Yesterday, July 2, 2012, I wrote an article appealing to Ugandans to come together quickly and save Uganda from Museveni’s notion of metamorphosis or complete overhaul. Museveni prepared step by step what he wanted to achieve including sending messages or making observations in the form of questions after he has stated his view for those who cared to know where he was headed. For example, in his interview with John Nagenda shortly before he became president Museveni through a question posed by Nagenda (perhaps with Museveni’s encouragement) made a statement to the effect that there are two races in western Uganda – Ugandans of the white race (Museveni’s race) and Ugandans of the black race although both races speak Lunyankole language. He sent a convoluted message about white superiority and black inferiority. But his supporters including those in Ntungamo district have made it clear who is who and who deserves what in Uganda.
As a researcher I have interacted with many Ugandans at different social levels. All want children to do better than their parents. All want to be treated with respect. All those opposed to NRM want unity to succeed etc. However, the surprising part is that there are very few people acting individually or collectively through institutions that practice what they preach.
Look at the NRM government. It has preached modernization of agriculture but practiced very little. It has preached industrialization of Uganda but in practice the country is de-industrializing. It has preached environmental protection and sustainable management of natural resources but is threatening to give away a portion of Mabira forest for sugarcane plantation. It has preached good education in quantity and quality but cannot even provide lunches that keep children in primary school and make them perform better especially girls.
In rhetoric many Ugandans – married or not – feel that Uganda’s population is growing fast and needs to be controlled, but very few are willing to practice birth control. They feel their ‘neighbors’ should do so first.
Uganda has entered a phase of intense debate about its future which is commendable because everyone has a chance to express their opinions provided it is done in a civil manner (threats and calling names are counterproductive) to produce constructive outcomes for every Ugandan. As the debate continues it may be useful to draw lessons from history because what Uganda is going through is not new. Conflicts between governors and the governed over political, economic, social, cultural and spiritual matters have happened before. The French Revolution (1789-99) seems a good place to start. As you read the following paragraphs try to see if there are similarities to what is happening in Uganda.
We have a saying in my culture that a child who does not cry, never gets fed. Those who have taught know that attention of teachers goes disproportionately to students who raise their hands in class or follow the teacher after class with questions. In a world with so many problems, attention is being directed to hot spots. Those who remain silent regardless of the extent of suffering will be sidelined. Going to church to seek God’s help is necessary but not sufficient. Calling for outside help is fine but you have to demonstrate what you have done. From time immemorial, freedom and prosperity have been earned by individuals, communities and nations through sweat and sacrifice. By and large those who succeed work the hardest and longest and sacrifice a lot. They reject what they don’t like and go for what they want. The poll tax was dropped in England in the 14th century because the peasants opposed it and revolted. The poll tax was again rejected in the 20th century because the British opposed it and removed from office the champion who wanted to reintroduce it. The English civil war was waged against the excessive demands and behavior of the king. So was the French Revolution. Americans rejected taxation without representation. So the descendants of these people know the value of fighting for rights and freedoms. History is full of examples in all places on earth that unless you raise your voice and show your presence, you will not get heard and noticed. So the message for Ugandans is clear: organize, raise your hand and your voice, show your presence in the streets and wherever you are sit in front of targeted embassies or capitals peacefully and if necessary silently with placards conveying the message to get international attention! Ugandans in London have been doing an excellent job of demonstrating and we congratulate them. But don’t relax. Others should emulate this noble show of determination to make change happen at home. Museveni (the name will be used in official capacity with no personal criticism) is sensitive about Uganda’s image abroad which is already damaged. That is why he is skipping important conferences. He is afraid of demonstrations and reporters’ questions about rigged elections and when he will step down. In our struggle we should aim at involving everyone willing to cooperate including NRM members because the changes we are seeking will benefit everyone.
Ugandans and development partners searching for a lasting solution to endemic problems in Uganda need to revisit the country’s history for some clues. Under normal circumstances it is the majority that dominates the minority. In Uganda it is the reverse. And that is why democracy and elections which express the will of the majority have not worked because the privileged minority has sabotaged the democratic process.
