Political marriage of convenience hasn’t worked in Uganda

Pressure is building up for the opposition at home and abroad to come together and remove NRM from power and establish a new government. We are already witnessing a lot of travelling between Uganda and Europe and North America and groups being formed overnight in readiness to take up their seats in the new government. For some what is important and urgent is removal of the regime and the rest will follow.

This rush to form coalitions or political marriages of convenience reminds us of what happened in Uganda shortly before independence in 1962 with UNC (Obote branch) joining UPU to form UPC and then UPC forming a coalition with KY and in Moshi just before the overthrow of Amin regime in 1979.

In the latter case, Ugandans in the Diaspora who had nothing in common except to defeat and replace Amin administration gathered in Moshi and agreed to form a new government with nothing else in common. As expected trouble started immediately they arrived in Kampala: innocent people were killed and others fled. Lule’s government was overthrown after 68 days in office. A hurriedly organized election was rejected by those who lost and led to a bloody guerrilla war that left some 700,000 people dead in the Luwero Triangle alone.

In an attempt to unseat NRM government, opposition groups are rushing to form coalitions that may end up as temporary marriages of convenience. There are two major challenges at the moment that need to be addressed comprehensively.

The first one is about the method to apply in removing the current regime from power. One school wants armed violence in the first instance, reasoning that fire must be met with fire. This school is only focusing on mobilization for war. The second school is advocating civil disobedience or non-violent dissent in the first instance using a wide range of methods that have been circulated by The Hague Process that go beyond regime change, to be tailored to local circumstances. A meeting of the minds needs to be reached to avoid a winner-take-all situation that will destabilize the post-NRM regime period.

The second challenge is what to do the morning after a new government is formed. There are groups that have already produced blue prints on economic and political matters and there are those that are focusing on regime change and hope to do the rest after regime change. The third category includes those who are hoping that another occasion similar to the Moshi conference will develop and all groups with or without any mission and vision will be invited to form the next government. The Moshi model should not be repeated under any circumstances.

UDU that was founded in 2011 has prepared a National Recovery Plan (NRP) widely circulated and available at www.udugandans.org. The Hague Process (THP) has prepared a political road map of non-violent resistance and formation of a broad-based transitional government led by a presidential council.

We urge groups that have not done so to begin without delay. In this regard, we suggest that for the sake of coherence and coordination for efficiency and effectiveness they use as a base what UDU and THP have already produced, enrich them as appropriate instead of re-inventing the wheel so that in the end we have one common document.

Failure to address these two challenges and to stick to agreements among various groups might lead to political chaos and possibly a civil war that followed revolutions including in France, Mexico, Russia, Ethiopia and Iran.

As a reminder of what could go wrong if the advice is not heeded we shall look at Mexico in and after 1910 and Somalia in 1991 and after when a promise was broken.

In Mexico three men got together in a hurry and ousted the repressive government of Porfirio Diaz who had been in power for thirty-five years and then disagreed about how to work together in the new government, plunging the country into a bitter civil war.

We shall also outline how three opposition groups in Somalia agreed in a hurry to work together, overthrow the repressive government of Siad Barre and form a new government after all three had consulted but one of them chose to form the government alone and triggered a political crisis. These lessons should help Uganda opposition groups to forge a common platform and stick to promises or decisions taken.

Three Mexicans – with different perspectives – namely Francisco Madero a conservative who presented himself as a liberal and called for a revolution against Diaz was joined by Francisco “Pancho” Villa a bandit believed to have killed somebody, became a fugitive and survived by robbing the rich and Emeliano Zapata whose main interest was to get land and liberty back to the peasants. The revolution was successful and Madero became president. Diaz fled the country. Sadly, the revolution was followed by a civil war because the three men had no common strategy.

Madero stalled on land reform which he had promised Zapata as a condition for joining him. Zapata who had no patience demanded that land reform be initiated without further delay. When that did not materialize he left the government and formed anti-Madero army.

In the political chaos that followed, Pascual Orozco, the army commander mounted a counter-revolution. Pancho Villa joined General Victoriano Huerta and defeated Orozco. Huerta got Madero murdered and became president.

