If Museveni did it, so can we

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 many reasons why I am against using force. First, military people (those that I am familiar with) generally do not use, much less understand, the language of dialogue, compromise and win-win arrangements. They know winner-take-all or zero-sum games. That is why Museveni keeps reminding us that he killed a beast. It is his and he cannot share meat with anyone else. He can dish out some chunks to others only if he chooses to but none can force him. Similarly, Museveni believes Uganda and Ugandans are his property. He fought and he won. So Uganda is his colony and Ugandans his colonized subjects who have no rights and freedoms like free people. This is something that those who support Museveni should understand. They are supporting a colonizer and dictator. This may sound incredible but it is true. And that is why Museveni stated to a foreign journalist in 1994 that he does not blame previous colonizers but colonized people that accepted to be colonized. Second, using force to remove NRM means that the successor government will be another military. That will mean continuation of military dictatorship by different individuals. So why should we remove one military government to bring in another one? Ugandans will continue to get crushed every time they raise a figure in protest. Every challenge is seen as coming from an enemy that should be crushed. That is why soldiers should not be used in law and order enforcement matters such as demonstrations because they are not trained for that. That is the work of a disciplined and professional police force that serves the people not the regime in power. Uganda’s next government should be civilian.

Third, war is very costly in lives, property, infrastructure. Look at Luwero Triangle and Northern and Eastern Uganda to be convinced. I visited Luwero and heard horrible stories. I have read and written about the consequences of war in the North and East Uganda. Please let us not repeat the suffering of Uganda people through ill-thought out actions. The fourth reason I am against another bush war is because of statements by some Ugandans that since Museveni did it and succeeded we should do it too. Museveni operated under unique favorable circumstances. Therefore because Museveni succeeded does not automatically guarantee that the next bush war will succeed. Let me digress a little if only to make a point from another angle. My whole career has been in the economic development industry where we use development models and success stories. My experience in many African countries where I served and gained hands-on knowledge has led me to conclude that because a development model worked successfully in country Y at time X does not guarantee that it will automatically succeed in country B at time Z or even in two countries or more at the same time. One has to understand conditions in each country and either adapt or reject the model. Many African countries have failed in developing their economies simply because the models were transplanted.

Uganda under NRM is a case in point. It transplanted structural adjustment program without appropriate adaptations and we have all seen the damage it has caused. Eventually the model was abandoned after it had caused so much suffering from 1987 to 2009 and the government has not figured out what to do next. It is still stuck in pure neo-liberal economics of invisible hand of the market and laissez faire capitalism as well as trickledown mechanism that do not work. UDU has prepared a home grown alternative (National Recovery Plan) based on conditions on the ground and has received overwhelming support. Sadly, the opposition cannot implement the plan because political power is in the hands of the failed NRM government. That NRM has failed is no longer in doubt. Presenting programs designed over 26 years ago as evidence of success is in itself admission of failure. The success or failure of a program is not based on quality of the program or processes but on concrete outcome – improvement in the standard of living of all Ugandans. Therefore the matrix submitted a few days ago by Gen. Caleb Akandwanaho to Ugandans-at-Heart Forum with a copy to me does not serve a useful purpose. It only confirms what we have been saying namely that NRM developed good programs (or were developed for it by someone else) which have not been implemented presumably because NRM cadres did not understand them or there was no money to implement them because of corruption. What we know is that NRM government has received more than $31 billion in donations for development purposes. The judgement of NRM performance must be based on outcomes in terms of quality and relevant education, mortality and morbidity (illness) reduction, good nutrition, remunerative jobs, decent housing and clothing and environmental quality and through these improvements poverty reduction (poverty reduction occurs through improvements in these areas. It cannot happen on its own). In Uganda economic, social and ecological indicators have declined for the majority of Ugandans under the NRM regime and we are nowhere near the level attained by 1970.

Let us return to guerrilla war. Ugandans who want to emulate Museveni must understand a couple of things. First, Museveni planned the use of military force for a long time. He knew he did not have the numbers (he comes from a very small tribe of Bahororo who are Batutsi from Rwanda) to help him achieve his political ambitions through the ballot box. So he began preparing for the political/military option (to win in politics by military means) while still in High School (I was with him at Ntare School and as a prefect had the advantage of observing student behavior at close range to recommend who should succeed us). He ended up in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania for undergraduate university studies (Dar was not the best place to study political science or economics, Makerere was) in part because he wanted to get in touch with Southern African guerrilla fighters headquartered in Dar es Salaam. The OAU Liberation Committee that supported liberation movements was also located there. From these contacts, he began military training and established a network of contacts that would help him when he waged the guerrilla war. Second, Museveni had a ready reservoir of Batutsi refugees (mercenaries) in Uganda and elsewhere to recruit from when he formed FRONASA and became his closest and trusted allies during the war and after. He also had some financial support from some African countries (the Burundi story is now well known). Within Uganda, the environment was very favorable to Museveni. Baganda and Catholics (for understandable reasons) were very unhappy with the UPC government especially under Obote (the 1966 Mengo military action and 1964 Lost Counties referendum were still fresh in Baganda minds. Catholics believed they had lost elections to UPC twice unfairly), were not ready to wait for another general election and Museveni offered to lead them in a guerrilla attack on the government. He obtained strategic Luwero Triangle area to operate from. It is not certain that Luwero would be available again.