In pre-colonial times the movement and interaction of people – the so-called agriculturalists and pastoralists – produced two communities. The agriculturalists known as Bantu people entered Uganda from the west. Their economic activities were dominated by crops and livestock (goats, sheep and short horn cattle) and poultry and manufactured products using abundant resources including iron ore and timber. Because they settled in large areas with fertile land, good weather and plenty of wild game and fruits and vegetables they multiplied quickly. Because there was plenty of everything including foodstuffs that increased resistance against diseases, there was no cause for conflict and wars. Absence of war minimized mortality and also contributed to rapid population growth. When conflicts arose, some communities simply moved away or the disputes were solved by diplomatic means through negotiations. Accordingly Bantu people did not have standing armies for offensive or defensive purposes.
Disappointing political and economic performance of Uganda leaders since independence in 1962 has raised questions about the profile of future leaders. The leaders we have had so far have not passed the test in large part because we did not know them well or were imposed through coups and the guerrilla war.
Obote spent much of his time in Kenya. He came back to Uganda a few years before he formed the UPC in 1960 to contest elections in 1961 and 1962. Although his economic performance in the 1960s passed the test, the same cannot be said for political performance.
Ugandans had known Amin to be a rough individual militarily going by his record in Kenya in colonial days and his handling of the 1966 political crisis in Buganda. He became president in the 1970s through a military coup. He was never elected by the people of Uganda.
Museveni shot his way to power from the Luwero jungles through the barrel of the gun. He had worked for a few years as a government research assistant. And he has been with us since 1986.
There are good and bad leaders. Good leaders have characteristics including persuasion that make them popular and eliminate resort to force. Leadership qualities – good or bad – are detected early in one’s life. A good leader even among children persuades, a bad one bullies. Good leaders are trusted and are well known in their communities and therefore popular. When they arrive in a village all people are eager to meet and welcome them. Bad leaders lead to debates about who should meet them because none likes them even many of those working for them.
Throughout his school days, Museveni did not exhibit qualities (intellectual and social etc) that would qualify him as a good leader. And people who know him very well including some of his teachers will tell you that Museveni was driven into politics by the desire to dominate others not to serve the interest of the general public. He wanted to dominate by impoverishing or marginalizing subjects as we have witnessed over the last 25 years of his rule. This conclusion and his actions together with uncertainties surrounding his place of birth have made Ugandans to judge Museveni as unpopular and a poor leader. That is why he has gained positions by default and/or through rigging elections (EIR 1997 and John F. Clark (2002). Consequently, Museveni has failed to win the hearts of Ugandans for the following illustrative reasons.
1. The population debate has been with us for a very long time dating as far back as classical Greece and Rome. It has evolved overtime and now includes population explosion and implosion as well as women’s reproductive health and rights.
2. At the global level population dynamics is a function of changes in births and deaths. However, at the national level (e.g. Uganda) total population is a function of births – deaths + in-migrants – out-migrants.
3. The world population change has gone through three phases: the first phase occurred in the Neolithic Revolution caused by shifts from nomadic hunter/gatherer communities to crop production and animal domestication making more food available to feed more mouths in settled communities and reduced deaths; the second phase from the Industrial Revolution that started around 1750. Improved transport systems and cold storage facilities connected food surplus to deficit regions and public health including general hygiene, safe drinking water and sanitation that lowered mortality; the third phase began in the late 1950s and is characterized by medical and technological advances that too lowered death rate. Thus, all these phases from the first through the third have one thing in common: they saved lives and increased life expectancy. Thus, during these three phases the increase in population was not because couples were having more babies. It is because people were living longer due to a reduction in mortality.
Uganda is overwhelmingly a Christian country of Protestants and Catholics. One would expect that in such a God-loving and God-fearing country, people would not use force against one to resolve disagreements or answer questions. Rather one would expect people to treat one another as they would like to be treated. One would also expect the rich to help the poor, the healthy the sick and the strong the weak. That is what we were taught in our faiths. Sadly the practice has been different since the founding of Uganda as a nation.