What to do about Uganda

I joined Uganda politics because I was convinced beyond a shadow of doubt that NRM was driving the country in the wrong direction. I also accepted the post of Secretary General in UDU to participate in civic education and diplomatic networking. I was fully aware that the silent, voiceless, powerless and suffering majority of Ugandans needed some people to speak on their behalf. I was equally aware that to do so would involve one in dealing with sensitive issues like sectarianism, corruption and violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms – issues that Uganda’s military dictatorship wouldn’t want discussed.

The hurdle we are facing is that we are dealing with a regime that thinks we are still in the feudal age of lords and serfs or an era of absolute rule and divine right. NRM hasn’t realized that we have entered the Age of Reason (Enlightenment or Intellectual Revolution) that has enabled us to develop a questioning mind and won’t take anything at face value. Charles I of England didn’t accept that change had occurred when he conflicted with British parliament but James II did and allowed the Glorious Revolution to occur. Later on Louis XVI and Czar Nicholas II didn’t understand that there was a wind of change.

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”.

If Marcos could go, so can Museveni

Some Ugandans either because they work for Museveni or are not familiar with lessons of political history dismiss the possibility that Ugandans can remove Museveni from power because he enjoys solid international, military and religious support. But this is exactly what former president of the Philippines, the late Ferdinand Marcos enjoyed. What drove Marcos out of power is exactly what has been accumulating in Uganda.

Ferdinand Marcos a firmly unshakeable dictator was elected president in 1965 and reelected for the second and final term in 1969 because of presidential two term limits. Marcos and his wife Imelda did not come from wealthy families. However, Marcos had credentials to do an excellent job as leader of his country. At the time he was elected president his compatriots thought he was a war hero (it turned out to be false) with a good academic record as a lawyer and had been jailed for political reasons. He had also served as an elected member of the House of Representatives and Senate rising to the position of Senate president.

“If you are stupid, you should be taken a slave” – Museveni

Museveni had an interview with Bill Berkeley. Berkeley’s report was published in the Atlantic Monthly magazine (USA) of September 1994. Museveni stated at the start of the interview that “I have never blamed the whites [Museveni considers himself white] for colonizing Africa; I have never blamed these whites for taking slaves. If you are stupid, you should be taken a slave”. This statement reveals a lot about the character of Museveni and why he has (mis)treated Ugandans with no remorse.

Slave trade was a ruthless enterprise that had no respect for human lives whatsoever. Slave trade involved foreigners who facilitated local slave catchers with guns that were used in slave trade wars. When slavery was suppressed for various reasons, slave trade was replaced by colonialism that continued foreign ruthless exploitation of Africans using local agents. Museveni is trying to cover up his being used by foreigners as an agent in the western neo-colonization project led by Britain and the atrocities that have occurred amounting to Ugandans being treated as slaves witness their low wages and awful working conditions.

Museveni did not read history lessons properly

Museveni claims to have studied history. It is not clear which branch of history he studied. Did he study revolutionary; military; diplomatic; colonial; negotiations; medieval; modern or all the branches of history? Whichever branch he studied, Museveni’s behavior demonstrates that he learned wrong lessons and that is why he has ended up described as a dictator presiding over a failed state.

Museveni believes very strongly that when you are militarily strong and you are feared (that is why he wears military uniform when there is a domestic challenge), then you can crush all your enemies (Museveni sees dissent in enemy, not opponent terms) with impunity. That is why he devoted his early life undergoing military training. As president, his number one priority has been building strong security forces to intimidate and when necessary crush political dissent. The defense budget has therefore been disproportionately larger than any other sector. Consequently infrastructural, social and environmental sectors have been starved of resources and are on the verge of collapse (potholes in Kampala City are an obvious case) – an outcome that may end his presidency.

How Uganda got into the socio-ecological mess and why it will continue

To solve a problem, one needs to fully understand its causes first. The current challenges in Uganda represent many years of wrong policies and priorities starting in 1971. For instance, Amin’s wrong policy of ‘economic war’ which called on Ugandans to use every piece of land to boost production led to serious environmental degradation, warmer local climates and spread of disease vectors like mosquitoes that spread malaria in areas that had previously been too cold for mosquito survival. When economic and social conditions continued to deteriorate, Amin government identified population ‘explosion’ as the number one problem to be addressed through birth control. The problems got worse and forced Amin to invade a neighboring country to divert attention from the mushrooming domestic anger.

When NRM government switched to structural adjustment from the ten-point program it made a wrong policy choice by sub-contracting Uganda’s economy to the private sector in an unregulated environment. Because private sector is concerned with profit maximization, it engages in activities, labor practices and selection of locations that minimize costs. The government made other mistakes of focusing on economic growth and per capita income leaving equitable aspects to the imperfections of a trickle down mechanism of market forces, encouraging export diversification into foodstuffs without first determining domestic requirements, dismissing or marginalizing experienced Ugandans to create room for NRM cadres most of whom did not have experience in negotiating agreements and contracts and monitoring program implementation. So how did adverse social and ecological outcomes come about?

Ugandans did not and still do not understand Museveni’s motive

From grade five through eight I walked to school through a homestead that had vicious dogs. As there was no diversion, I had to face them every day – early mornings and late evenings – when they were unleashed. My grandmother advised me that when moving in the northerly direction, I should throw a stone in the southerly direction, and vice versa, to attract the dogs there. I would be gone by the time they realized it was a hoax. Her advice worked.

Similarly, Museveni has engaged Ugandans in diversions. Right from the start he knew what he wanted to do – to create a Tutsi Empire or something close to it such as the East African Federation. He prepared Ugandans and increasingly east and central Africans to look elsewhere – at the benefits of East African community and population mobility etc. Museveni also knew how to get there – build a strong army led by relatives, bring Baganda, Catholics and foreigners into the fold and use them against Obote whom he painted as a common enemy, and marginalize the rest. Let us trace Museveni’s plan step by step.

Why did NRM lose the human touch?

I first came into contact with some leaders in the NRM government at Ntare School in the early 1960s. We reconnected in the late 1970s in Lusaka, Zambia. I participated in their informal conversations and was impressed by what they were planning to do particularly in the economic and social sectors. The agenda was people-centered. To them everything – security, politics and economics – was to serve the interests of Ugandans who are sovereign.

This message of hope was contained in the ten-point program published in 1985, shortly before the NRA captured power in January 1986. Uganda would be united and prosper with no one left behind. Religion would be a matter between the individual and his/her God. The government would ensure that classrooms, teachers and instructional materials were available in sufficient quantity and quality. Adequate hospitals and dispensaries would be built, properly staffed with trained staff, and equipped with medicines and supplies. Preventive programs in line with primary health care requirements would also be provided. Households would have adequate and balanced diets for a healthy, productive and active life. These pronouncements and more endeared the NRM government to the people of Uganda who were prepared to do what it takes to make the government succeed in its noble mission, including postponing elections. The president, ministers and senior civil servants travelled abroad to sell their program which was well received in the international conferences and summits.