Resolving Uganda challenges will require partnership and a level playing field

What Ugandans want that has been denied by NRM government is recognized by the international community and the African Union (AU) both of which Uganda is a member. The United Nations Millennium Declaration of 2000 and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance of 2007 state very clearly what Ugandans are struggling for against stiff NRM resistance. Here is a sample of what we mean.

Regarding freedom that has been denied to Ugandans, the Millennium Declaration states: “Men and women have the right to live their lives and raise their children in dignity, free from hunger and from the fear of violence, oppression or injustice. Democratic and participatory governance based on the will of the people best ensures these rights” Regarding equality that Ugandans do not enjoy, the Declaration states: “No individual and no nation must be denied the opportunity to benefit from development. The equal rights and opportunities of women and men must be assured”. On tolerance that is a very rare commodity in Uganda, the Declaration states: “Human being must respect one another, in their diversity of belief, culture and language. Differences within and between societies should be neither feared nor repressed, but cherished as a precious asset of humanity. A culture of peace and dialogue among all civilizations should be actively promoted”. On respect for nature which has been trampled in Uganda, the Declaration states: “Prudence must be shown in the management of all living species and natural resources, in accordance with the precepts of sustainable development”.

On human rights and freedoms which have been violated in Uganda, the African Union (AU) Charter states: “State Parties shall ensure that citizens enjoy fundamental freedoms and human rights…”. It adds “State Parties shall adopt and implement policies, strategies and programs required to generate productive employment, mitigate the impact of diseases and alleviate poverty and eradicate extreme poverty and illiteracy”. Article 39 of the Charter states: “State Parties shall promote a culture of respect, compromise, consensus and tolerance as a means to mitigate conflicts, promote political stability and security…”. Regarding elections Article 17 states: “State Parties re-affirm their commitment to regularly holding transparent, free and fair elections…”. To this end State Parties shall: “Establish and strengthen independent and impartial national electoral bodies responsible for the management of elections”. What is mentioned above is what the opposition is trying to achieve but NRM government which adopted these documents in New York and Addis Ababa in 2000 and 2007 respectively has refused to implement what it adopted. Can this paradox be explained?

The principles and requirements in the UN Millennium Declaration and AU Charter were contained in the ten point program published in 1985 that formed the framework for NRM government when it captured power in 1986. However, in 1987, the ten point program was overthrown in a silent coup by stabilization and structural adjustment program (SAP). The implementation of SAP turned everything upside down, creating the problems directly and indirectly the country is facing. The SAP model was based on market forces and private sector as the engine of economic growth (with virtually no state intervention in the economy), job creation and equitable distribution of economic growth benefits and poverty reduction through a trickle down mechanism. Government revenue generated from the sale of public enterprises and revenue collected from a broader tax base would be used to develop education, healthcare, housing, infrastructure and institutions. Sadly, the model did not work as designed and/or implemented.

Economic growth did not approach the 8-9 per cent annual growth rate, jobs created fell far short of demand resulting in over 80 percent of youth unemployment, and absolute poverty has remained very high – over 50 percent. Accelerated agricultural production for export markets has damaged the environment through de-vegetation and over exploitation of forests and fisheries.

An alternative National Recovery Plan (NRP) has been produced by United Democratic Ugandans (UDU) an umbrella organization of opposition parties and organizations at home and abroad. It was submitted to the government for comment in September 2011 but no response has been posted yet. To implement this new Plan, we have suggested that opposition becomes an integral part of the government which NRM is resisting. NRM does not have the political will (it has been undermined by rampant corruption, sectarianism and cronyism) and capacity to implement the NRP which is based on a model different from the SAP one. The NRP is based on the model of public and private sector partnership whereas the SAP model was based on market forces, laissez faire and trickle down mechanism. The implementers of SAP model have no capacity for the NRP model. SAP was abandoned in 2009 but no credible replacement has been found. The National Development Plan which was adopted in 2009 has not taken off yet because it is saddled with insurmountable problems including appropriate human capacity. This problem can only be resolved through NRM willingness to work with the opposition that has expertise and experience for the NRP model which has been well received by domestic and external commentators. The NRP is accessible at In line with Article 39 of AU Charter, some members in the opposition are willing and ready to negotiate with NRM on the basis of compromise, consensus and tolerance to reach a mutually acceptable arrangement.

The opposition declared the 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections null and void because they did not meet the requirements of transparent, free and fair elections and independent electoral commission. Millions of Uganda voters were disenfranchised and foreigners took part in the elections illegally. International and regional observer missions reported serious irregularities especially lack of a level playing field which was stressed by the Commonwealth Observer Team. Thus, we in the opposition consider NRM government illegitimate and do not recognize it. That is why we are advocating for a transitional government to prepare for transparent, free and fair elections.

To galvanize the international community in order to put pressure on the government and enter into negotiations with the opposition, Ugandans are exercising their rights and freedoms of assembly, association and expressing their opinions about shortcomings of the NRM regime. Instead of tolerance and respect for the views of the opposition, the NRM regime has responded by using force that has resulted in loss of human life including women and children, wounded, arrested and jailed innocent and peaceful demonstrators. The international community has complained against the use of force but the government continues to use it or frustrate the opposition in other ways including blocking them from getting to the demonstration sites. Religious leaders who are championing the cause of suffering Ugandans and are calling on the government to provide relief have become the target of attack by government agencies and are being accused of attempts to destabilize national security. This is designed to silence them. Opposing NRM has become synonymous with threatening national security. We hope that the international and Uganda communities will rally behind religious leaders in their efforts to ease the suffering of Uganda people.

As they say, it takes two to tangle on an equal footing. NRM‘s resistance to peaceful and non-violent negotiations with the opposition may result in arms struggle as a last resort. We shall not allow NRM intransigence to continue indefinitely. When arms conflict starts we expect the international community and the African Union to condemn the NRM government for refusing to compromise and cooperate with the opposition that has extended an olive branch. The opposition has the National Recovery Plan and is ready to begin its implementation once a political space has been provided.

Happy Easter

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