Success or failure is a matter of strategy

Too often people involved in the struggle for change confuse the goal and the strategy or the means to achieve the goal. The goal remains the same but the strategy adapts to changing circumstances. Let us take South Africa as an illustration. The African National Congress (ANC) was formed in 1912 to end a white minority system of government (the goal) by non-violent means based on Gandhian principles and tactics (the strategy). However, following the massacre of peaceful demonstrators at Sharpeville in 1960, ANC changed the strategy from nonviolent campaign to armed struggle. The goal or the principle remained the same. The war got prolonged and became very destructive and expensive on both sides. Under the mature and wise leadership of Mandela and de Clerk and perhaps assisted by a hidden external hand, ANC and apartheid government decided to negotiate a settlement. The ANC suspended the guerrilla war and began negotiations (a new strategy) to end the white minority system of government (the original goal). In 1994 after hard negotiations of give and take the white minority government system was defeated at the negotiating table and black majority rule was achieved with Mandela as president, Mbeki as first deputy president and de Clerk the last president under the white minority government as second deputy president. In the course of the negotiations the whites were assured that they would not be thrown into the ocean. Three further observations are in order. First, it is important to note that negotiations cannot take place until both sides have agreed to the solution. A third party working covertly or overtly may be needed to create an environment for a decision to be taken and negotiations to begin. Second, negotiations must be conducted with honesty by all stakeholders and implement the agreement reached. Third, negotiations must continue notwithstanding obstacles that may even lead to a temporary breakdown until an agreement is reached.

Before the establishment of United Democratic Ugandans (UDU) in July 2011 there was extensive debate about the goal of the umbrella organization of forces opposed to the NRM. Ultimately there was consensus that the goal is to remove the NRM system, establish a transitional government to organize multiparty elections at an appropriate time. There was no consensus then and there is none now regarding the strategy to remove the NRM system. Some have favored armed struggle reasoning that that is the only language that NRM understands. But that is where NRM is strongest and the international and regional mood is not in favor of armed struggle to remove a government as the one in Uganda considered by some to be an elected one. Others have opted for non-violent resistance because (1) it has worked for example in Iran (targeted assassinations and guerrilla resistance failed), Philippines and Bolivia. (2) It is less costly and those proposing it believe it is where NRM is weakest. (3) Killing unarmed and peaceful demonstrators by NRM will be more difficult to defend than destroying guerrillas that might be dubbed terrorists to deny them international recognition and financial support and diplomatic cover. (4) It is considered relatively easy to mobilize the disgruntled, impoverished and unemployed and underemployed Ugandans especially the youth for nonviolent campaigns.

UDU has since its establishment in 2011 undertaken a radical analysis (to get to the root cause of the problem) of Uganda’s political economy in a historical context to inform the public why the NRM system has not met expectations of Ugandans despite rosy promises. Some readers have not liked what has been published but that is what happens when critical and controversial information has been kept out of public view for a long time. They think writers are too radical (in a negative sense). They need to realize that good analysts like good medical doctors get to the root cause of the problem and inform the public of the findings. Should the doctor indefinitely refrain from mentioning the root cause of the illness to avoid upsetting the patient? The sole purpose of this analytical research, writing and publication task is to give Ugandans and development partners adequate information to facilitate debate and informed decisions.

Recognizing that every citizen has a place in Uganda, zero-sum games that have cause too much suffering with many Ugandans languishing in exile should not be entertained in future discourses. Rather the goal should be to remove systems that have created obstacles to the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in national, regional and international instruments. Poverty, unemployment, disease, functional illiteracy, ecological destruction, corruption, sectarianism and moral decay under NRM regime call for urgent action. Focus on economic growth and strong security and intelligence forces have not served Uganda well. We need to recall that before the 1979 revolution, Iran had the most sophisticated military weapons and intelligence network and a modernization program. The majority of Iranians were not impressed. A few families connected to the Shah benefitted the most from the modern economy which also undermined traditional and religious practices. If the Shah and his domestic and external advisers had read the direction and speed of the wind of change properly and negotiated with the opposition in good time, the revolution and its offshoots might probably have been avoided. They trusted the might of the military and intelligence and underestimated the force of civil resistance waged in the final days from the outskirts of Paris. Like in Ethiopia before the fall of the emperor and in Philippines before the fall of Marcos, the armed forces deserted the Shah. Why can’t it happen in Uganda? This is a lesson that Uganda and her friends and well wishers should draw from and take appropriate action before it is too late because Ugandans are now different from what they were before the stolen 2011 elections.

It is for this reason that an idea has been floated to have a Mandela for the opposition, a de Clerk for the NRM and a Macleod (he was British Colonial Secretary from 1959 to 1961 and speeded up Africa’s decolonization process and facilitated release from prison of Kenyatta (Kenya) and Banda (then Nyasaland, now Malawi) to participate in decolonization discussions) for the international community working directly or indirectly to facilitate negotiations. These should be individuals that have an impeccable record and strong character, are respected and are fully conversant with Uganda’s political economy situation. They would lead negotiations for the establishment of a transitional government to avoid a repeat of what led to the Iranian revolution in 1979. Why a Macleod or third party is needed can be derived from the 1979 Moshi conference experience. Without the government of Tanzania that pulled all the groups together that until then could not talk to one another there would probably have been no Uganda group strong and respected enough to bring other groups together. Sadly, we have not overcome that shortcoming, hence the need for a Macleod.

Meanwhile, negotiations should begin by government, opposition groups and civil societies to establish an independent electoral commission and fix presidential term limits, restore separation of powers especially independence of the judiciary, streamline campaign finance which has favored NRM candidates and seal loopholes that have permitted corruption and sectarianism to thrive. With these arrangements in place, it will be relatively easy for the transitional government to organize multi-party elections in an environment of a level playing field to form a new government.

On the development front, United Democratic Ugandans (UDU) has already prepared a National Recovery Plan (NRP) which was circulated widely to Ugandans abroad and at home including the NRM government and development partners. The Plan has been very well received and was finalized at the end of 2011. A final copy is available at The transitional government will use the Plan as it is or in a modified form. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Those who may need further information or have comments on the Plan please contact