The collapse and abandonment of structural adjustment in 2009 and the disastrous February 18, 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections have demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that the two western models have no place in Uganda’s political economy. How did it all begin?
In 1981 the revenue starved government of Obote was forced to sign a structural adjustment agreement with the IMF in order to open the door for other donors to enter and support Uganda’s development efforts. The agreement had stiff conditionality including a balanced budget and low inflation. A combination of drought and guerrilla war necessitated deficit financing slightly above the ceiling agreed with the IMF. The latter would not budge and withdrew support at such a critical moment. IMF action meant that the door was shut to other donors because agreement with IMF is a prerequisite for foreign aid. Therefore, other donors had to leave or reduce support to humanitarian activities. Under the pretext of excessive human rights violations, the World Bank pulled out as well.
Lack of resources to meet the needs of the public and armed forces and other aggravating factors led to a split in the armed forces and a discontented population. Consequently, Obote’s government was overthrown in July 1985 by a section of the national army.
Uganda is virtually a militarized and tutsified nation and is likely to remain so for a long time unless we act quickly. Any Uganda patriot must be concerned about what is happening to the Pearl of Africa. Uganda was designed to be a country by, for and of Ugandans and participate in the development of the world. Because Ugandans are afraid of the military and of being branded genocidaire if they complain about what Tutsi are doing to our country, they are unable to express their discomfort and discuss a way out. But some voices of dissent are beginning to be heard and are getting louder for all to hear. If Museveni is trying to find a place for his people we also have a right to stop him from doing it at the expense of the people of Uganda. And we shouldn’t feel guilty about it provided it is done peacefully and transparently.
Ferdinand Marcos came to power in 1965 and refused to leave despite failed policies that brought about economic inequities and political instability. A combination of population growth, absolute poverty and land shortage created massive discontent and contributed to the formation of a communist insurgency. Concerned about economic and social injustice, the Catholic Church got involved.
Then on August 21, 1983 former senator Benigno Aquino and strong opponent of Marcos was assassinated at Manila International Airport when he returned home from exile. This assassination served to mobilize massively against Marcos. The Church played a pivotal role through pastoral letters and a Manila-based Radio Veritas station owned by Catholic Bishops Conference.
In panic, Marcos abruptly announced a snap election to throw opposition candidates into disarray and win. The Archbishop of Manila Cardinal Jaime Sin and his colleagues issued strongly worded pastoral letters that left no doubt that they were on the side of the people. The snap presidential election of February 7, 1986 was massively rigged by Marcos supporters. On February 15, the Philippine parliament announced that Marcos had won. The announcement was followed by massive campaign of civil disobedience to force Marcos out of power.
There has been talk of using force to get rid of NRM government which has disappointed Ugandans and neighbors that had counted on Museveni to champion peace, security, stability, prosperity and good neighborly relations. It was hoped that through multiparty democracy, NRM would be unseated through free and fair elections but that hasn’t happened because of electoral fraud and suppression of opposition parties.
New developments regarding formation of Tutsi empire using Uganda as a base and the recent decision by Uganda and Rwanda delegates to terminate colonial borders has raised eyebrows and fear that Uganda could disappear as we have known it. In addition the prime minister’s statement that peasants should be replaced by large scale farmers without indicating where he would put them has created tremendous anxiety.
Regarding elimination of national borders, it is possible that Uganda and Rwanda parliaments which are basically rubber stamp institutions could be instructed by Presidents Museveni and Kagame to pass legislation for merging Uganda and Rwanda into a single state and erase national borders through legislation. These developments should be taken seriously and prevent them from happening because once they have happened it is very difficult if not impossible to reverse them peacefully.
Museveni’s life and energies at least since the early 1960s have been devoted to resurrecting Mpororo kingdom and expanding it into a Tutsi Empire initially in the Great Lakes region of Africa, explaining in large part why Ankole kingdom was not restored as it would interfere with Bahororo/Tutsi Empire project. Although they lost territory when Mpororo kingdom disintegrated around 1750, Bahororo (Batutsi people of Mpororo kingdom) wherever they went including back to Rwanda (it is believed Kagame like Museveni is a Muhororo subject to confirmation, perhaps explaining why Rwanda kingdom was not restored) tenaciously clung together (Karugire 1980) by resisting intermarriage with other ethnic groups hoping that someday their Mpororo kingdom would be resurrected.
