Organize and unite, start and we shall help you liberate Uganda

There are Ugandans who still harbor the notion that a foreign power (s) will dispatch troops to Uganda, remove Museveni and his government and install a new one. And they are complaining bitterly why the suffering of Ugandans has been ignored. It is unclear where they got this idea of foreign invasion from or that the suffering of the people of Uganda is ignored. What is clear is that foreign powers, organizations and individuals have not closed their eyes and ears to the suffering of Ugandans. They are seeing, they are consulting, they are hearing, they are acting privately and publicly. We have read press releases expressing concern about violation of human rights and freedoms in Uganda. We have also seen missions dispatched to Uganda for direct talks with the government. Museveni and NRM image has shifted from a darling of the west to a dictatorial regime uncaring about the welfare of Ugandans. That is a powerful message. Museveni is scared. Some world leaders have spoken eloquently about their opposition to dictatorial regimes that have overstayed in power. They have been warned that they are on the wrong side of history. And you know who these leaders are. The dictatorial regimes they are talking about include Uganda. So let us be very careful how we express our feelings. That is why it is important ideally to have one spokesperson with a command of the appropriate diplomatic language to use to convey messages without ruffling feathers.

I have consulted widely about regime change in Uganda and appealed for external help. Without exception, I have been asked what we Ugandans are doing about it. Some told me frankly that Uganda opposition groups need to come together under one leader with a common goal and strategy and begin the process of liberating Uganda. The external decision to assist or not will depend on the progress we make and the method we use. I was reminded that KANU and UNIP governing parties in Kenya and Zambia respectively were defeated in elections because opposition groups came together under Kibaki and Chiluba respectively. Someone familiar with the struggle in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) reminded me that white minority rule would probably have lasted longer if ZANU and ZAPU liberation movements had not come together under the Patriotic Front umbrella. This action encouraged foreign powers to bring Ian Smith government to the negotiating table and to hammer out a constitution and agreement on 1980 as the year of independence. Recent cases of Egypt, Libya and now Syria demonstrate that foreign help will be extended on the basis of progress being made by nationals. So what do we do? Let me recap some of the suggestions that have been made.

First, Ugandans in the opposition at home and abroad must come together under one leader. A start was made in July 2011 when United Democratic Ugandans (UDU) was created. It held a conference in October 2011 and adopted the National Recovery Plan (NRP) a common development blue print which was distributed extensively to facilitate consultations before the conference took place. The plan is posted at It was, however, agreed that individual parties and organizations would continue to exist and remain engaged provided activities were harmonized through UDU and speak with one voice. This is being done at the diplomatic level with member states and intergovernmental organizations with positive outcomes. This coordination of effort by UDU has been welcomed in diplomatic circles. Some of you have seen press releases and thematic statements issued by UDU. So let us build on that.

Second, we need to realize that Uganda belongs to all Ugandans. We should avoid the practice of zero-sum games or winner-take (s)-all. Most of NRM supporters are innocent people suffering under dictatorship of a few people (we should especially avoid general accusations that every westerner has caused suffering to the rest of Ugandans and should therefore be punished when NRM government falls. These false statements by angry people scare westerners and give them no alternative but to stay with the devil they know). The opposition should therefore try to work with those in the NRM willing to join a transition government.

Third, we need to agree on one goal and strategy. The goal should be to unseat NRM. Others will come later. Some goals give the impression that if NRM conformed then NRM could stay. Regarding the strategy, there are those who favor military confrontation right away because fire must be met with fire. There are those who want to begin with civil resistance because that is where NRM is weakest. A military option as the first method of liberating Uganda has one major problem: There is no support for it in the international community and increasingly among Ugandans. But should the government use disproportionate force against civil resistance then a military response should be invoked in self defense which would receive external and internal endorsement as happened in Libya. For this reason, military training should be undertaken.

Civil resistance has worked in Iran, Philippines, Bolivia, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen etc. It is important to note that the Walk-to-Work strategy although short-lived worked. New investment declined considerably. It sent a message that Uganda is becoming unsafe and should be avoided. The recent strike by business community must have caused some loss in GDP and government revenue. Tourists and international conference organizers will begin to think carefully before they choose to visit or convene in Uganda. It is therefore recommended that civil resistance should continue to take place using different methods such as demonstrations, strikes, sit-ins and non-cooperation. What is needed is the emergence of champions at national and local levels that are bold, innovative and have the capacity to mobilize. Location specific methods should be used, avoiding NRM agents as much as possible. We should also develop intelligence networks to collect information and avoid being divided by NRM. It is relatively easy to paralyze Uganda economy which depends overwhelmingly on Kampala for 70 percent of Uganda’s GDP. An urban resistance approach should receive serious consideration.

Civil resistance should be tried because it has many advantages. It is less destructive in lives, property, infrastructure and institutions. You stay at home and at work unlike armed struggle which forces you to live in the bush. You can resist NRM even when you are working for it. That is the beauty of civil resistance. Try the ‘war of the flea’ approach. It attacks the enemy in all parts simultaneously by individuals acting alone or with others. Target areas for attack that will cause panic to the government but avoid hurting people. Deny Kampala food and the elites will jump in anger at the government. The economy will collapse and patronage money will dry up. When that happens, the generals won’t be paid, civil servants won’t be paid, police officers won’t be paid, prison officers won’t be paid and the judges won’t be paid. They will desert the Chief Commander and he will be stranded with his military equipment and safe houses. That is what happened in Iran in 1979, in Philippines in 1986, in Soviet Union in 1991. It has happened elsewhere. Try it. Do not be afraid remembering at all times that it is foolish to walk into the lion’s den. Also do not be pessimistic, stay cool and avoid talking or writing when you are angry or tired or under stress. Some writers and radio hosts give the impression of acting under these conditions. Readers or listeners can detect and will be put off. Nobody wants to join desperate people who attack everyone including those in their own camp. Argue to convince, not to repel listeners. Show leadership, be constructive, be optimistic.

Fourth, in order to move forward fast, I have suggested that we need dedicated and truly patriotic leaders of known record and history of the Mandela type to bring opposition groups under one umbrella. We also need a leader from NRM who is unhappy with the way Uganda is being governed like de Clerk of South African apartheid regime who decided to join hands with Mandela to save South Africa for all. As we all know we need a representative of the international community who wants to see a quick, peaceful regime change to facilitate negotiations. This person should have the profile of Mcleod who served as British Colonial Secretary in 1059-61 and brought forward independence dates East African territories and facilitated release of Kenyatta of Kenya and Banda of Nyasaland (now Malawi). We must also accept that at any one time there can be one national leader. Besides, leadership isn’t only the head of state.

Let me end with this observation. Museveni believes that he and his mercenaries fought and defeated and colonized Uganda and Ugandans. That is why Ugandans who fought with him have been marginalized if they are still alive. He considers Uganda his territory and Ugandans his subjects who have no right to tell him what to do. He has said many times that he cannot be expected to hunt, kill a beast and then let someone else enjoy the meat. That is why he said in 1994 in a conversation with a foreign journalist that he does not blame colonizers but colonized people if they were stupid to allow themselves to be colonized. He thinks Ugandans are stupid and have allowed themselves to be colonized again. He has said Ugandans are bankrupt, empty tins. Museveni will never leave the presidency voluntarily unless he becomes president of the East African federation which in any case will include Uganda which he will leave under care of his relative. Therefore Museveni will never accept restoration of term limits and a level electoral playing field including independent electoral commission because he knows the consequences of that decision. He will therefore need to be helped to exit. Let us start and our neighbors, friends and well wishers will join us.