On July 4, 2012, my articles on Ugandans at Heart Forum generated a vibrant, constructive and informative as well as – I must add thankfully – civil debate. Even those who were rough in the past were gentle this time. Those who tried to divert attention from the core message of my articles in the hope of discouraging further writing along similar lines ended up confirming what I have been saying all along; namely that NRM has destroyed Uganda – intentionally or otherwise – which is now a failed state under a military dictatorship (so that NRM stays in power an extra day because it has lost popular support) no matter what the defenders of NRM – in or out of government – may say. Others concurred that Uganda is indeed in deep trouble but complained that NRM has been disproportionately bashed. Overall, there is agreement that NRM has performed far below expectation and has therefore failed the test. We have discussed at length what has gone wrong and the factors involved since NRM came to power in 1986. The differences have narrowed considerably on the following factors behind NRM failed performance.
Ugandans are wondering whether Museveni is governing or campaigning. He was inaugurated at a scantly attended ceremony (Ugandans chose to meet Besigye at the Entebbe airport from Nairobi where he had gone for treatment after he was attacked by security forces) in May 2011 for another five-year term after fraudulent elections which lacked a level playing field as confirmed by the respected Commonwealth Observer Team.
Museveni’s new mandate came at a particularly difficult time of economic recession characterized by high prices particularly of fuel and food, high and rising unemployment of young men and women many of them university graduates. As confirmed by the former minister of finance, NRM had emptied the treasury to fund its campaigns at presidential, parliamentary and local levels. It also came at a time when Museveni’s role in the Great Lakes region was beginning to be recast by some of his sponsors in view of the continuing wars with genocide-like outcomes and the possibility he may have had a hand in them.
People in the Great Lakes region want peace through free and fair multi-party elections and government of majority rule that promotes liberty and justice for all but have been governed by military leaders from minority groups who can’t win in free and fair elections. When asked, people from different ethnic groups will tell you they have no difficulties living together. It is their political leaders that create divisions along ethnic lines to mobilize support.
After assassination of the president of Burundi in 1993 Hutus attacked Tutsis. One Tutsi who had escaped unharmed was interviewed and he said “The people who killed my family were Hutu from Frodebu (Hutu Party]. … We used to have no problems with them. But when they had the news from Radio Kigali, they said Tutsi must be massacred. We peasants don’t know why the putschists killed Ndadaye. But we are paying for what they did. They provoked the revenge of the Hutu on the Tutsi”(Africa Report Jan/Feb. 1994). I have travelled in the Lakes region and talked to many people and they all want peace. They don’t care who governs provided it is done properly through free and fair elections and the elected government takes good care of all citizens equitably.
I am basically a researcher and writer. In doing so, I provide well researched information as a basis for discussion on the way forward. My focus of research and writing is on the Great Lakes region. As such you cannot avoid writing about inter-ethnic conflicts which have been of a zero-sum game: “I am in power and you are out”. I am trying to create space for dialogue so that we engage in a win-win discussion to permit all people in the Great Lakes region to live in peace, freedom and dignity. And what’s wrong with that?
Apart from 1959 to 1994, the history of Rwanda since the 15th century is one of Tutsi dominating, exploiting, impoverishing and marginalizing Hutu people. When Kayibanda became leader of his Hutu party in the 1950s, he approached Tutsi and suggested power sharing in a win-win arrangement. Tutsis refused because to them power sharing with Hutu is impossible (Kagame dismissed the Hutu president, prime minister and other ministers whom he used when he captured power in 1994 before he was able to control Hutu population).
Uganda, the size of the United Kingdom, was born after a complicated ‘pregnancy’ following the Berlin conference; border adjustment negotiations among the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium and France; religious and colonial wars that left some parts devastated. The outcome was compression into one country of segments of society with different cultures, hostile neighbors, different government systems and levels of economic and social development. Indirect rule using former oppressive chiefs over their subjects and employment of Baganda advisers to other parts of Uganda complicated the situation. Buganda was rewarded with territory taken from Bunyoro for cooperation in subduing the latter, a deal that Bunyoro never accepted. Through the 1900 agreement, Dundas reforms of 1944 and the 1955 agreement, Buganda was accorded a status of a state within a state. Because of various local administration ordinances, the colonial administration introduced a strong decentralized government system at provincial and district levels at the expense of central administration. Collaboration between colonial administration and the Protestant Church at the expense of Catholic and Muslim Faiths also created complications.
