Endless investigations and torture of democracy advocates in Uganda

The United Democratic Ugandans (UDU), an umbrella organization of political parties and organizations at home and abroad opposed to the NRM government, expresses its deep concern about endless investigations and torture of democracy advocates in Uganda. There are Ugandans that have been languishing in detention or on bail under extremely difficult conditions because the government is still conducting investigations. There ought to be sufficient information before a person is arrested and if additional information is needed it should be gathered within a reasonable time. And if there is insufficient evidence the person should be set free. In Uganda it appears that a person is arrested first and lengthy investigations follow. This approach creates a lot of social, financial and psychological hardship and torture on individual members concerned and their families, relatives, friends, well wishers and places of work.

Uganda has entered an enlightenment phase in which an increasing number of citizens are demanding full expression of their human rights and fundamental freedoms. The government needs to adjust to this new environment of protest and refrain from arresting people demanding correction of democracy and good governance deficits. If Ugandans are arrested in the name of maintaining law and order or national security then they should appear in court as soon as possible.

Ours will be a liberal democracy

Liberal democracy has two main components. First, it is based on free and fair elections which are held regularly so that all eligible citizens choose their representatives and form a government. Second, a liberal democracy guarantees that rights for individuals and groups are protected and ipso facto cannot be taken away by government. Put another way, liberal democracy is a form of government that combines representative institutions of government including free and fair elections with liberal values in terms of individual rights and responsibilities.

It is important to stress that it is citizens that vote in a free and fair environment. And government cannot take away inalienable rights and freedoms of citizens.

In writing chapter two of the National Recovery Plan (NRP) which was released to the public for comment last week, United Democratic Ugandans (UDU) committee examined the elections and governments in Uganda since 1961. All of them did not meet the two components of a liberal democracy. Citizen participation in elections and government has been less than satisfactory, elections have not been free and fair, foreigners have been allowed to vote and governments have violated human rights and fundamental freedoms of Uganda citizens.

Democracy that doesn’t serve the people will eventually fail

Democracy that is based solely on elections regardless of whether they are free and fair will eventually fail;

Democracy that keeps the same party and leaders in power election after election will eventually fail;

Democracy that revolves around one all-powerful leader will eventually fail;

Democracy that sends its brightest and /or experienced citizens into exile and then harasses them there will eventually fail;

Democracy that is based on economic growth and per capita income regardless of how the benefits are shared among the citizens will eventually fail;

Democracy that is underpinned by security forces and safe houses will eventually fail;

Democracy that permits corruption, sectarianism and cronyism to thrive will eventually fail;

Democracy that is based on loyalty rather than competence will eventually fail;

Democracy that is not transparent and accountable to the people will eventually fail;

Democracy that defines security in national defense terms and forgets other kinds of security will eventually fail;

Democracy that does not permit freedom to assemble, associate and express opinion against the government will eventually fail;

Democracy that presides over crumbling institutions, infrastructures and systems will eventually fail;

With all the will in the world why has Museveni failed?

In countries with true democracy where citizens hire and fire their representatives through the ballot box and/or public opinion, Museveni would have resigned or forced to because he has failed to deliver on his promises. Museveni cannot step down in large part because he is not sure what will happen to him once he has lost the immunity that goes with the presidency.

Museveni has had all the support at home and abroad that he needed to succeed. Why has he failed so badly? Everywhere you look domestically, regionally and internationally you see nothing but failure. At home, the diseases of poverty and environmental degradation are undeniable, at the great lakes region level, he has been accused of removing governments, his troops of committing genocide against Hutu people in DRC and plundering DRC resources; at the AU level he has quarreled with Qaddafi and at the global level his star has faded.

Discussions with people who have known him for a long time have shed some light. First, it appears that he set high ambitions that were not matched by his capabilities. Apparently, he deceived himself that he is intellectually superior to Ugandans because of his connections with the Aryan race of Europeans and therefore did not need to listen to people of lower IQ.

Museveni has deceived the world about democracy in Uganda

Not too long ago, I had a conversation with an old friend. We discussed a wide range of global issues and accidentally stumbled on Uganda. My friend confirmed what others have been saying that Uganda and Museveni have become indivisible – you cannot discuss Uganda meaningfully without putting Museveni at the center. He added a new dimension – Museveni is two persons in one. He elaborated by observing that what Museveni says about Uganda is often different from what he does. He emphasized that the difference between rhetoric and action is planned. He suggested an analysis of what Museveni says about democracy and what has actually occurred on the ground. Below are the findings.

