They also obtained grain from royal stores. In the end the working class and peasants throughout France worked together and ended feudalism and other privileges of kings, nobility and upper clergy.
On September 1791, the king accepted the new constitution that created a constitutional monarchy and separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches.
In the initial stages of the revolution leadership was provided by Abbe Sieyes (a priest who wrote the document titled “What is the Third Estate?” in 1789, Marquis de Lafeyette (from the nobility and a soldier in the American War of Independence) and Olympe de Gouges (a woman writer who led the preparation of the Declaration of the Rights of women completed in 1791).
Closer to home, when the late Kabaka Mutesa II was sent into exile in 1953 for disagreeing with Governor Andrew Cohen on constitutional reforms and the possibility that Uganda might be forced into the East African federation which would work against Buganda interests, Baganda and indeed all Ugandans put aside their differences and collectively demanded the Kabaka’s immediate return. It was this spontaneous national unity that pressured colonial authorities in Entebbe and London to yield and act accordingly. The Kabaka returned triumphantly in 1955.
The 2011 Spring Revolution in Egypt would not have happened, at least not so quickly, if Egyptians had not come together. They all realized: Muslims and Christians; men and women; young and old; upper and lower classes; and military and civilian that national unity was the only viable instrument to remove Mubarak and his unpopular regime. It happened and very quickly too! Although there was no leadership on the surface, preparations and conduct of demonstrations were led by some dedicated and patriotic citizens that included Wael Ghonim (Ghonim 2012).
The lessons above lead to one conclusion for us Ugandans at home and abroad to bring about regime change: national unity. We must stand together regardless of our faith, region, class and ethnicity. The peasants and working class in England stood together during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 and ended the pall tax; the French working class and peasants stood together with liberal nobles and parish priests and soldiers in the French Revolution of 1789 and ended the ancient regime. The Russian working class and peasants, soldiers and members of the Duma (parliament) stood together against Nicholas II when he ordered shooting demonstrators and ended the Romanov dynasty in 1917; Ugandans stood together and pressured the colonial government to return the Kabaka in 1955; and the Egyptians stood together with the army remaining neutral and removed an oppressive regime in 2011. The participation of religious leaders and armed forces in resistance comes out clear in the illustrations above except in the Peasants’ Revolt. There is no credible reason why Ugandans can’t stand together again in 2012 as they did in 1953-55 against an oppressive, corrupt and sectarian NRM regime that is presiding over a failed state under military dictatorship that has caused unprecedented human suffering (looking at the quality of clothes and shoes alone in rural and urban areas is enough evidence of total failure) and destroyed biological diversity especially fisheries, forests and wetlands.
Let us make two things very clear for those still in doubt. First, Uganda belongs to all of us. Therefore standing together includes NRM supporters (criminals will be taken care of by courts at home and abroad). Second, we must bring about regime change by peaceful means in the first instance (the military option will be applied only in self-defense so preparation should continue). Uganda has had enough wars and we have seen what war does and what it produces including successor military regimes that make matters worse. An increasing number of Ugandans believe that NRM government that captured power through the barrel of the gun and has ruled at gun point since then is the worst regime Uganda has had. We must this time use peaceful means and form an all inclusive transitional government. The new government should clean up all corners of the house including drawing up a new constitution taking into consideration what has happened to the “Pearl of Africa” since independence in 1962. The transitional government should then prepare multiparty free and fair elections on proportional representation basis to end winner-take all arrangement.
In choosing new leaders Ugandans must be cognizant of the serious shortcomings of having little known and untested leaders (especially those who abruptly switch from military specialization to civilian administration) in the art of public administration becoming political leaders and senior civil servants. Experience of Amin and Museveni military regimes should not be repeated. We should also be aware of the adverse impact of loyalty over competence and experience in choosing leaders at the political and civil service levels. When you put loyalty ahead of competence you end up with a failed state and dictatorship to keep dissent under control as witnessed under Amin and Museveni regimes. That NRM has failed is evidenced by the content of the press statement issued by the Uganda Media Center on March 9, 2011 that had no single sentence on human and ecological conditions in Uganda.
Ugandans must also keep in mind that priority should be devoted to internal affairs when things are bad and avoid diverting attention from domestic problems by engaging in external ventures. History has given us some examples of leaders who diverted attention from domestic problems by focusing on external issues. To divert attention from mushrooming domestic problems, Nicholas II of Russia invaded Manchuria and started the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5 which Russia lost to a non-European nation in modern history that contributed to the demise of the Romanov dynasty in 1917. Similarly, Amin invaded the Kagera Salient of Tanzania that ended up in his defeat and collapse of his regime in 1979. We are now seeing Museveni and NRM increasingly paying more attention to expensive external matters such as organizing international conferences and competing for positions in key bodies such as Security and Human Rights Councils of the United Nations and African Unity; negotiating East African economic integration and political federation when the effort should focus on addressing the urgent domestic challenges of youth unemployment and poverty; constructing and repairing roads and providing affordable energy; building and repairing schools and hospitals and feeding school children and keeping them there thereby preventing dropout and early marriage and high fertility rates (birth control can help but the answer comes from empowering women so they are in charge of their reproductive behavior); tackling sprawling slums and constructing drainage channels in Kampala to end flooding; protecting industries against unfair competition and establishing or strengthening forward and backward linkages between agriculture and manufacturing and associated services; reforesting denuded landscapes and restoring wetlands; and above all fighting rampant corruption instead of sheltering key officials alleged to have lined their pockets big with public funds.
To conclude, as we say our prayer we must also remember that “United We Stand and Divided We Fall” and stay on the ground and get trampled on by the tiny minority who divide us. Our experience since 1986 has been one of division and scatter in economically unviable districts and exile. We must get together quickly and restore liberty, justice, dignity, prosperity and happiness for all Ugandans. Every Ugandan must be given an opportunity to develop their God given talents and then compete on equal terms at home, in East Africa and beyond. There is no time to waste.