United Democratic Ugandans (UDU) committed itself to reporting regularly its activities, achievements and challenges ahead. We believe in transparency, accountability and full participation of all Ugandans regardless of their political label. That is why we created a blog www.udugandans.org, as a channel of communication. We have also channeled our activities through Ugandans at Heart Forum; The Uganda Citizen, firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; UCOCA COMMUNITY in California among others. We thank Dennis Nyondo of UNAA for the excellent work he has done in broadcasting UDU messages. Some of UDU work has been translated into Luganda and published by Kamunye. Because of these efforts, thanks to all of you, UDU has already become a household name in Uganda and abroad.
At the start of 2011 to June, James Ssemakula, Charlie Lakony and Eric Kashambuzi co-hosted an English program on Radio Munansi for three hours every Saturday and Sunday. The discussions were interactive, constructive and fully participatory. We discussed a very wide range of issues including democracy and in particular 2011 elections; governance (transparency, accountability and popular participation in national decision making processes. We debated at length the issues of corruption, sectarianism, cronyism and mismanagement of public funds); economic (low economic growth, skewed income distribution, high levels of unemployment, under-employment, mass poverty and exclusion), social (education, healthcare and housing) and ecological issues as well as East African economic integration and political federation; immigrants and refugees. We covered the role of development partners and the impact of technical and financial assistance to Uganda’s economy and society.
The debates were particularly intense on the issue of a system of governance suitable for Uganda. We covered distribution of responsibility and authority between the central government on one hand and regional, district and local governments on the other hand taking into consideration unique endowments, culture and history of each entity. Separation of powers among the legislative (making laws), executive (executing laws) and judicial (interpreting laws) branches of government and checks and balances among the three branches of government was a popular topic. We also covered the critical issues of human rights and fundamental freedoms and the role of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in dealing with violators of human rights and freedoms in Uganda.
We discussed constraints in Uganda’s education (quality, school dropout and school lunch), healthcare (re-emergence of old diseases), food and nutrition security (malnutrition killing more Ugandans than malaria) and ecological systems. Regarding the environment the debate examined the rapid disappearance of forests, wetlands/swamps and the associated challenges of droughts, floods, landslides and adverse changes in hydrological (rain) and thermal (temperature) regimes, loss of soil fertility, falling water tables, shrinking water bodies and disappearing rivers; sprawling urban slums and associated crime, destruction of social fabric and frequent flooding especially in Kampala because of irresponsible construction of buildings that have blocked water drainage channels, stagnant water that provides breeding ground for mosquitoes and the spread of malaria. We covered the shortcomings of many parties and organizations at home and abroad and the disadvantages in terms of messaging and overlap in dealings with friends and well wishers.
It was decided that these parties and organizations should come under one umbrella organization to coordinate their activities and speak with one voice.
The birth and christening of UDU
A decision was taken that a meeting should be organized to set up an umbrella organization to coordinate activities of parties and organizations opposed to the NRM government. Another decision was taken that a report summarizing what had been discussed on Radio Munansi and recommendations of those discussions be prepared as background for the meeting. A conference committee was set up and organized the meeting for July 2011 in Los Angeles, California, USA. The report was circulated widely including on Ugandans at Heart Forum and Radio Munansi website. Based on comments the report was finalized and posted on Radio Munansi website before the meeting.
Los Angeles Conference
Although the meeting was for political parties and organizations, some individuals attended. The meeting took place on July 8-9, 2011. Participants came from Europe, Canada and USA. Some organizations that could not make it designated other organizations or individuals to represent them. An umbrella organization was established and was christened United Democratic Ugandans (UDU). A committee and executive were elected unanimously (by acclamation). There was an extensive brainstorming of ideas members considered essential and should form the core of UDU‘s manifesto. It was decided that a follow-up conference should be held in Boston, USA to present the manifesto for discussion and adoption. The committee was mandated to register the organization, draft a constitution and prepare a manifesto which was renamed the National Recovery Plan (NRP). It was also mandated to follow developments at home and take appropriate action. It was also decided that the NRP should be distributed a month in advance to enable appropriate consultations and submission of comments in good time for incorporation into the final draft plan well in advance of the Boston conference which took place on October 8, 2011, exactly three months after the Los Angeles meeting. The deadline was met and we received useful inputs from parties, organizations and individuals. The report written by Ugandans was very well received. FDC has been particularly visible in UDU’s work both in Los Angeles and Boston and since then. FDC representative made a statement at the Boston conference. UDU is very grateful indeed.
The conference devoted the whole day on the discussion of the draft National Recovery Plan. The debate was interactive, substantive and very dynamic. Pertinent questions were raised regarding popularization of the Plan and especially follow-up activities. In adopting the Plan, the committee was congratulated for an excellent work which was done in a timely fashion and was unanimously requested to continue to serve the organization and to report activities regularly. Among other things, the committee was requested to play a coordinating diplomatic role at the bilateral (national governments), multilateral or inter-governmental (United Nations) and Non-governmental (e.g. Human Rights Watch) levels.
Samples of activities undertaken since October 2011
Mindful that reports must be kept short, we shall focus on a few areas. The details are available at www.udugandans.org and Ugandans at Heart Forum.
1. Press statements. We have issues press releases related to violations of human rights in Uganda. These releases were sent to some national governments who responded either by issuing their own press releases or communicated with Uganda government in other ways.