Museveni has stressed that meaningful democracy must embrace “government of the people, by the people and for the people”. He adds that in the case of Uganda democracy must be three-dimensional: “parliamentary democracy, popular democracy and a decent level of living for every Ugandan… There should be an elected government, elected at regular intervals and such elections must be free of corruption and manipulation of the population… There must be people’s committees at the village, Muluka [parish], gombolola [sub-county], saza [county] and district level…

The creation of Rukungiri municipality represents robbery at gun point

In theory, the idea of democracy, of elections and of decentralization is to enable local communities to participate in discussions and make informed decisions including electing representatives that protect, promote and improve the quality of their lives.

Furthermore, the idea of market forces, laissez faire (let alone) and private ownership is designed to allocate resources efficiently, encourage private initiative, speed up economic growth, create jobs and, through a trickle down mechanism, benefit everyone in the community.

The two ideas, largely foreign in origin, have been fully embraced by the NRM government since 1987. The NRM leadership originally rejected stabilization and structural adjustment as promoted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank for the good and simple reason that if implemented as recommended it would hurt ordinary citizens by reducing jobs, education, health care, nutrition and bargaining power of workers, etc. Given the profit motive of the private sector many in the government felt that, left alone, structural adjustment would squeeze the weak and force them into endemic poverty and permanent under-development.

Democracy at gun point in practice

The creation of a banana district

In his interview which was published in Uganda’s Monitor dated February 9, 2004 Hon. Major General (rtd) Kahinda Otafire observed that “We [NRM] stood for national unity, for democracy, for equality and we were for justice for all. You find all the principles we fought for contained in our ten-point program”. Ugandans interpreted democracy to mean empowering them to participate directly or through their representatives in decisions that improve their lives.

The president’s spokesperson characterized President Museveni as a man of the people – a believer in true democracy – who is always in touch with ordinary people including at the lowest level. In practice two major things have happened: first, the ten-point program was dropped – and so were the principles contained in it – when the NRM government began collaboration with the IMF and the World Bank after signing an agreement in May 1987 and second, democracy has been practiced at gun point to force people and institutions to take decisions dictated by NRM leaders. In forcing some of these decisions, NRM leaders were facilitated by the donor community. For example, the idea of decentralization came largely from development partners who thought that people would be able to take decisions that improve the quality of their lives and that services would be brought closer to them.

Democracy in a corrupt society is a liability

Under President Yoweri Museveni, the philosophy of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) is that to rule you must impoverish, divide and corrupt the people. The NRM is implementing that philosophy through a combination of impoverishment, division and corrupt practices and tactics. The donor community has unintentionally – one would guess – assisted NRM in achieving its philosophy through structural adjustment, decentralization and massive donations. There are stories that the NRM is determined to rule Uganda uninterrupted by Museveni family for at least fifty years.

The NRM government adopted the adverse and extreme version of structural adjustment program – shock therapy – which has, inter alia, three major elements: retrenching public servants, reducing or eliminating subsidies and applying the full force of labor flexibility.

Retrenchment was applied selectively targeting non-NRM supporters and/or used to settle scores. Non-supporters of NRM were removed from public service en masse as the staff had to be reduced roughly in half and NRM made sure the retrenched servants did not get jobs anywhere else. For example, interest rates were set so high supposedly to control inflation that starting a small business was virtually impossible. Either you joined the NRM or you wallowed in poverty with your family and relatives that depend on you!

Uganda is a military dictatorship disguised as democracy

According to the World Book Encyclopedia, dictatorship is a form of government in which an individual or a committee or other group holds absolute power. Dictators usually have come to power under conditions of turmoil and confusion. Often the dictator seizes power by political trickery or military violence.

Once in control, dictators and their followers retain their positions through force or threat of force. They abolish or closely control the legislature, and quickly suppress freedom of speech, assembly, and the press. They set up an elaborate secret-police system to detect opponents of the government. Persons who object to the dictatorship are persecuted by the government.

On the other hand, democracy is a form of government in which the citizens take part in political decisions that affect them directly or indirectly through their elected representatives. Representatives’ job is to transparently represent the people with whom they made a contract in making decisions about laws and other matters that affect constituents including defending and protecting their rights, freedoms and property.

Uganda as a military dictatorship

Uganda’s democracy has become counterproductive

When you talk with people – Ugandans and non-Ugandans – who support the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government led by President Museveni, you are told that Ugandans must be grateful to their leaders because the days of Obote’s and Amin’s dictatorship are over and there is no turning back. They quickly add that Uganda has now become a full-fledged democracy. So what is democracy?

According to the World Book Encyclopedia democracy means rule by the people. It is a form of government that Abraham Lincoln described as “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. According to Robert Maynard Hutchins democracy is the only form of government that is founded on the dignity of man, not the dignity of some men, of rich men, of educated men but of all men (and women).

The citizens of a democracy take part in government either directly or indirectly. In a direct democracy people meet in one place and make the laws for their community. That is what happened in ancient Athens. In a large group it is impossible for all people to meet and pass laws. Consequently they periodically choose representatives to represent their interests. This is indirect or representative democracy.