I write these stories with a heavy heart and watery eyes. It is heart breaking that Tutsi who were admitted into Uganda on humanitarian grounds as refugees and on a temporary basis when they were chased out of Rwanda in the wake of the 1959 Social Revolution have turned their guns on us and colonized our country and turned us into serfs to labor for their comfort. Those Ugandans who refused have been killed, jailed or forced into exile. The mysterious death of a young MP has stirred emotions of many Ugandans at home and abroad. She shouldn’t die in vain. Her untimely passing should serve as a rallying cry for all Ugandans at home and abroad with a view to making far reaching political changes.
Museveni tricked Ugandans who were unhappy with Obote and Amin regimes promising them to regain what they had lost in the political and economic areas. Catholics were promised the presidency and Baganda were promised return of federo, Mailo land and forests but none has come to pass and it is more than twenty six years since the promises were made.
Uganda has been described as a failed state under a military dictatorship disguised as democratic. Many of those supporting the NRM government publicly have misgivings when contacted privately. The question that has occupied center stage in discussions about the future of Uganda is what should be done to turn the country around before it is too late. Five ideas have been proposed.
First, there are those who are still committed to NRM for whatever reason and want it to stay. They are suggesting that pressure should be applied to NRM leadership to make the necessary changes and reverse the current failed trajectory. But the changes they are suggesting such as restoration of presidential term limits, ending corruption, sectarianism and mismanagement, formation of an independent electoral commission, limiting advantages of incumbency, restoration of independence of the judiciary and keeping the military out of politics will ensure defeat of NRM at the next elections. NRM is not a popular party and it is these malpractices that have kept it in power. In free and fair elections NRM cannot win. Therefore NRM is unlikely to go along with this advice. NRM has become like a very sick person that cannot work anymore and has to be retired. In other words NRM does not have the will and capacity under fundamentally changed economic circumstances – from neo-liberalism to public-private partnership – to turn the country around. If allowed to stay in power, NRM, crippled with all sorts of problems, will only make matters worse and the damage will be more costly down the road.
There have been debates whether a country should consolidate its political or economic base first. On balance the consensus is in favor of the latter – the economy should form the foundation upon which to build the nation’s democracy and governance. The importance of the economy was recognized from the early days of Uganda’s protectorate. In his letter dated July 1, 1899 appointing Sir H. H. Johnson as Special Commissioner for Uganda, the Secretary of State, The Marques of Salisbury, stressed that the main object in Uganda was to organize the administration on lines that would facilitate the development of the economy to meet the requirements of the Protectorate. The issues of land tenure, agriculture, transport, trade and currency occupied center stage of the Commissioner’s work during his stay in the country.
Although a trade unionist, Obote understood the importance of the economy in Uganda’s post independence development. During the early part of UPC I (1962-1970), apart from being Prime Minister Obote also served as Chairman of the Planning Commission. He stressed the importance of economic independence through rapid economic development. Agriculture and rural development the source of livelihood of the majority of Ugandans, raw materials for industries and export earnings were given pride of place in Uganda’s first 5-year development plan (1961-1966). During UPC II, Obote did not lose sight of the importance of the economy in Uganda’s development. That is why he added the post of minister of finance to that of the president.
Some Ugandans and non-Ugandans who have doubts that peaceful demonstrations alone (which I support) will squeeze Museveni and NRM illegitimate government out of power have asked me to explain the mechanism through which it will happen. Let me state right away that I have opted for peaceful demonstrations because their potential for human loss, injuries and displacement as well as destruction of property is much lower than the military option.
Uganda is a small country with a vulnerable economy dependent on external forces through exports, donations and soft loans, foreign investors, foreign experts and advisers, tourism and remittances by Ugandans living abroad. All we need to do is to convince these forces including our neighbors and all members of the East African community to cooperate with the suffering Ugandans to change the regime through peaceful means.
Sustained demonstrations and civil disobedience will create economic disruptions and security response will generate instability. These developments will constrain production of goods and services, cause supply to fall below demand, raise prices and force more Ugandans including NRM supporters to join demonstrations in protest against rising prices especially of food thereby denting the popularity of Museveni’s illegitimate government. Deterioration in economic activity will reduce the tax base and government revenue forcing it to cut back the provision of services further reducing its popularity especially its illegitimate leader Museveni.
As Museveni reminded us, the principal role of the military is to defend the country’s borders against external invasion. He also indicated that when the government denies citizens the right to exercise their democratic and human rights the military steps in on the side of the people. Before considering why the Uganda military should be on the side of the people demanding the exercise of their rights, let us briefly review a few examples where the military has supported the people against oppressive governments.
1. During the French Revolution that began in 1789, sections of the army joined the people in their demands to reduce the excessive power of the king and privileges of the nobility and high clergy. The people also formed a national guard under the leadership of Lafayette to defend themselves. In desperation the king hired mercenaries, an arrangement that made him even more unpopular. This action together with an attempt to flee the country resulted in his arrest, trial for treason and execution.
