My philosophy about Uganda

A lot has been written and said about me directly and indirectly. Given my frank involvement in Uganda’s political economy discourse, it would have been unusual for my views to remain unchallenged. I have already informed readers what triggered my interest in research and writing about Uganda in the context of the Great Lakes region. I began research in the early 1970s and my first book was published in 1997. In doing so I was guided by my faith to tell the truth and be on the side of voiceless, powerless and vulnerable people. In order to empower the voiceless, one has to understand why they are voiceless in the first place. That is why I spent many years doing research using primary and secondary sources. I obtained invaluable information through personal contacts, at times travelling by bus many times between Kampala and Rukungiri. I have done my research in a historical context, not from 1986 when NRM government came to power as some commentators have implied. I have given credit where it is due and criticized where it is the right thing to do. I have credited and criticized administrations in Uganda especially British, UPC and NRM. My belief is that to solve a problem you have got to get to the root cause and the agent that caused it otherwise you will treat symptoms and you will never get the work done satisfactorily. As a result of frank and manner of presentation of research findings some people have labeled me radical, assertive, sectarian and impatient. Let me explain what each one of these words mean from my perspective and why I feel the way I do.

My understanding of being a radical is that I have got to the root cause of the problem and the agent that caused it. In this sense being radical is a good thing. But telling the truth and opening eyes and ears of the powerless to know what and who is causing their suffering is not welcome news by those implicated that use the word radical to imply that I am a trouble maker. My understanding of being assertive is that I present my arguments logically and consistently using facts to drive a point home and convince the audience. It is indisputable that clear, logical and factual arguments are essential not only to clarify a position regarding an issue being discussed, but more significantly to bring the audience around to your position. There is nothing wrong with that. When you identify a problem you also have to point out who is responsible. In Uganda we have pointed out that religious conflicts, indirect colonial rule, tribalism and mercenaries to mention just a few are responsible at various times for the suffering of Ugandans. In Uganda today blaming NRM in general terms is not enough. You have to get to the engine that is driving the process. Because I have identified that engine with indisputable facts including the fifty year master plan, I have been labeled a sectarian, bigot and tribal hater with the intention of intimidating and silencing me broadly defined. Identifying the agent that has primary responsibility for what has gone wrong in Uganda is the beginning of a process to find a solution. I am happy to be part of this process. Finally, one individual had referred to me as an impatient person without elaborating. Let me gently remind him that if he had cared to trace my record and what I have been saying and writing including that Ugandans need patience, he would not have jumped to that conclusion. It is important that when you criticize especially unconstructively you get your facts correct otherwise you risk devaluing your credibility.

Let me say a word about my primary audience. Whereas I write for all readers, my main target is not the elite or universities. I write for the general public at home and abroad that is starved of information or is fed on one-sided or distorted messages. I also repeat messages deliberately because I want to drive the point home and one article may not deliver and when I sense it has not I find a way of repeating the same message though not using the exact words.

Back to the main topic: My Philosophy about Uganda that is based on three pillars in an environment of liberty (freedom) and justice (fairness). I believe very strongly that all Ugandans are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Anybody who believes and acts otherwise and denies a section of Ugandans liberty and justice will be criticized regardless of their status. Since colonial days minority sections of Ugandans have been disproportionately privileged while the majority disadvantaged. Indirect rule favored Protestant chiefs, their families and relatives at the expense of commoners, Catholics and Muslims. Commoners were denied education until very late, were not represented in negotiations leading up to independence and got a raw deal. Economic and social policies have favored some areas over others. The labor reserve policy was particularly harmful. Obote and UPC I attempted to level the playing field notwithstanding some political hiccups but Amin put an end to that effort. NRM‘s ten point program was welcomed as a revival of what UPC I began in the 1960s. Its abrupt demise in 1987 closed the door.

