The silent human catastrophe in Burundi

The principal cause of conflicts in the Great Lakes region is ethnicity. Minority Tutsi – some ten percent of the total population – are trying to restore domination they enjoyed from the 15th century to 1962 when they were defeated in pre-independence elections of 1962 in Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda (Ankole).

Because they are minority they collaborate with foreigners in order to dominate others. In Rujumbura Makobore collaborated with Arab and Swahili slave traders to defeat Bantu people that were subsequently dubbed Bairu (slaves or servants). Makobore then sold members of defeated Bantu groups into slavery (“The [Indian Ocean] coastal traders were also employed in interstate raids for slaves. For example, Makobore, the [Tutsi] king of Rujumbura, employed them in his raids against Butumbi and Kayonza. The important social effect of the coming of the coastal traders on the peoples of south-western Uganda was the arms trade. Weaker societies were raided for slaves while interstate warfare was rampant” (B. A. Ogot 1976). Bantu grazing land was confiscated and Bantu short horn cattle were replaced by Tutsi long horn cattle and Bantu were reduced to cultivators largely for the benefit of Tutsi consumers. That is how Bairu came to be known as cultivators while they were wealthy mixed farmers combined with manufacturing products before interaction with Tutsi.

When people can’t take it anymore they revolt

There are examples from time immemorial which demonstrate that when people can’t take it any more they draw a line beyond which they revolt regardless of consequences. The peasants in feudal Europe had been taught by priests that they should tolerate suffering on earth because their rewards were in heaven. But when the burden of food insecurity and taxation among others became unbearable, they revolted. Since Uganda is basically a rural country of peasants, let us look at some examples of peasant revolts in Europe and one example in Kenya. The examples in Europe are drawn from Historical Facts by Robert Stewart (2002).

The Britons revolted against the Roman rule. The most serious revolt came in A.D. 61. One of the British tribes in East Anglia revolted because it was angered by loss of land to Roman soldiers and heavy tribute imposed on them. Thirteen years earlier, they had revolted because they were deprived of their right to bear arms.

In A.D. 220 there were revolts against China’s Han dynasty. The oppression of peasants by landlords and bureaucracy led to a series of revolts that ended the dynasty and left China with no central government for 350 years.

Those who break promises lose trust and get punished

In behavioral economics trust is an important concept. People feel good when dealing with people they trust and are trusted. “This feeling is related to the positive stimuli they get from trusting engagements. … People also tend to get high on punishing others, but they most enjoy punishing those who have betrayed them. They enjoy punishing individuals who have breached their trust or behaved unfairly. … This type of punishment [which is referred to] as reciprocal punishment, is payback for perceived behavior” (Morris Altman 2012).

In Uganda Museveni and his NRM government has broken many promises entered into with the people of Uganda during and after the guerrilla war of 1981-85. In 1985, a year before NRM captured power in 1986 Museveni published a ten point program that included introduction of democracy through free and fair elections and good governance; observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms; ending corruption and sectarianism; restoration of people’s sovereignty and ending suffering in Uganda through providing infrastructure and social institutions and services. Museveni further promised restoration of what was lost when Obote abolished the independence constitution including kingdoms, federalism and properties such as land. Asians were promised restoration of their properties. Because it is believed that DP was robbed of victory in the 1980 elections, promise or impression was made that upon ousting UPC and Obote II from power, DP would form the next government with a Catholic president. Not least, Museveni promised law and order, peace and individual security broadly defined including food and job security etc and good neighborly relations.

People in the Lakes region want peace through democracy

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.

When people understand, they can’t lose

Ugandans are going through a hard time under Museveni dictatorship which his supporters interpret as bold leadership. But we should not lose hope. Contrary to what many believe, God hasn’t forgotten Uganda. We only happen to be passing through a rough phase. Those who fly between Europe and USA know there are turbulent sections across the Atlantic where passengers are advised to return to their seats and fasten seat belts. When the turbulent area is over the flight is smooth. That is where Uganda is now. In the end Ugandans will go through the stormy weather which is caused in large part by hanging onto traditional beliefs one of them being that we are created differently – some are born to lead and others to be led. Some are refusing to change their mindset.

In my home area of Rujumbura in southwest Uganda, Bairu (Batutsi slaves or servants) were conditioned to believe that Batutsi were more intelligent and born leaders. Bairu were born to labor for Batutsi. Men were conditioned never to cry or scream under whatever amount of torture by Batutsi (I understand in Rwanda this requirement applied to women as well). And we accepted it.

Is it the messenger or the message that has become controversial in Uganda debates?

