NRM can be unseated by peaceful strategies

There is general consensus that NRM has reached a point of no return. It has been bedeviled by rampant corruption, sectarianism, human rights abuses and infighting. It is therefore rotting away and features of decadence are there for all to see. The economy is in a comma – or very close – and social sectors are dying – if not dead already witness some hospital wards that have turned into hospices – and the environment is drifting towards desert conditions as warned by a United Nations agency not so long ago. NRM propaganda based on economic growth and expected social benefits from oil has not convinced the public so has the argument that external factors are responsible for Uganda’s economic, social and ecological illness. NRM has lost the will and capacity (in part because the government is broke) to adjust to the wind of change. Ipso facto, it has tenaciously clung to the discredited and subsequently abandoned neo-liberal economics which failed in many respects including trickle down mechanism to distribute equitably the benefits of economic growth.

Uganda is larger than NRM and therefore it cannot be allowed to hang onto power at the expense of the country and her people. Voices for removing NRM system are getting louder and more frequent. The unanswered question is how is it to be done? There are two options: (1) military means because that is the ‘language’ NRM understands and (2) civil resistance because that is where NRM is weakest. The latter has worked with limited destruction in lives and property compared to the military option and military governments including NRM disguised as democratic have not served Uganda well. For these reasons, an increasing number of Ugandans is in favor of a peaceful strategy. Civil resistance toppled the Shah regime in Iran in 1979 and the Marcos regime in the Philippines in 1989. The removal of Emperor Haile Sealaisse in Ethiopia in 1974 was engineered by civil resistance. Mengistu moved in with his troops in the final days and reaped disproportionate benefits at the expense of civilian dissenters. Articles on these successes are posted on and at Ugandans at Heart Forum. Here is a fourth illustration taken from Bolivia demonstrating vividly that civil resistance works when conditions are ideal as they appear to be in Uganda at the moment (January 2012).

Bolivia like Uganda was subjected to shock therapy structural adjustment which impoverished the majority of Bolivians as it has done to the majority of Ugandans. Bolivians could not take its adverse impact anymore as Ugandans appear to be. Those unhappy got together to struggle for restoration of their human rights and fundamental freedoms under a capable citizen that led them to win the presidency after the incumbent government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada resigned under pressure from demonstrators.

The struggle began with privatized water supply in the city of Cochabamba. After privatization, the price of water rose by 200 percent, raising the effective rate to ten US dollars per month per household in a city where the minimum wage was sixty dollars per month. The price hike provoked large-scale demonstrations. After five months of struggle, the government terminated the contract and the water rates were returned to the level before the contract came into effect.

Shortly after the demonstrations died down in Cochabamba, there were national demonstrations and strikes representing the worst social unrest in 20 years. Students, teachers, labor and business unions, peasant organizations, coca growers and the police joined hands and protested low salaries and wages, introduction of income tax, agrarian and privatization policies and military campaign to destroy coca plants that created jobs and provided a source of livelihood. Disputes over construction of a gas pipeline through Chile which the government proposed instead of Peru the people’s preference resulted in demonstrations. Many Bolivians still resented Chile for taking away in 1884 Bolivia’s access to the Ocean. A combination of poverty, food shortages, unemployment and ethnic problems – challenges existing in Uganda today in 2012 – forced the government to resign as already noted above.

Three main conditions facilitated the success of civil resistance in Bolivia. First, all disgruntled Bolivians regardless of their background and class came together. Ugandans must therefore put aside their differences and personal ambitions and come together wholeheartedly to rescue Uganda. Second, in Bolivia there emerged a capable, bold, charismatic and patriotic opposition leader named Evo Morales. Third, Morales formed a political umbrella organization and drew up an agenda that articulated Bolivia’s problems and recommendations for their solution. This agenda formed the platform for Morales presidential election campaign which he won.

Ugandans in the opposition at home and abroad are already implementing some lessons from Bolivia. First, United Democratic Ugandans (UDU) an umbrella organization of parties and organizations at home and abroad was formed in July 2011 to bring Ugandans together and speak with one voice against the failures of NRM. Second, UDU has prepared a National Recovery Plan (NRP) accessible at as an alternative to the failed NRM policies. Third, Ugandans have already begun demonstrations and strikes that are beginning to disorient the NRM government.

What is remaining is the identification of a national opposition leader of the Morales or Mandela caliber to galvanize all the forces and consolidate the gains Ugandans have already made. The sooner it is done the better. The outside world that is distancing itself from NRM is watching what the opposition does next. It already has a National Recovery Plan which has been well received at home and abroad. What is remaining is political space for its implementation. Professionals to implement the plan are being lined up. The political wind is blowing in favor of the opposition group, the ball in its court, the future in its hands.

The four examples of successful civil resistance against oppressive and uncaring regimes in Bolivia, Ethiopia, Iran and Philippines drawn from different continents should convince those still in doubt and those still bent on military confrontation with the NRM that civil resistance works. However, peaceful resistance succeeds relatively quickly where and when there is unity, a clear common message and leadership that is capable, knowledgeable, bold, networked and, above all, patriotic.