The people of Uganda are beginning to take a probing interest in Uganda’s politics. But I wonder whether we understand the potential dangers ahead. The 2011 elections have introduced worrying elements particularly the participation of foreigners in Uganda’s electoral process. If this practice is not stopped, we could easily have an Ivory Coast situation in 2016.
The purpose of this contribution is to compare Oliver Cromwell who started off as a liberator and ended up as one of the worst dictators with absolute power and intolerance of opponents. Let us briefly review conditions that led to the emergence of Cromwell as the Lord Protector of a republican government in England.
The Stuart kings succeeded the Tudor kings of England who had been very careful in dealing with parliament and succeeded in hiding their absolutism. King James I, the first Stuart King of England, subscribed to the doctrine of the divine right of kings and lectured to parliament about it. James wrote “The state of monarchy is the supreme thing on earth” and kings “sit upon God’s throne”. He added that “as to dispute what God may do is blasphemy, so is it sedition … to dispute what a king may do” (N. Barber 2006). Parliament objected to absolute monarchy.
Charles I, James’ successor made matters worse. Besides being rude, he had difficulties working with anyone especially parliament. Charles dismissed parliament when it refused to vote for the money he wanted. Out of options to raise money on his own he called parliament back into session in 1640 to vote him money. Instead of giving him the money, parliament decided to check his rising absolutism. Fed up with insubordination, Charles and an armed force loyal to him stormed parliament to arrest leaders, but they had been tipped off and had gone. Charles regrouped and built an army to fight parliament and rule with divine right of kings.
In self defense parliament also created an army led by Oliver Cromwell, a member of parliament. A civil war erupted in 1642 and Charles lost. He was arrested, tried and sentenced to death and beheaded in 1649.The monarchy was abolished and the House of Lords disbanded.
Oliver Cromwell who fought the king because of absolutism and wanted to restore the supremacy of parliament ended up far more absolutist than Charles I before him. He created a republican form of government called a commonwealth or “The Protectorate” and proclaimed himself the Lord Protector of the republic. He quickly introduced a military dictatorship and snatched power away from parliament. Because he controlled the army, Cromwell wielded the power. He proved to be harsh, strict and brutal and had no tolerance for those who disagreed with his ideas.
Cromwell subsequently placed England under martial law, that is he ruled by military means. He censured the press and used spies widely for all sorts of things including intercepting mail. He disbanded parliament in 1653. The English people who welcomed Cromwell for restoring order grew tired of him. In 1658 he died of malaria and few mourned his death. Richard Cromwell succeeded his father. He was forced to abdicate after six months.
Because military dictatorship turned out worse than monarchy, a newly elected parliament restored the English monarchy in 1660. The conflict between it and the kings resulted in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. James II was deposed by parliament which invited William and Mary to become the English monarch after accepting terms and conditions that established the supremacy of parliament and a constitutional monarchy in England.
Museveni can easily be compared with Cromwell. Museveni started the guerrilla war to end rigging elections. He promised government by the people through parliament, free and fair elections. The people of Uganda would be sovereign served by the government. The army would protect international borders and stay out of politics. Police would maintain law and order and it too would stay out of politics.
Since 1996 all the elections have been rigged in favor of Museveni. He launched a harsh economic policy in 1987 that has caused untold suffering. He has crippled parliament which has rubber stamp status, the civil service has been marginalized and humiliated and the judiciary has lost its independence. The cabinet exists in name only with no power to decide anything. Museveni has become a military dictator ruling with absolute power. Like Cromwell, Museveni controls the army which he has used to impose himself on the people of Uganda.
Like Oliver Cromwell, Museveni has set up all sorts of restrictions including spies at home and abroad and torture chambers. He has no tolerance for those who oppose his views. A report in BBC of March 23, 2011 has accused the police of torturing Ugandans who are beaten with objects including batons, glass bottles and metal pipes. This is a serious violation of human rights. These actions should be condemned and the perpetrators including the inspector general of police tried.
Museveni is now in the process of forming an illegitimate government. The 2011 elections have no legitimacy given the scale of rigging and above all using foreigners to vote for him and other NRM candidates. Museveni needs to be reined in by a combined effort of all Ugandans including NRM supporters because when violence starts (it is likely to happen) there won’t be boundaries separating NRM supporters from the rest.
Ugandans must not accept an illegitimate government. Current negotiations moderated by religious leaders should lead to the establishment of a transitional coalition government to prepare for another round of free and fair elections. The sovereignty of the people must be restored soon. Opposition leaders must not make the mistake of accepting cabinet posts in the hope of changing Museveni from the inside. Doing so would only give Museveni the opportunity to phase out opposition parties and re-establish a one-party state.
Like the British in England, Ugandans welcomed Museveni as a liberator. Twenty five years down the road Ugandans have grown tired of the military dictator.