I embarked on research and writing with the sole purpose of correcting distortions in the Great Lakes political economy with a focus on Uganda. I was fully aware that my findings and solutions would raise much dust and controversy. Before I wrote my first book which came out in 1997 I said a prayer for God’s guidance and protection. I have written ten books since then. Here are some of the issues I have raised and become controversial.

Contraception and population decline

The conventional wisdom is that once women have access to contraception, population growth will decline drastically. I have countered that while contraception is necessary it is not sufficient. I have argued that a combination of contraception, anti-poverty programs, girls’ education and women empowerment is better than contraception alone. Is it the messenger or the message that has become controversial?

The paradox of hunger and abundance

I have criticized the NRM policy of food production for cash than for the stomach. The president has been the champion of this policy. Households have responded and are selling so much food to the extent that there isn’t enough for household consumption and for school lunch. Consequently regions that are food surplus are experiencing severe under-nutrition especially among children and women. I have suggested that for nutritional and moral imperatives, Uganda should only export surplus food over and above domestic requirements. Is it the messenger or the message that has become controversial?

Why people demand change and rebel when they fail

People demand change of different degrees when existing frameworks don’t work well. Students demand better food because what they are eating isn’t good or is monotonous. Workers demand better working conditions because the existing ones aren’t good. This is a normal thing in all societies. And when leaders refuse to respond or convince the public they face difficulties, sooner or later, some of them revolutionary. Leaders that adjust as enlightened despots in Europe did during the 18th century lasted longer. Those that didn’t like Charles I of England, Louis XVI of France, Nicholas II of Russia and Haile Selassie of Ethiopia were booted out of power and their dynasties destroyed.

Similarly, the people of Uganda after fifty years of independence are demanding change of leadership and a new governance system. NRM leadership and its unitary and tier system of government are not only controversial but also unacceptable. They have made a few families filthy rich and the majority real paupers. All Ugandans are born equal and must be presented with equal opportunity to develop their talents. If they fail to get what they want peacefully, they are likely to resort to other means. This is natural.

Freedom of expression will liberate Uganda

Countries that have progressed have had citizens that fought for their inalienable (natural or God given) rights and freedoms including freedom of speech. They have also taken risks. When you shy away from them chances are that you will remain behind. Some efforts create quick results – negative or positive – others take a long time. Sometime reversals occur. But a start has to be made.

Uganda has just ended fifty years of independence. The overall assessment is that things haven’t happened the way we wanted them. That means we have to revisit what we did and find out what we need to discard, refine or retain as is.

One of the common complaints in Uganda is the system of governance that has concentrated power in the central government and suffocates efforts for regions or districts to decide what they need to do to improve the quality of their lives. The tier system that Uganda has introduced through decentralization is not sufficient because the central government determines what states/provinces or districts should do and the minister of local government is empowered to take decisions that could frustrate local initiatives.

Foreign reliance on minority Tutsi has reopened old wounds

On July 9, 2011, I said a prayer silently and then stood up in front of fellow Ugandans in a conference hall in Los Angeles, USA and officially declared that I was going to devote the balance of my life to finding a lasting solution to the endemic problems in the Great Lakes Region of Africa (GLRA). I added that in carrying out this task I would be honest and fair to all stakeholders, notwithstanding that some findings may be contested even when everyone knows they are accurate. I have read and written extensively on the Great Lakes Region of Africa (GLRA) and posted some articles on

I was born and grew up in Rujumbura county of Rukungiri district in southwest Uganda which for centuries has been a battle ground between Bantu (Bahutu and Bairu) or agriculturalists and Nilotic (Batutsi, Bahima, Bahororo and Banyamulenge) or pastoralists. Because of shortages of pasture and water, nomadic pastoralists fight most of the time to destroy or chase away the competitor and dominate the territory. Because of constant wars and dispossession of opponents, pastoralists end up destroying more than they construct. Pastoralists in GLRA (and possibly elsewhere) don’t have a culture of negotiations and sharing with others on equal terms.

Message from UDU Chairman

Dear Members of UDU:

    Attached please find an essay explaining the nature, history and causes of our political problems in Uganda. The essay is long and therefore those of you who do not have time to go through the entire essay may choose to read the diagnosis and the prognosis. The prognosis will show you that democratization is far more complex and difficult than many of us have assumed; it involves more than removing a bad regime from power. Democratization involves changing the entire society. This is an issue I find many people have yet to understand. Our problems are more than Museveni.

    One of the problems Uganda is facing today is corruption. In my opinion there is no prospect of solving the problem of corruption in Uganda without regime change. I request that this problem be taken seriously and I would appreciate any comments from you on this subject. Because corruption is deeply institutionalized within the NRM regime democratization cannot take while NRM is in power.