Ugandans are justifiably engaged in debates, conferences and diplomatic outreach activities in search of a permanent solution to the daunting political economy challenges. They are calling for unity and removal of NRM from power as the first step towards realizing justice for all.
Justice simply means fairness and equal opportunity for all. And justice goes with liberty, democracy, dignity and happiness. Uganda’s challenges at home and within the East African context originate principally from the absence of justice that has bred fear of domination and exploitation. Justice has not been served since different communities were pooled together in what became Uganda.
Policies adopted to conquer, administer and exploit Uganda’s resources introduced an unjust system. Individuals, groups or regions were rewarded or punished for various reasons; the indirect rule system created rulers and ruled. A system of economic growth centers and cheap labor reserves and discrimination in recruiting soldiers created regional imbalances. The desire to create tribal units for administrative convenience lumped people together in an unequal relationship.
A closer examination of Uganda’s troubles reveals that the colonial system that was inherited at independence has created the haves and have-nots among and within regions and districts. The haves want to maintain the status quo or restore it whereas the have-nots want to change it and close the gap – hence the struggle we are witnessing which is intensifying as the haves continue to accumulate more wealth while the have-nots sink deeper into poverty, dispossession, marginalization and depression.
Because of these differences that have accumulated over many years it has been difficult to agree on a form of governance that is acceptable to all. Because our leaders could not agree we ended up with a Governor-General as head of state of independent Uganda until October 1963.
A proper form of government is an important matter because it is associated with justice. This is something that Ugandans must approach with great care in the interest of all Ugandans. Negotiations for independence became complicated and ended up inconclusive on this issue. The unsatisfactory compromise arrived at on the eve of independence fell apart within a couple of years with sad outcomes. We should draw a useful lesson from this experience and do better.
The debate should be about finding a combination of ideas that confers optimum and mutual benefits that are durable with appropriate safeguards. The ongoing debate on the form of government is going to produce many ideas. If some people have different ideas from yours, don’t shut them off – engage in an honest debate. Try to convince them that your idea is better and win them over. Or if you feel in the course of discussion that their idea is better than yours join them.
Compromise might be described as pragmatism. However, more often than not it means that neither party is happy, implying that it is a temporary arrangement, needing to be revisited when conditions have improved.
Furthermore, Ugandans need to create conditions to remove fear of being dominated, losing what is already acquired or continued exploitation. Fear has dominated our lives because there is no level playing field that can correct injustice when it has occurred or prevent it from happening. Uganda is characterized by sub-nationalism in search of liberty, justice and governance that at times called for secession by different groups.
Creating a separate district, for example, does not necessarily mean the end of poverty and closing the gap between the haves and have-nots. It could make matters worse. What is needed is less separatism but more cooperation in a just manner.
Uganda needs a just system that is implemented justly, making sure that equal opportunities are provided for all. Good leaders can build schools, hospitals, roads etc to serve all Ugandans within the same multi-ethnic and multi-cultural framework. Therefore it is unnecessary to divide Uganda – a small country to begin with – into so many tiny and economically unviable districts in hope of realizing justice and an appropriate form of government.
The main problem that has constrained progress in the East African economic integration and political federation negotiations is the fear that one or several countries might dominate others economically, politically and possibly militarily. This fear can be overcome by creating a just system that is monitored closely so that every state enjoys a share of the benefits of regional cooperation that raises equitably the welfare of all East Africans.
Experience with East African community – past and present – has failed to confer equitable benefits. Some have gained disproportionately while others have suffered endemic trade deficits.
It was fear of continued domination that contributed to the demise of the first East African community in 1977 and the Central African federation in 1963.
United Democratic Ugandans (UDU) has prepared a National Recovery Plan (NRP) as a basis for discussing national matters related to justice, liberty, democracy and governance. The Plan is accessible at www.udugandans.org.