Religious leaders and call to justice in Uganda

It is now recognized that to bring about justice or fairness in Uganda will require inclusiveness, full participation, solidarity and compassion. In other words it means involvement of all sections of society: religious and traditional leaders, political and civil society leaders, security forces, youth, students and women. Religious leaders in Uganda have a special responsibility to end injustice because they interact directly or through networks with the population and appreciate its suffering better than most observers and are therefore in a position to recommend appropriate and location specific short and long term action-oriented solutions. The Christmas sermons in 2011 were very powerful in this regard. You need to build on that solid foundation in 2012. To facilitate your work and remove some possible obstacles in relations between religion and politics let us review in a historical perspective the work of religious leaders and theologians to end injustice.

Applauding security forces that protect demonstrators rights and freedoms

Uganda’s men and women in uniform have been reminded that, like their counterparts in other countries, their responsibility is to defend the nation against external invasion and to prevent abuse of citizens’ rights and freedoms by their governments. Demonstrations take place to draw to the attention of authorities that something is wrong and needs fixing. Demonstrations are not about overthrowing governments. Governments get overthrown when they refuse to pay attention to the needs of all the people. For example, in Ethiopia the early 1970s were marked by economic hard times and famine which the government ignored and covered up. People were unemployed and hungry. In 1974 they demonstrated not because they wanted to overthrow the regime. They wanted relief. The government did not respond appropriately. Instead demonstrators were attacked by police. Ultimately, security forces including the military which had remained neutral realized that the government had no intention of helping its citizens. The military joined in and presented its demands which too were not addressed, leading to a bloodless coup in 1974. From time immemorial, security forces have protected citizens when attacked by external and internal forces as the case studies below demonstrate with regard to internal forces.

Message to all branches of Uganda security forces

Dear brothers and sisters

As you may have noticed, I have since the beginning of this year (2012), sent messages to Members of Parliament, religious leaders, youth and women. Regardless of our profession, region, ethnic group, faith, age and gender, we are all Ugandans with a common destiny – to live in peace and security, create wealth and enjoy happiness. When this does not happen, we should all come together and find a mutually acceptable solution. Since 1966 Uganda has suffered serious political, economic, social and environmental deficits.

When NRM came to power in 1986, it declared that it was going to end the long suffering of the people of Uganda and even “put back the ‘hair’ on the bald heads of Uganda hills”. These announcements endeared the government to the people of Uganda, friends and well wishers. In response, Ugandans sacrificed and tightened their belts to give all the support the government needed in the early years of its administration. Our friends and well wishers donated generously in money and experts. Notwithstanding these efforts, suffering has spread and deepened and Uganda hills have lost more hair. The suffering of the people of Uganda is everywhere for all to see and cannot be denied. It was adequately summarized during last year’s (2011) Christmas sermons.

How peaceful demonstrations will squeeze NRM out of power

Some Ugandans and non-Ugandans who have doubts that peaceful demonstrations alone will squeeze NRM illegitimate government out of power have asked for an explanation regarding the mechanism through which it will happen. Peaceful demonstrations have worked and their potential for human loss, injuries and displacement as well as destruction of property is much lower than the military option which can be invoked only in exceptional circumstances.

Uganda is a small country with a vulnerable economy dependent on external forces through raw material exports, donations and soft loans, foreign investment, 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 forces 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 intolerable hardship, denting the popularity of NRM illegitimate government. Deterioration in economic activity will reduce the tax base and government revenue forcing it to cut back on services further reducing its popularity.

Uganda security forces can help solve the current political impasse

While security forces exist to defend the state and protect citizens, they can and have helped in addressing political challenges either by joining the people when there is a conflict between them and the government or by staying neutral. Governments come and go. States and people are permanent and security forces are created to defend and protect them.

There are many illustrations of security forces joining the people to stop or remove governments when they oppress the people. In 1789 the soldiers in Paris joined the people when king Louis XVI tried to suppress demonstrations that supported the National Assembly. Other soldiers outside Paris also refused to rally behind the king. His efforts to use mercenaries did not succeed. In this way, security forces prevented the king from dispersing the National Assembly that had gathered to draw up a new constitution for France.

In Ethiopia when there was a conflict in 1974 between the imperial government and demonstrators who were demanding improvements in their welfare including adequate food, the security forces stepped in on the side of the people. The emperor and his government that were not prepared to make necessary changes were swept away.

Security forces defend the state and protect citizens, not governments

Museveni was absolutely right when he stated in 1993 that “The army [security forces] should be just for guarding the borders [defending the state] and maintaining internal peace [law and order]… That is all… They should guard what the people want, not do what the people don’t want. I do not agree with military governments… I do not think the army has a role in government… The people are the sovereign force”(Africa Report July/August 1993).

Nobody can disagree with this statement. The problem is that Museveni practices what he does not preach. He does the opposite of what he says most of the time! And he has been doing this for the last twenty five years. The people of Uganda are now fed up because he has consistently and deliberately done what the people do not want – using security forces to violate their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

When people are sufficiently angry and brave, change can’t be stopped

There is overwhelming evidence that sufficient frustration and anger alone are unlikely to bring about major changes. Frustration and anger must be combined with bravery for change to occur. England’s 1381 peasant revolt, France’s 1789 peasants and Parisian mobs, Tunisian and Egyptian youth uprisings were successful because frustration and anger were combined with bravery.

When vans and fire trucks ran over some demonstrators and men on horses charged into other peaceful demonstrators there were fatalities and injuries. But the Egyptians who survived did not run away. Instead they gathered courage, picked up stones and fought back. Their bravery encouraged other compatriots to join them while others at home and abroad cheered them to continue until their goal was realized. Hosni Mubarak saw the writing on the wall when demonstrated defied security forces and peacefully camped outside the presidential palace. He stepped down, packed his bags and left the presidential palace.

When Tutsi youth assaulted a Hutu local administrative chief in 1959, the Hutu population concluded that they had had enough. Spontaneously, they gathered courage and decided to defend themselves against well armed Batutsi. And the result was the social revolution that chased away Tutsi, abolished the monarchy and achieved independence in 1962. Hutus had all along been considered passive and docile who would never have the courage to even chase away a ‘fly’! They are now down, not out.

A message for Uganda security forces

The message is addressed to intelligence, police and military forces.

You are Ugandans like the rest of us. We are all brothers and sisters. Article I of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in part that we “should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood [and sisterhood]”. Thus, in our specialized areas, all Ugandans have the responsibility to act towards one another in that spirit. Yours as security forces is to protect Ugandans from being hurt and/or losing their lives and properties. As such you should be loved by all Uganda citizens. When you enter an area you should be welcomed and helped in doing your job of protecting their lives and properties. You should do your job professionally and strictly according to the book.

You belong to the people and serve the people of Uganda through public institutions. You do not belong to or serve an individual whether he gave you a job and/or promoted you. These individuals do that in their official capacity as president or commissioner of police etc. As professionals you do not make or unmake governments. That is done through a democratic and electoral process like Uganda is going through right now. Your job is to serve all the people of Uganda fairly, equally and transparently through established public institutions.