On October 23, 2010, I wrote that I had closed a chapter began in 1961 about Uganda’s political economy. The focus of that chapter was to analyze political economy challenges. Now, I am embarking on another one that will state a specific problem and suggest solutions. I will begin with the compelling case of Museveni’s hidden agenda – to promote Bahororo/Batutsi/Bahima dominance from southwest region to the national level – how he crafted and has implemented it without the majority of Ugandans realizing it.
Museveni began preparing his political career while at Ntare School in the early 1960s based largely on local (Ankole) politics. He realized that independence in Ankole (Museveni’s home base) based on majority rule of Bairu (slaves) led by Protestant elites was dangerous for minority Bahororo/Bahima (also Protestants) supremacy. The abolition of kingdoms including in Ankole by Obote – a Protestant, northerner and commoner – was bad news because it removed the institutional shelter that had protected Bahima and Bahororo minority rulers for centuries. Museveni developed a political strategy based on military and religious strength complemented by external forces. But he knew very early on that ultimately what would count most in his rise to power was military strength, not democracy. Religious divisions and external help would supplement military strength.
Museveni’s decision to study economics and political science at Dar es Salaam rather than at Makerere (where the two subjects were better developed) was dictated by his desire to be in a military and revolutionary environment. Tanzania was the best place. The OAU Liberation Committee was located in Dar and Tanzania had training facilities for Southern African liberation fighters and some liberation movements had their headquarters in Dar. Dar also had a good team of revolutionary thinkers. Museveni combined studying economics and political science and reading revolutionary literature with military training.
At the political level, Museveni carefully crafted his message around Obote and his ruling UPC party to win Baganda and Catholic support. Why? Because Baganda as a whole (Protestants, Catholics and Muslims) wanted Obote out because he ‘handed over’ the ‘lost counties’ to Bunyoro in a referendum. Baganda Protestants wanted Obote out because he overthrew their Protestant king and abolished the Protestant-controlled kingdom and Baganda Catholics wanted Obote and Protestant UPC party out because they cheated DP a Catholic-based party at the 1980 national elections.
Then, Museveni turned to Ankole where he crafted his message targeting Bairu Catholics. He reminded them that Obote and UPC had denied them opportunities to gain political power in Ankole district and at the national level. Museveni appealed to them to join him and his Bahororo/Bahima brothers and sisters and remove Obote and UPC from power and install Catholics. The sweet carrot tossed at them made Catholic Bairu quickly forget the pain and humiliation, exploitation and even ‘enslavement’ they had suffered at the hands of Bahima/Bahororo rulers for centuries. The desire to defeat Protestant Bairu in Ankole more than compensated Catholic Bairu for past losses at the hands of Nilotic Bahima and Bahororo. Suddenly Catholic Bairu and their former Nilotic tormentors became allies.
Having pocketed Baganda and Catholic Bairu, Museveni turned to Tutsis in Uganda and elsewhere for help. Being a Muhororo of Tutsi origin Museveni easily recruited Tutsi to fight the guerrilla war. At that time, Burundi was ruled by Batutsi. They advanced $8 million to Museveni. Ultimately Tutsi formed some 25 percent of the guerrilla forces. With help of history advisers Museveni identified Batutsi and Bahororo who had settled in other parts of Uganda particularly in Buganda, Lango and Teso where they adopted local languages and local names but remained Nilotic like Museveni because men do not marry outside of their Nilotic group. They despise other women as inferior and ugly as Kesaasi reminded us recently.
The guerrilla forces were commanded by Bahororo, Batutsi and Bahima who had been drawn from all parts of Uganda and other parts of the great lakes region. Bairu and other Ugandans were denied responsibility as commanders or chiefs of intelligence. They were given political, diplomatic and administrative duties far removed from commanding the guerrilla forces which remained the monopoly of Museveni and his tribesmen. Bairu and other non-Bahima/Bahororo/Batutsi Ugandans should have noticed that they were being shut out of the military.
Museveni also realized early on that he would need external backing to get to power and keep it. He needed media coverage, financial support and supply of arms. It is believed he obtained them through William Pike, Tiny Rowlands and Libya respectively among others. Museveni obtained political backing from influential western powers in return for dragging Uganda into the great lakes geopolitics.
When Museveni captured power and formed the government of national unity in 1986, he changed tactics arguing that the aim of removing Obote from power was political using military means only as a temporary arrangement. Many guerrilla fighters deserted the military in a rush to become ministers, senior civil servants and entrepreneurs leaving security forces in the hands of Bahororo, Bahima and Batutsi minority to consolidate their military base which they would use to accumulate economic and political power at the national level and dominate the rest of Ugandans.