Uganda needs a level playing field that enables every Ugandan to use their God-given talents to the fullest extent. This does not imply a Robin Hood strategy of robbing the rich and enriching the poor. It means giving everyone a good start which begins with unborn child and the health of the mother. Undernourished women produce underweight children with permanent physical and mental disabilities. Therefore the first thing to do is improve nutrition status of women especially when they are pregnant. This can be done because Uganda produces enough food but NRM’s focus on export diversification and a preference for cash over the stomach has disadvantaged women who eat last and least. The second thing to do is to ensure that children eat adequate and balanced diet. Brain development takes place during the first three years of life from inception and nutrition plays a critical role. Children who do not eat enough develop smaller brain size short of the size required for full development. Throughout child development adequate and balanced diet is required. Breakfast is considered the best meal of the day. But school lunches have proven to be equally important. They keep children at school and improve performance especially of girls. Keeping children at school has many advantages. It prevents early marriage and reduces fertility and population growth if immigrants do not increase. It provides knowledge and skills that increase productivity and economic growth. It also empowers women to get remunerative jobs and manage their lives including decisions about reproduction. It is perplexing why the NRM government has categorically refused to promote school feeding program which has worked well in developed and developing countries. NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) of the African Union adopted a resolution calling on all African countries to provide school lunch mostly with locally produced foodstuffs. Uganda has been reluctant. During the 2011 election campaign, the subject came up. Museveni reported that he had commissioned the World Bank to undertake a study and report back its findings. We would like to know what the World Bank recommended. What is clear is that parents want their children to have school lunch served and are prepared to make a contribution once the government has agreed. The legislative and executive branches need to work together and launch the program without further delay.

A level playing field calls for a good and standardized education system for all students. The launching of private and public schools is not a bad idea. The problem is that public education has been starved of what is needed in terms of classrooms, teachers’ housing, quality teachers, instructional materials and school inspectors. The quality and relevance of education are suffering serious deficits thereby producing graduates that are functionally illiterate and virtually unemployable. The education system needs overhaul.

Nutrition and education need to be backed up by adequate healthcare in geographic coverage and quality of services. Unhealthy population is a liability. Uganda needs a healthcare system that combines primary and curative dimensions with emphasis on primary healthcare. A good primary healthcare including general hygiene, safe drinking water, good sanitation, adequate housing and clothing reduces cases for curative healthcare. Thus, for sound human capital development Uganda needs adequate and balanced diet, quality and relevant education and a healthcare system that minimizes morbidity (sickness) and mortality.

The second dimension of my philosophy is cooperation with other countries in the region and beyond. No country can survive in isolation. It has to coexist with others. But coexistence needs to be of a nature that confers net benefits on Uganda. Economic, social, cultural, political, ecological and diplomatic policies must be designed with that in mind. That means informed, experienced, active and full participation of Ugandans in decisions that affect, promote and protect the interests of all Ugandans. Focusing on security at the expense of development has created a breeding ground for all sorts of harmful agents. A balanced approach is called for to address unemployment and poverty especially of Uganda’s young men and women.

The third and final pillar of my philosophy is conflict resolution. I believe very strongly that conflicts must be resolved by peaceful means on a win-win and equitable basis. Zero-sum games produce temporary benefits for one side, creating potential danger for retaliation when the time comes. For this reason I am opposed to military solutions as the first strategy. Museveni launched a successful guerrilla war in unique circumstances that are very unlikely to be available to those attempting to do the same. Besides, Uganda’s experience has taught that military confrontations since the religious wars of the late 1880s and early 1890s have been destructive and divisive. Uganda has ended up with military regimes sustained by mercenaries that have made conditions very difficult since the Amin regime in the 1970s. But let me be clear lest I am misunderstood. The point being made is that Ugandans should avoid military confrontation every time there is a disagreement between government and opposition. Political differences should be resolved through genuine democratic processes of free and fair elections, term limits and true independence of the judiciary. If that fails as it appears to have then various forms of legitimate resistance to trigger negotiations and form coalition or transitional governments should be invoked. If government reacts by using force then opposition has the right to defend itself by any means at its disposal with support of friends and well wishers. In other words all options must be kept on the table and necessary preparations undertaken but strategize how to use them starting with peaceful means. I trust I have adequately answered critics who argue that I am totally anti–military strategy to unseat NRM system.

Thus my philosophy regarding Uganda is based on liberty and justice for all exercised through human capital formation, coexistence with other states and peaceful resolution of conflicts in the first instance. Ugandans and the international community need to be mobilized through provision of factual information about the root causes and specific agents of current suffering in Uganda to enable them take informed and appropriate decisions. Implementation of this philosophy will require a combination of old and young. The old have experience and the young dynamism which reinforce each other very well. As all development is ultimately local Ugandans have to take the lead with a helping hand of friends and well wishers.