Obote’s win of 1980 election did not please some external powers. They feared he would reintroduce socialism and were not prepared to let him govern Uganda. In the early 1980s, they identified Museveni as their man to do the job in Uganda and other assignments in the Great Lakes region (Peter Phillips 2006). That is why they have pampered him. These external powers including African supporters, Gaddafi among them, provided massive financial support, intelligence information, media and diplomatic cover. Not only did this support help him win the war but has sustained him in power since 1986. Museveni is unpopular in Uganda (because he has impoverished and dispossessed Ugandans of quality education, good health, jobs and land) but he has legitimized his regime through democracy at gun point (as he planned it from the start) with tacit concurrence of some of his external supporters.

In view of this information, Ugandans who think can launch a guerrilla war and succeed like Museveni did need to take another hard look and determine whether the environment now is similar, better or even worse than the one Museveni operated and has survived in. My reading of the situation is that the internal and external environment in which Museveni launched and conducted the bush war is fundamentally different today. There is not much, if any, support within and without Uganda for another guerrilla war. But the favorable environment in which he has operated since 1986 has considerably changed. Museveni does not have as much support as he had when he was described as the blue eyed darling of the west and dean of a new breed of African leaders. The western press that for a long time presented Uganda as a success story and Museveni as a star pupil has changed and is now describing Uganda as a failed state under Museveni’s military dictatorship disguised as democratic. World leaders are calling on those who have governed unjustly: politically, economically and socially and for a long time like Museveni to step down because they are on the wrong side of history. Museveni’s recent visit to London (February 2012) was not a comfortable one because he was asked the question he hates to hear: when are you stepping down? His answer: when NRM decides but Museveni is NRM! Other powers are calling for restoration of presidential term limits and independent electoral commission. They are supporting Ugandans to exercise their rights and freedoms including the right to march, assemble, associate and demonstrate against the failed NRM leadership. In short, they are supporting the legitimacy of civil resistance to remove an unpopular regime. As already noted internally Museveni is very unpopular as Ugandans begin to understand his motives better and relate to actions on the ground especially land grab by non-Ugandans. So there is enabling environment the opposition should take advantage of in terms of civil resistance instead of engaging in guerilla warfare with virtually no chance of success.

Ugandans are ready for change and the international community will support the peaceful change that takes all Ugandans into consideration. But Ugandans are lacking a new leadership. There is too much selfishness, ego and bickering. There are debates about whether the next leader should again come from the west, or be a Muganda, Catholic, Northerner or Easterner. There is one concrete case where a candidate was denied support because he comes from a particular region. And the world is watching in disbelief and Museveni is obviously taking advantage and encouraging this sort of behavior to continue. What we need to do is to agree on a profile of the leadership we want first. Then individuals should be judged against this yardstick and nothing else especially at this time. Right now there is no profile. We are trying to put the cart before the horse. And it will never work as expected. Let us choose a leader who is bold, selfless and patriotic with known history and impeccable discipline and experience in public service. No leader should be imposed on Ugandans. Leaders that burst onto the national political stage from obscurity or with vague credentials have not served Uganda well. Running a country without experience of public service is dangerous. Museveni is now telling us that after 26 years as president he has become an expert in governance. Apparently he did not mention experience, implying that now that he has expertise he be given more time to gain experience again on the job. He is preparing for 2016 elections. This is not the kind of leader Uganda needs. That is why I have advocated that as long as Museveni is in power the next elections should be boycotted by the opposition as parties and individuals because he won’t lose and opposition participation will only serve to legitimize the results and another five years of NRM misrule and entrenched dictatorship.

With proper, dedicated and patriotic opposition leadership in place Uganda will move faster in effecting regime change through civil resistance, unseat NRM regime and establish a civilian transitional government. Commendable work has already begun. It must continue and intensify at different levels throughout the country. Let us supplement and speed it up the process with the right leadership while keeping all options on the table with war as a means of last resort. Let us also tailor the struggle to local conditions, not on models transplanted from other countries or even from other areas within Uganda. Strategies must be location specific and implemented as much as possible simultaneously so the government is disoriented for lack of capacity to cover all areas at once. What is known is that civil resistance has worked in many countries. In those countries where it succeeded there was solidarity of all stakeholders including religious leaders. Take the admirable examples that should be emulated in Uganda from Poland, Philippines and South Africa where religious leaders played critical roles. Uganda has all that is needed except one acceptable leader. Opposition leadership has thus become the remaining Achilles heel. Let this leadership problem be solved without further delay and we are on the road to victory.

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