We know that when a government fails to take responsibility for the welfare of the people, it should be removed from power. In the last 26 years NRM government has failed to deliver basic services. Ugandans have tried to remove it from power through the ballot box without success. And it is not likely to happen in the foreseeable future without term limits and an independent electoral commission. Logically, some Ugandans are reasoning that since the ballot box has failed, we must resort to war. But some Ugandans have said no. This does not mean that those who do not want war are cowards. It means that they are pragmatic. Starting a war against a recognized government regardless of how it came into power will be condemned by the international community and come to the government’s rescue. In fact, NRM would welcome such attack to give it a golden opportunity to arrest real and imagined enemies of the state in the name of national security against terrorists and put them away for good. It would also help NRM divert development resources to war efforts and impoverish Ugandans further without being blamed. So Ugandans eager to fight need to understand fully the environment at home and abroad in which they are operating before definitive actions are taken.
Those calling for war are using two simple arguments. First, Museveni captured power through the barrel of a gun after he failed to stop Obote and UPC through the ballot box in the 1980 elections. So they can also do it because they failed to defeat NRM in 2011 elections. Second, the only language Museveni understands is war. Anything short of war is not worth endorsing. However, when you ask them whether the conditions at home and abroad that favored a guerrilla war in 1981-85 exist today, you do not get an answer. Instead, you are brushed aside.
Those against the war are arguing that conditions that favored the war are absent in today’s Uganda and today’s world. Domestically, Baganda and Catholics were overwhelmingly unhappy with UPC winning the elections although they were given a pass by the Commonwealth team of observers. They were not ready to wait for the next elections for fear that UPC would ‘steal’ again. So, they opted for war under various groups including one led by Museveni. That atmosphere is absent today. At the ideological level, the war between capitalism and socialism was still raging and Uganda sat at the intersection of the blue and red belts joining capitalist and socialist African countries respectively, making Uganda strategically important. Before UPC was overthrown in 1971, Obote had launched “Move to the Left” policy document. This document which was actually about mixed economy involving state and private sector partnership in Uganda’s economy was misinterpreted as introducing socialism designed to launch a class war to the disadvantage of capitalism. So, the return of UPC and Obote II was not welcomed in the western camp for fear he might try again to launch socialism although he assured them he was a changed man ideologically. Today, there is no ideological conflict and NRM has fully embraced capitalism that won the Cold War. Thus, internal and external conditions that supported the guerrilla war against UPC do not exist today against NRM.
By way of emphasis, today there is no credible domestic voice in support of war. The devastation in Luwero, Northern and Eastern Uganda is still fresh to allow another war be conducted on Uganda soil. The neighboring countries that backed the 1981-85 guerrilla war with money, mercenaries or kept silent are not available to support a war against the NRM government. Beyond the great lakes region, the situation is the same. Article 23 (3) of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance makes clear that “Any replacement of a democratically elected government by armed dissidents or rebels” is illegal and will cause the African Union to draw appropriate sanctions. However, Article 39 states “State Parties shall promote a culture of respect, compromise, consensus and tolerance as a means to mitigate conflicts, promote political stability and security and to harness the creative energies of the African peoples”.
As noted above, the end of the Cold War marked the demise of socialism in 1990 and the triumph of western capitalism characterized by free trade, private enterprise and competition which NRM has embraced with both arms since 1987. NRM government has also exceptionally collaborated in matters of international security. To sum up, there is no support for war against NRM government at the domestic, regional and international levels.
Does that mean that discontented Ugandans should keep quiet hoping that a miracle will save Uganda? No. Ugandans unhappy with NRM government can legitimately oppose the regime through civil resistance. The job has been made relatively easy because NRM is already decaying from within. It is bedeviled by rampant corruption, sectarianism, cronyism and mismanagement of public funds. This has become a terminal disease manifested in skewed income distribution in favor of a few rich families, rising unemployment and poverty; food shortages and rising prices, sprawling slums, slow economic growth and collapsing education, healthcare and ecological systems. These are conditions that bring discontented people in rural and urban areas together and push the oppressive and decadent government through the door into oblivion. These are the conditions that ended absolute monarchy in France and Russia during the revolutions of 1789 and 1917 respectively. When Parisians got tired they rebelled and ignited a process that toppled the monarchy. Similarly, when Russians in St. Petersburg got tired they rebelled and sparked a process that ended the Czar dynasty. When Ugandans in Kampala get tied, and they will soon declare that, they will march into the streets of Kampala and spark a revolution that will topple NRM government. Uganda security forces that Museveni relies on like Louis XVI and Nicholas II did may desert him like they did to the French and Russian rulers and join the demonstrators because the rank and file is also hurting. Nothing is impossible in this world. Mali is a case in point and Museveni should not lose sight of that.
To succeed, however, Ugandans opposed to NRM regime must come together. It is happening but not fast enough. Ugandans abroad need to work more closely with those at home in a complementary manner and harmonize policy statements to avoid conflict or duplication of ideas and confuse the public. The media (radio, internet and newspapers) should be used more effectively and efficiently. Radio Free Europe, among others, was instrumental in the collapse of communism because the public was kept informed of what was happening and urging them to work together. Organizations like Solidarity in Poland were formed and provided a channel of communication and collective organization and action. At home, resistance activities need to be crafted according to local conditions. Bold, smart and selfless champions need to come forwards and lead. Wishing to change a regime is one thing. Organizing effectively and efficiently to achieve it is another. Many revolts that failed like medieval Europe peasants’ did so largely for lack of organization and clear leadership. And when groups come together they do better than when they act in isolation. Or when a leader of a group is not available for whatever reason, the group should continue to organize and deliver and not suspend activities until the leader is back. In Ghana Nkrumah’s party organized elections successful when Nkrumah was in jail. In South Africa, ANC continued work and grew stronger when Mandela was in prison.
Many of us in the opposition believe that Uganda belongs to all of us. Therefore the doctrine of winner-take-all that NRM has used to keep the opposition out in the cold need to be replaced with win-win arrangements that promote stability, economic growth with equity and security. Article 39 of the African Union Charter quoted above provides a window of opportunity for government to enter into a dialogue with the opposition and create a government of national unity. For example, for the sake of keeping South Africa together, South Africans of all races agreed to set up a government of national unity starting in 1994 when a New South Africa with Nelson Mandela as president was inaugurated. That is what mature and pragmatic leadership is all about. Hopefully, NRM and the opposition will seize the opportunity and do the right thing for all Ugandans. That way Uganda will avoid the damaging side effects war or civil resistance.