Huerta was hated by both Villa and Zapata who joined Alvaro Obregon and Venustiano Carranza against him. Huerta was defeated and fled into exile to Spain. In turn, Obregon and Carranza hated and feared Villa, the bandit-revolutionary. Zapata refused to recognize Carranza as the new head of state. Zapata, the socialist land reformer and Villa arranged to join forces and oust Carranza but disagreed on how to run the country after they captured power.

Before capturing state power, Villa had suggested that he become commander in chief of the forces of the two men. Zapata refused to go along. Two days later both men leading their separate forces entered Mexico City and proceeded to the presidential palace that had earlier been vacated by Carranza. Villa and Zapata disagreed the second time over sitting in the presidential chair. Villa who was apparently more interested in power than Zapata sat in the presidential chair first and then called on Zapata to take his turn. Zapata refused arguing that “I did not fight for that. I fought to get the land back”. He added “We should burn that chair to end all ambitions”.

Notwithstanding these differences, the two men complemented each other. Villa had a stronger army but no coherent political goals while Zapata had a clear political vision and a weaker army. If the two had been able to come together, “Mexico would have been spared much bloodshed”(Joseph Cummins 2008) during the civil war.

The lesson for Uganda here is that we should come together and utilize our talents for the common good according to our comparative advantages, not fight for positions we may not be qualified for and then start learning on the job. To test the quality of leadership in The Hague Process, we have arranged to rotate the post of chairperson.

Somalia presents an illustration where three opposition groups: Somali National Movement (SNM), Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM) and United Somali Congress (USC) came together and agreed to fight and remove the repressive government of Siad Barre. They also agreed they would consult one another before the new government is formed. When the government fell, there were no consultations. Instead, Mohammed Ali Mahdi, leader of one of USC factions formed the government alone. “The USC, a Hawiye-based movement began ruthlessly killing all non-Hawiye living in Mogadishu in an attempt at ‘clan cleansing’…. For the northerners, who already disliked their southern brethren’s behavior during the war, this was the last straw. In February and March 1991, a shir (assembly) was held in Berbera in which the Issaq, the major northern clan family, decided that union with the south was a bad idea”(Current History May 1998). A second shir held in May 1991 proclaimed the independence of Somaliland, a former British colony.

While proclamation of independent Somaliland may have solved one problem, it created another one. In Somaliland, the Issaq make up 70 percent of the population, meaning that the new state would be dominated by them. The four smaller clans (Issa, Gadabursi, Dolbahante and Warsangeli) had fought with Siad Barre because they feared that if Siad Barre’s government were defeated and Somaliland seceded, they would be dominated by Issaq. The proclamation of Somaliland independence was therefore greeted by dissent and armed rebellion by different clans and sub-clans. The sub-clan controlling Berbera area refused to share port revenues with other clans. The dominant Habr Garhadjis group attacked Berbera “in the interest of the state”(Current History May 1998). All this would not have happened if the three parties had stuck to the promise of consultation before a new government was formed.

One lesson is pertinent: in whatever we do we must respect human rights and fundamental freedoms of Ugandans wherever they reside in the country. There must be no room whatsoever for ethnic cleansing in Uganda during and after regime change as happened in Mogadishu.

To recap the two illustrations have demonstrated that political marriages of convenience have not worked most of the time, undermining security of persons and properties. It happened in Uganda in 1966 and 1969. The four lessons (two from Uganda, one from Mexico and one from Somalia) should guide us in designing a common platform for regime change and what to do the morning after in a transitional phase.

Guided by these and other lessons of history, The Hague Process (THP) has adopted a road map to unseat NRM regime by peaceful means in the first instance and to create a broad-based transitional government led by a presidential council with each region represented.

This arrangement if embraced by all has a better chance of delivering better results in a more secure environment than if we rush individually to capture power, leaving many behind. UDU and THP are prepared to enter into a constructive engagement with those interested in the messages contained in these pages, resulting in the formation of a governing structure to lead the process to the formation of a transitional government.

Eric Kashambuzi