In preparation for Uganda’s independence, Bahororo in Ankole demanded a separate district but Bahima rejected the idea. Museveni was old enough to witness the mistreatment of Bahororo by Bahima. At the same time Batutsi of Rwanda including Bahororo suffered a double defeat through the social revolution of 1959 and pre-independence elections leading to independence in 1962.
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.
In chapter one of my book titled “Uganda’s Development Agenda in the 21st Century and Related Regional Issues (2008)” I wrote about the challenges connected with land tenure and land use. One of the issues I addressed is land fragmentation which is not abating. Although many Ugandans are aware of the problems connected with tiny and scattered pieces of land, they are unwilling to address them. There are many reasons for this behavior.
First, culturally and sentimentally when the head of the family passes on every son and increasingly every daughter and widow (s) wants a piece of the land. The more members in the family the smaller the piece each member gets. And given low agricultural productivity (low yielding traditional seeds and absence of organic and inorganic fertilizers and irrigation technology), the tiny pieces of land do not produce enough to maintain a family for food and cash, pushing that family into deeper poverty if there are no alternative sources of income. This problem may be overcome in the short to medium term by changing the cultural and sentimental value of land so that inheritance goes to one member or inherited land is used collectively. In the long term poverty reduction may help reduce the size of the family because poor couples produce more children than rich ones.
As they say one swallow does not make summer. Similarly dismissing a couple of ministers won’t end corruption in Uganda. The problem needs a surgical operation and it can’t wait. This is the kind of situation, an emergency, where there is no room for patience. When the house is on fire, as Uganda is, you need to move fast but use the right tools. Fighting fire with fire as some Ugandans are fond of reasoning could make matters worse. To uproot corruption, we need to define it more broadly and understand the link between it and the decadence in Uganda. Proper understanding of the impact of corruption has been undermined by focusing on factors of secondary importance such as lack of resources, skilled personnel, contraception facilities, long distance from the Indian Ocean, etc.
The political, economic, social and moral developments in Uganda that have been accumulating since the 1990s made worse by the stolen elections in 2011 and economic hard times might trigger a regime change or increase instability and violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Those in favor of regime change are either campaigning to use force because according to them that it is the only language NRM military dictatorship understands or civil resistance. Besides working, nonviolence is less destructive than war. The example of a successful nonviolent resistance that toppled the Marcos regime in the Philippines has already been presented. Marcos went into exile. The Iranian civil resistance that toppled the Shah of Iran in 1979 is another. These two examples should convince those Ugandans still bent on the use force. Targeted assassinations and guerrilla tactics were tried in Iran and did not work.
Before presenting the nonviolent methods that were applied, let us review the conditions that triggered resistance to the Shah and his regime. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi came to power in 1941. He lost power to the elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq between 1951 and 1953. With help of western powers the Shah regained control of the country and ruled with an iron fist thereafter, jailing political activists, intellectuals, members of the religious establishment etc. He shut down independent newspapers and employed extensive security instruments including the dreaded secret police (SAVAK) and the military to eliminate dissent.
On November 25, 2011, I wrote an article on the corrosive impact of corruption on Uganda’s economy and society. I observed that corruption and NRM are inextricably interlinked that you cannot eliminate one without eliminating the other.
I concluded that both must go, using peaceful means in the first instance and resorting to war only as a last resort in self-defense.
A few people have contacted me privately to express opposition to my approach insisting that fire must be fought with fire. This group believes that a militarized NRM must be faced by a militarized response in the first instance.
Because so far I have not been convinced to support war, I wish to elaborate on my arguments in favor of peaceful means in the first instance.
My simple argument is that we should use water (peaceful means) to extinguish fire because there is ample evidence that it works, witness Eastern Europe in 1989 against communist dictators. If that fails then we have every justification to resort to war to end the suffering of Ugandans. And our friends and well wishers will understand that and extend a helping hand as appropriate. Why do I insist on peaceful means?