In Uganda religious leaders can make a difference

Our doctrine is that Ugandans will liberate themselves from Museveni’s military dictatorship and the NRM failed system via a wide range of instruments including mass media and collaboration with religious leaders. The international community is called upon to level the playing field as Ugandans embark on a journey to freedom through peaceful demonstrations which are an integral part of our human rights including the right to self-determination and crafting a governance system that accommodates specific interests. That the European Union and Commonwealth observer teams concluded that the February 18, 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections were ‘not free and fair’ is a commendable beginning.

From time immemorial religious leaders have played a vital role (and some of them paid a heavy price) in easing the suffering of people meted out by their leaders. For example, John Ball a follower of John Wycliffe contributed tremendously through speeches and writing (e.g. “All men by Nature Were Created Alike”) in support of English peasants that had suffered exploitation. The peasants revolted in 1381 resulted in the abolition of the poll tax imposed in 1380 which sparked the great revolt.

In Latin America priests who for many centuries had been an integral part of the daily life of the people there played vital roles in the decolonization process and transition from dictatorship to democracy. In Easter Europe, the work of religious leaders including the late Pope John Paul II in ending the communist rule and system has been well documented in my articles that are posted on

The Catholic Church has done a commendable job in easing the suffering of vulnerable people through economic and social reforms. For example, Pope John XXIII elected in 1958 initiated a reform program called “reawakening of the church” which was approved by the Second Vatican Council in 1965. Many of the reforms addressed problems of economic inequality. The Catholics were called upon to care for the needy and under-privileged. The clergy and faithful alike were urged to take an active role in economic and social reform with a view to helping the poor and oppressed. These reforms welcomed state welfare and creation of social organizations. They were presented as an alternative to violent revolutions by disgruntled segments of the population.

In Latin America the impact was significant. For example, in Brazil within a few years nearly one million Brazilian Catholics mostly from poor classes had joined religious associations. And during the repressive military dictatorship in the 1970s they were the only mass political movement in the country. Overall, the clergy (except the upper-class ones) spoke out openly against injustice even at the risk of their own lives. They advocated a moderate system of land reform, support for the poor and respect for human rights.

However, some Catholics adopted a more radical roadmap to political, economic and social change by advocating a Theology of Liberation. Advocates of this theology believed that Christians should fight to free the oppressed, using armed means if necessary. This approach was counter to the one adopted by the Catholic Church which it rejected. Other priests chose to work directly with oppressed and poor people including in factories or urban slums. The political impact was a contribution to transition from dictatorship to democracy in Latin America.

In Uganda the commendable work of religions in education, healthcare and home economics through for example Mothers’ Union is well known and appreciated. Religious leaders who had no interest in property and wealth accumulation concentrated on addressing the problems of the poor and vulnerable members of their congregations. They counseled, consoled and visited them in their homes during difficult times and conveyed a message of hope out of despair. This psychological input made a difference in gathering courage to address the challenges they faced. That religions played a big role during hard times could be seen during political and economic difficulties when the number of parishioners increased tremendously. Although church attendance per se did not improve their economic situation (it could have made it worse by spending so much time praying instead of doing productive work), there was a measure of psychological satisfaction.

Right now Uganda is in the midst of a political, economic, social, cultural and environmental crisis characterized as a failed state under military dictatorship. We need to reverse this course before it is too late. As part of this effort, we have been calling on Uganda police, secret agents and the military to join with their suffering brothers and sisters (as other forces have done and are doing in various parts of the world) to end what is developing into totalitarianism in the name of national stability at the expense of individual freedom.

As champions of the poor and oppressed, leaders of all faiths in Uganda need, working singly or preferably in concert, to come to the rescue of our nation. Museveni and his NRM system have failed. Even those at home and abroad who supported Museveni and his economic and foreign policies especially in the great lakes region are reluctantly accepting that not all is well in Uganda. With 25 years in power and still counting, Museveni and his tired advisers will not arrest and reverse the dangerous political economy course we are on.

Without a doubt, new and bold non-corrupt and anti-sectarian patriotic leadership is needed with an alternative development strategy of increasing goods and services that will emphasize agriculture, rural development and agro-processing; infrastructure and institutions; job creation and revamp social and ecological sectors through public and private partnership and pursuit of a non-aggressive foreign policy and respect for human rights.

Museveni rejected advice against the wrong “shock therapy” version of structural adjustment program that created tremendous suffering before he abandoned it in 2009. By 1986 Museveni and/or his advisers were aware that shock therapy structural adjustment had been rejected in Chile and Ghana.

He has now emphasized a policy of the East African economic integration and political federation and urban development in greater Kampala (as if Uganda is Singapore) that will not address Uganda’s daunting challenges in the short and medium term (in fact opening Uganda borders to all East Africans, their animals and their products will result in loss of land, jobs and industries and focusing on urban development will induce massive rural-urban migration that will exceed the capacity to handle the influx). Before proceeding, Uganda should learn from Latin American urban experience.

Judging by the key appointments Museveni has made so far (speaker of parliament, vice president and prime minister – apparently all trained lawyers who have been close to him since 1986), Museveni does not appear to have a plan for innovation in economic, social, environmental and even foreign policy for the next five years.

Ipso facto, it is clear that a combination of his illegitimate re-election and Museveni’s loss of touch with reality especially as he begins to push his son to succeed him will intensify conflict and invoke a massive military repressive action in response with untold suffering. To prevent this from happening, religious leaders must step in on the side of the people that are calling for formation of a transitional government to prepare for free and fair elections. Short of this solution, there is no doubt that Uganda will descend into chaos with serious regional implications. It is through a combined effort of religious and security leaders as well as the public (NRM and non-NRM) that a peaceful Uganda will be guaranteed for present and future generations. Uganda neighbors are urged to extend a helping hand as well because they will be affected by whatever happens in Uganda.