Our doctrine is that Ugandans will liberate themselves from Museveni’s military dictatorship and the NRM failed system via a wide range of instruments including mass media and collaboration with religious leaders. The international community is called upon to level the playing field as Ugandans embark on a journey to freedom through peaceful demonstrations which are an integral part of our human rights including the right to self-determination and crafting a governance system that accommodates specific interests. That the European Union and Commonwealth observer teams concluded that the February 18, 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections were ‘not free and fair’ is a commendable beginning.
From time immemorial religious leaders have played a vital role (and some of them paid a heavy price) in easing the suffering of people meted out by their leaders. For example, John Ball a follower of John Wycliffe contributed tremendously through speeches and writing (e.g. “All men by Nature Were Created Alike”) in support of English peasants that had suffered exploitation. The peasants revolted in 1381 resulted in the abolition of the poll tax imposed in 1380 which sparked the great revolt.
One thing that is indisputable is that Ugandans including many in the NRM want change preferably by peaceful means. War has no support domestically and in the international community. On the other hand, the ruling clique in the NRM that wants to hang onto power and hand over to their children when they retire is working hard to keep Ugandans divided as illustrated by the creation of over 100 districts that has killed the unity project which was NRM’s flagship at the start of its administration in 1986. History shows unambiguously that when people are divided they fail and when united they succeed in their endeavors. The purpose of studying history which everyone should do at school or through self education besides passing examination is to draw lessons about what to avoid and what to emulate with modifications as appropriate. NRM has definitely mustered the history lesson of keeping Ugandans divided including encouraging them to seek work abroad so that it weakens the middle class that champions agitation for change. The following paragraphs will demonstrate using examples from different parts and different times how unity brings about success.
During the guerrilla war and immediately after capturing power in 1986 Yoweri Museveni wrote and spoke regularly and passionately about his determination to end the long suffering of all the people of Uganda. He condemned previous governments for indulging in luxuries while Ugandans languished in poverty, hunger, illiteracy and suffered all sorts of health problems including jiggers. He promised that every Ugandan would wear shoes, go to school, eat balanced meals and get treated when sick. At international conferences, summits, press conferences and interviews Museveni articulated unambiguously his administration’s policies of ending neo-colonialism and pre-industrial culture; of industrializing the economy within fifteen years and protecting industries against unfair competition and of state intervention in Uganda’s economy “because, in reality, there is no such thing as a free market. There is always intervention at some stage”(Africa Forum Volume 1. No.2, 1991). The overall outcome of these policies was to lift Ugandans out of their miserable living conditions. He emphasized that the policy of his administration was not to reduce but eradicate poverty. His ideas were indeed revolutionary and he received long applause. Reporters followed him wherever he went and Museveni enjoyed it. I was there in Addis Ababa and New York where he spoke and I witnessed it all.
There is overwhelming evidence in time and space that countries that have developed or recovered quickly from devastation have relied heavily on their efforts – in some cases with additional external support. For instance, post-World War II quick recovery in Europe was more due to domestic institutions and capabilities that survived the war assisted by the Marshall Plan. Those that have relied heavily on outside advice and money – however well-intentioned – have not fared as expected witness Uganda since 1987.
NRM’s ten point program launched in 1986 received overwhelming support of Ugandans because it was homegrown. It covered issues that mattered most to Ugandans. Sadly, NRM dropped it in 1987 before implementation even began in favor of structural adjustment program (Washington Consensus) drawn up by outsiders.
I was among the first that protested to the highest level because I knew many in NRM close to the center of power. We argued that Ugandans know their history, their diversity and challenges and where they are located more than anyone else. Ipso facto, Ugandans should draw the roadmap and drive the process. We argued that experienced Ugandans in exile should be encouraged to return home and participate in the recovery and development process.
Poverty – broadly defined – is a social problem that stifles the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Ugandans need to regain freedom from want, freedom from fear and freedom to live in dignity. Today, in 2011, except a few families, Ugandans are absolutely poor (in the sense that they cannot meet basic necessities of life). They are sick, getting insane and selling their children to make ends meet. They are undereducated, poorly fed, poorly sheltered, poorly clothed and unemployed.
Maternal mortality is rising and undernourished women are producing underweight children with permanent physical and mental disabilities thus undermining human capital formation. Maximum brain development is stifled because of poor diet during the first three years of life from conception. And Ugandans have the lowest life expectancy in the whole of East Africa, reflecting the lowest level of the standard of living.
Ugandans still use primitive implements such as hand hoes and machetes. They broadcast seed by hand, weed by hand, harvest by hand and grind the grain by hand as was done in medieval times.