2. The collectivization of agriculture in Russia under Josef Stalin generated intense resistance. Stalin ordered the army to intervene and force peasants to comply. Some sections of the Red Army refused because peasants had a right to resist and these soldiers came from peasant families.
When I was growing up, we had unwritten rules, regulations and procedures at family and community levels (I am not talking about the rulers and the ruled because that is a totally different story). Nobody was above them. They were designed to ensure justice and equality, maintain law and order and respect for private property. Everyone had dignity within that community. Individuals and groups had responsibilities. For example, among children, the older one was obliged to take care of the young ones. Preference was especially given to weak or sick members. We did not take advantage of them.
Stealing or possessing something that was not yours was strictly forbidden. For example, when you picked up some money or handkerchief you would take it to the priest who would announce lost and found items on Sunday. People who swindled others would not get away with it.
There were procedures for sharing information and resolving disputes to avoid rule of the jungle. The most important instrument was sharing information. If a neighbor found your child doing something inappropriate, parents would be notified to take corrective steps. If a child stayed with friends or relatives, parents or relatives would be notified. Disappearance of children was unheard of!
February 18, 2011 signaled the beginning of the end of Uganda’s history as we have known it. On February 18, 2011 Museveni massively rigged the election while the whole world watched and got re-elected to another five-year term. According to the interim report of the Commonwealth Observer group it was an election that lacked a level playing field. Museveni is now in a position to end the history of Uganda. In the next five years he is going to do the following things to achieve that goal.
1. Following his swearing in ceremony Museveni will form a cabinet of ‘yes’ men and women that will rubber stamp his wishes particularly in the ministries of foreign affairs, finance, internal affairs, petroleum and energy, lands and east African affairs. Ugandans are urged to also watch carefully the ministers of state he will appoint in these ministries. In many cases ministers of state are more powerful than full ministers. We need to know the profile of each minister and minister of state.
There is no country in the world that has progressed without paying sufficient attention to food and nutrition security, healthcare and education. The vital role of nutrition, healthcare including safe drinking water, adequate sanitation and general hygiene has been stressed in mortality decline. General education has also been recognized as a pillar in nation building.
Mothers Union in Uganda provided women with general education in home economics: adequate and balanced diet, drinking boiled water and avoiding eating raw food, washing hands with soap or ash after using a toilet and before touching food, draining stagnant water to eliminate breeding space for mosquitoes, washing clothes, bathing regularly and keeping the house and its surroundings tidy etc.
At school teachers made sure that pupils were clean: bathed, brushed their teeth, had no lice and wore clean uniforms. Pupils were required to bring lunches and by sharing different foodstuffs they ate balanced meals. Parents therefore made sure that there was enough food at the household level. Consequently, they tended two fields: one specifically for foodstuffs for domestic consumption and the other for cash crops such as coffee, cotton or tobacco. Food for domestic consumption was never sold. Parents would be alerted when their child showed signs of sickness and would be taken to a dispensary for check up. Schools were inspected regularly to make sure standards of teaching, quality of lunches and the general health of pupils were maintained.
It is always admirable to have dreams and to take calculated risks to accomplish them. Museveni has had big dreams. People take different routes to realize their dreams. Some take political routes dodging obstacles on the way while others resort to the barrel of the gun in a hurry and crush every obstacle on the way. Some get to the top of the mountain, others fail to do so.
Museveni started off his long journey by becoming president of Uganda using the barrel of the gun (the political route was too slow). He wanted to use Uganda, a small country, to rise to greatness which included restoration of Mpororo kingdom and formation of Tutsi Empire in the great lakes region and first head of the East African political federation and play a leading role on the African and global stages.
The inclusion of cultural institutions in the 1995 constitution was designed to help restore Mpororo kingdom. The project has run into difficulties because the idea of kingdoms or cultural heads is not popular in southwest Uganda. Discussions of Mpororo in the media, reappearance of Mpororo kingdom on Uganda maps and singing Mpororo benefits are attempts to sell the idea which has remained unpopular. Twisting arms to restore the kingdom will have unintended results especially as it violates the human rights of others.
Pictures of and stories about Ugandans suffering and dying from jiggers and malnutrition have not only humiliated Ugandans but also embarrassed the NRM government that fought a five-year devastating guerrilla war to end the long suffering of Uganda people. Statements about making hunger and jiggers history were repeated at national and international conferences. Obote and Amin regimes were bitterly attacked for failing to meet basic human needs. Museveni and his government assured the nation and the whole world that Uganda would only export surplus food over and above domestic demand with a balance in quantity and quality. And everyone would wear shoes everyday and live in a decent house! Ugandans rallied behind the government and were even prepared to tighten belts further to give the government time to put appropriate programs in place. That was in 1986 and Ugandans have waited for the day when poverty and its offshoots of hunger, ignorance and disease would end. However, as time passed, rapid economic growth and success stories failed to trickle down and put food on the table and make shoes available. Ugandans began to wonder whether the promise would be fulfilled and demanded an explanation about rising unemployment and poverty in the midst of rapid economic growth which hit ten per cent in mid-1990s.