2. We have written to some legislators in foreign countries bringing to their attention the deteriorating conditions in Uganda and the suffering of the people and requested them to lend a hand to the opposition that is battling with a failed and dictatorial NRM regime.
3. We have also communicated with relevant departments of the United Nations and human rights organizations. UDU has thus made a significant contribution to calls to NRM government to desist using excessive force against peaceful demonstrators in exercise of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
4. Those of us who have followed developments at home we have noticed a change in how the police force is dealing with demonstrators. Overall the situation has improved although much more remains to be done. The police for the first time has apologized and held those officers accountable for excess use of force, confirming that Ugandans have the right to demonstrate; strike and refuse to cooperate with the government if their demands are not met. However, in exercising that right, UDU has warned that demonstrators must be disciplined and avoid destroying property and/or attacking opponents or security forces. Intruders to disturb peace should be reported to the police for its action. By and large, in Uganda now the main fear is fear itself among opposition members which we must overcome in order to achieve our goal. It is important to note that NRM government is also afraid about the mushrooming cloud of opposition it had never seen before. Divisions have sprung up within NRM party and government and security forces on how to handle the opposition. Some want more force to be applied, others are saying no. As a matter of fact, some senior officers in the police force have resigned and others dismissed for refusing to apply excessive force against innocent citizens. There are also stories that there are gaps in the army. The president said so in his State of the Nation address. Immediately after that address there were many promotions in the army to buy time. Uganda police and the army are drawing lessons from the French and Russian Revolutions and Tunisian and Egyptian uprising in which the police and soldiers joined the demonstrators or stayed neutral and drove dictators out of power. NRM is aware of the opposition tornado that is gathering speed and when it hits those in NRM who have been intransigent will get hit the hardest. So beware.
5. UDU wrote to the youth, women, national security (army, police and intelligence) and religious leaders urging them to come together and save Uganda from destruction by NRM which has lost direction and has even dropped the Five Year National Development Plan (NDP) as recently reported by the prime minister that succeeded the failed structural adjustment program which was officially abandoned in 2009. That explains why for the first time in twenty six years Uganda’s economy grew at a rate of 3.2 percent lower than population growth of 3.5 percent confirming that the overall standard of living has declined further with 81 percent reporting they are poorer than before. UDU regrets this sad development in a country that has received massive foreign aid and technical assistance and is endowed with human and natural resources. It reflects inability or unwillingness on the part of NRM to serve the citizens of Uganda.
6. UDU has also written many articles including those calling on the government to manage Uganda forests sustainably and to produce an assessment report on the environmental impact of the oil industry. We have also disagreed with the prime minister’s idea of dispossessing small holder farmers and giving their land to domestic and foreign large scale farmers on the false expectation that they would increase productivity and total production. The prime minister is technically wrong. Small scale farmers when appropriately supported with say affordable energy supply; transport and credit, they are more productive, more efficient, more environmentally and more socially friendly than large scale farmers. That is why the international community including the G8, the United Nations and World Bank has decided to support small holder farmers including those in Uganda.
7. UDU has also raised questions about the kind of East African economic integration and political federation we want and how to proceed. Uganda must reap net gains but has not happened so far (Uganda always has trade deficits and is home to immigrants and refugees that are now demanding citizenship). Ugandans do not expect that Uganda will be absorbed into one East Africa as some leaders are saying. Integration and federation should be designed to strengthen the nation state to better deliver goods and services to its citizens, not to destroy it. Therefore Uganda borders are and must remain inviolable. The adoption of one East African language does not mean that local languages that give identity to the users must be abolished. We have stressed that economic integration must come first, negotiated step by step and sector by sector and avoid taking decisions in a hurry. Political federation should come last. NRM wants it first. This is like putting a cart before the horse or building a house starting with the roof. Many UDU members wonder what was in NRM’s mind when it came up with fast tracking political federation ahead of economic integration and it is equally unclear why other member states accepted it. UDU has cautioned that we should avoid the mistakes of the first East African Community which did not survive to celebrate its tenth anniversary. And many of those challenges are still alive and well. That the differences are narrowing as Uganda is arguing does not make a convincing case for moving forward so fast.
8. We have received a variety of responses, some very constructive, others just designed to discourage what we are doing. But there is unanimous agreement that the National Recovery Plan is an excellent document. The government has not responded officially. Recently we submitted for comment a synthesis of ideas about the kind of Uganda Ugandans want.
9. UDU’s work is work in progress. We look forward to your concrete ideas on the way forward. We thank you all for your participation. UDU is an all embracing umbrella organization welcoming groups and others even from NRM unhappy with the sad developments in Uganda particularly rampant corruption, sectarianism, cronyism and mismanagement of public funds which have badly tarnished the image of the NRM government. UDU is determined to change Uganda’s current unhappy development trajectory as articulated in the National Recovery Plan which contrasts with the failed policies of NRM. Going by the vast differences the president’s State of the Nation address and his budget speech, it is unclear whether or not NRM has a policy.
10. I am happy for the opportunity to serve you in my capacity as Secretary General with overall responsibility for the administration of UDU and coordination of the diplomatic portfolio. I will continue to do so to the best of my ability.
For God and My Country
Secretary General, UDU