Use your voting birth right wisely in Uganda elections

People all over the world have struggled to reclaim their birth right to vote, some losing their lives in the process. Uganda’s independence restored our right to elect representatives in parliament, district councils and lower houses. The purpose of electing representatives in these institutions is to promote and protect interests of all the people in the constituencies they represent. In ancient Greece all eligible citizens met regularly to discuss matters that affected them. As such they didn’t have representatives. This arrangement worked when numbers were small and distances short. When they are large over a wide area it becomes impossible, hence election of representatives.

Izaka Seme: “We are one people” – lesson for Uganda

Early this year (2012), South Africa celebrated 100 years marking the founding of African National Congress (ANC) as an independent country with a democratic black majority government. Originally named as South African Native National Congress, ANC was founded at a conference that took place at Bloemfontein (South Africa) on January 8, 1912.

Pixley ka Izaka Seme (Zulu), the founder of ANC earned a degree from Columbia University (USA) in 1906 and later a law degree at Oxford University. He returned to his home country, South Africa, to start a law firm and practice law. “When he arrived in Johannesburg, he found that he wasn’t allowed to use the sidewalks, leave his home without carrying as many as twelve official passes, venture out after 9:00 PM, or vote”. Outraged and appalled, Seme organized a conference at Bloemfontein to “unite all the black South African factions as a single political force”. This was the first unified political organization in colonial Africa composed of black Africans.

To understand Museveni and Uganda’s decadence, read him dialectically

Let me begin with this statement to clear the air. In analyzing Uganda I have decided to use Museveni because my research has led me to conclude that Museveni is the governing party, the cabinet, parliament and the appointing authority (some people are refusing to leave their jobs on account of incompetence or corruption unless the appointing authority says so). But I refer to Museveni in his public, not private capacity.

Museveni’s use of force has become counterproductive

There is consensus that Museveni is a leader guided by a unique philosophy based on the use of force and fear, dependence on foreigners and regional focus that has made his presidency counter-productive, calling for his defeat in 2011 elections. Museveni’s defeat is very important for Uganda, neighboring countries and development partners in order to avoid heavier losses in the future. Thick clouds are gathering on the political horizon and if they are not dissipated quickly they could unleash a very destructive storm. If preventive steps had been taken Ethiopia and Zaire could have avoided the adverse impact of 1974 and 1996/7 events respectively. To prevent the possibility of such events occurring in Uganda, we need to adopt a preventive strategy because it is always cheaper than cure. We should at all times avoid emotions about what Museveni has done for or against us. We should be guided only by considerations of dignity, liberty/freedom and equality of all Ugandans. We should seek and tell the truth because a diversion will be catastrophic. For easy reference let us review the rationale behind Museveni’s philosophy.

Uganda has entered the enlightenment phase

Enlightenment also known as the age of reason or the age of rationalism was a period in history when thinkers emphasized the use of reason (justification) through observations to arrive at the truth – five plus five is ten. The period began in the 1600s and lasted about one hundred years. The thinkers included John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire. Their ideas have lived on.

Brilliant thinkers in Europe rejected uncritical acceptance of long-accepted dogmas or views about society, politics and religion including the divine right of kings, primacy of aristocrats and prelates (church leaders) and a class society that dictated one’s destiny. For instance, if you were born a ruler or peasant you would stay that way. Thinkers developed the freedom and boldness to inquire and to doubt. Consequently, people in authority and church leaders were blamed for keeping others poor and ignorant in order to keep power for themselves. The outcomes of this freedom included major changes in governing and ecclesiastical institutions. American and French revolutions borrowed a lot from the work of enlightenment thinkers. What is the relevance of enlightenment to Uganda’s situation?

Dividing Uganda into Nilotic North and Bantu South is not correct

When I wrote that dividing Uganda into watertight Nilotic North and Bantu South was not entirely correct, some people sought clarification and elaboration. Earlier on some people had also raised the question whether the people of southern Uganda who are linguistically the same (Bantu-speakers) are also racially (or ethnically) the same.

For Uganda’s northern region one can safely use the Nilotic classification. For Buganda, Bunyoro and Toro one can also safely use the Bantu classification since intermarriage between Nilotic and Bantu peoples was so thorough that new communities emerged, adopted a common Bantu language and practiced mixed farming thereby ending the pastoralist and agricultural specialization between Nilotic and Bantu peoples respectively. However, in south west Uganda (Ntungamo and Rujumbura in particular) the situation is different.

Bantu people who speak Bantu language or Bantu Bantu-speakers (BBS) from Cameroon/Nigeria border arrived in southwest Uganda first through the Congo region. They practiced mixed farming of crops, short horn cattle, goats and sheep and poultry. They also manufactured a wide range of products particularly those based on iron ore. Centuries later, Nilotic Luo-speaking people with long horn cattle arrived in the area. Their ancestors came from southern Sudan. Although the Nilotic people (Bahima and Bahororo) adopted Bantu language, hence Nilotic Bantu-speakers (NBS), culturally and economically they remained distinct from Bantu Bantu-speakers (BBS). Separate identities were retained through a combination of strict restrictions on inter-marriage and specialized economic functions.

The politics of birth control

Politics is the science and art of getting power and how to use it to stay in power. Thus, politics is essentially about conflict or struggle among groups or social categories which allow those who get power to hold on to it and benefit from it. In these circumstances, politics by and large serves to maintain the privileges usually of a minority against the majority. The minority group uses power to disarm opponents (M. Duverger, 1966).

The minority knows that numbers matter. It tries various ways to weaken the numerically superior group. Strategies include dividing the majority group, reducing numbers through conflict, forcing some to migrate out of the territory or marginalizing the group so much that it becomes politically powerless. In the extreme case, the minority tries to reduce the number of the majority group by launching targeted birth control programs.

At the global level birth control was launched after the Second World War because population in the Third World was growing faster than in the developed countries. By early 1970s the global population had ‘exploded’ from 2.5 billion to 3.7 billion over two decades. This growth took place mostly in developing countries. Developed countries expressed fear that if the population explosion is not controlled it would lead to mass starvation and societal catastrophe. Third world governments rejected that view, stressing that economic and social development would take care of population growth (Critical Trends. United Nations 1997).

Launching Uganda’s development plan raises fundamental questions

The NRM government has decided to launch a development plan in April 2010 which is a fundamental departure from the Washington Consensus or stabilization and structural adjustment program (SAP) that was launched in 1987 and has been praised by the government and donors – state and non-state actors alike – as a “success story” in macroeconomic stability, rapid economic growth, privatization of the economy, diversification of exports, streamlining public service and reducing poverty etc. Uganda became the darling of the west – which occasionally gave more money than the government had requested – and an example of economic development to be emulated by other developing countries wishing to transform their economies and societies.

Until now the government has been publishing statistics showing rosy achievements and projections that promised better days ahead with endorsement by some donors like the International Monetary Fund. The launching of the development plan – the use of the term “new plan” gives an impression that it is replacing an “old plan” which did not exist – at this critical juncture raises the following initial questions that need to be answered.

First, instead of a whole new development ideology embodied in the development plan, why did the government not make substantial changes and retain the current program?