Museveni knew that sooner or later the issue of sectarianism would surface. He quickly introduced two measures: the anti-sectarian law that prohibited discussing sectarian matters, and individual merit as a basis for recruitment, promotion and reassignment. These two measures made it difficult for disgruntled Ugandans to complain about favoritism in public institutions and the private sector. That is how the security forces, ministries of finance and foreign affairs in particular came to be dominated by people from Museveni’s tribe. News Africa (October 31, 2010) has reported that “His (Museveni) brother, Gen. Caleb Akandwanaho, brother in law, Sam Kutesa, son Lt Col Kainerugaba Muhoozi, wife Janet Museveni, and daughter Natasha Karugire are among his family members to have held [powerful and strategic] government posts”.
Museveni’s next move was to destroy UPC and DP by creating resistance committees (RCs) at all political levels. He used a simple argument that religion was out of politics knowing full well that without religious support DP and UPC were dead. Those Protestants and Catholics with political ambition rushed to the RCs. Candidates for political office would contest on individual merit. However, those individuals with the tacit backing of Museveni were facilitated in many ways and got elected easily. Protestant candidates lost even in constituencies where they had been very popular. Protestant bishops were also silenced by donations of Pajero vehicles and other handshakes. When multi-party politics was introduced, DP and UPC were almost dead. Bringing them back will be a miracle!
Then structural adjustment handed Museveni what he needed the most – the power to dismiss civil servants he did not like, close schools, deny school lunches, establish private schools and hospitals for the rich, charge fees for health and education, refuse to employ the unemployed through public works because that was business of the private sector and force farmers to produce for cash rather than the stomach and export food to earn foreign currency while Ugandans starved. Museveni was not condemned by nationals and international community because that was the order of the day. Hiding behind market forces and private sector as the engine to run Uganda’s economy and society Museveni achieved what he wanted – place Bahororo/Bahima/ Batutsi relatives in strategic positions in public institutions and private sector having privatized public assets.
Museveni has consistently argued that Uganda has plenty of arable land implying that Ugandans can settle in any part of the country which was incorporated into the 1995 constitution. A liberal immigration and refugee policy has also facilitated mobility and settlement in Uganda of large numbers that have boosted NRM party supporters and caused tensions with indigenous people. Decentralization, supposedly to bring services closer to the people, has enabled Museveni to divide up Uganda into economically unviable district that depend on him for budget support with conditions that benefit Museveni.
The outcomes are many. The families of the rich eat balanced diets, go to good private schools and visit good private hospitals, get good jobs upon graduation and dominate political, economic and security sectors. Meanwhile, poor children and sick people who cannot afford school fees and health charges stay away from schools and hospitals respectively. Those who continue in public schools get poor quality education and those who go to public hospitals get poor services. Children that drop out of school get married early and begin producing babies they cannot care for. Functional illiteracy has prevented so-called graduates from finding jobs even when skilled jobs are available and are being taken by foreigners. The outcome of these shortcomings has been spreading and deepening poverty as reflected in jiggers and malnutrition that have become national scandals. Poverty, illiteracy, hunger and disease are being blamed on women’s high fertility and are being advised to practice birth control.
The country is now tightly in the hands of Museveni minority ethnic group that has been in power for 25 years sustained by security forces, Uganda Catholics and western support. The execution of Museveni’s hidden agenda has produced unprecedented injustice which must be challenged through the following actions.
First, Ugandans and external friends must stop being shy and start condemning sectarianism that has disproportionately favored Museveni’s ethnic group.
Second, Protestants must accept that they have been severely marginalized and begin to reorganize themselves before it is too late.
Third, Catholic Bairu in southwest Uganda must admit they have been used to strangle their Protestant brothers and sisters. They must end their differences quickly and struggle together to create conditions for their children to attend good schools, access good hospitals and eat balanced food. Overall, children of Catholic, Protestant and Muslim Bairu people have suffered under NRM regime. Numerical superiority of Bairu alone in the absence of good education, health and diet is not a sufficient condition to lift them out of poverty, empower them economically and politically. Bairu should ensure that birth control programs do not diminish their numerical strength.
Fourth, NRM leaders in parliament and district councils must stop being used to rubber stamp decisions like random demarcation of municipal boundaries that are detrimental to their constituents.
Finally, every success involves risks and sacrifice. Uganda is at a crossroads and tough and risky choices have to be made whether to continue along the present trajectory under Museveni or chart a new development path.