To unite Uganda we must know what divides us


This article has been written by popular demand as part of end-of-year reports. All Ugandans want a united, peaceful and secure country that guarantees civil rights (equal protection and opportunity under the law) and civil liberties (freedom of speech, press, religion and due process of the law). Yet the majority doesn’t want to know what divides us. Those who have attempted to explain have suffered abuse and intimidation. And those seeking political support prefer to remain silent. One compatriot advised that we should let sleeping dogs lie but when they wake up they may get mad when they see the condition they are in.

NRM took a dramatic step and outlawed talking about our religious and ethnic differences that have divided Uganda since before colonial rule. Accordingly, the anti-sectarian law was promulgated by parliament. This restriction has become counterproductive in the face of increasing sectarianism under the NRM government that is disproportionately favoring Tutsi and “tutsified” Ugandans (non-Tutsi men who have married Tutsi women).

What people in the Great Lakes region demand is justice

I worked in a UN organization that treats all staff with a high degree of fairness. There is an ombudsman office where complaints of injustice are presented for a solution. You can also make recourse when you feel you missed a promotion unfairly.

I grew up in a Christian family where our parents exercised fairness. We sat together at meal times and we shared domestic chores proportionately. When it was about time to go back to school, our parents brought us together and gave us allowances (pocket money) according to our needs in a transparent atmosphere. And there was no favoritism.

In the Great Lakes region injustice has reigned supreme. Since John Speke racial theories popularized by Seligman that Nilotic Batutsi people are superior, more intelligent and born to rule over Bantu Bahutu and Bantu Bairu people who are inferior, unintelligent and born to be ruled the latter has suffered crushing humiliation.

Sharp contrasts between NRM and UDU policies

As we approach 2016, Uganda people must be provided with election choices well in advance of the elections so that they are well informed about what is at stake and make the right choices.

United Democratic Ugandans (UDU) which has become a formidable force was formed in July 2011 and has been consulting with the people at home and abroad including in a local language and conducting civic education to determine what Ugandans need. We have got some ideas which contrast sharply with what the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government has been implementing since 1987. Here are the contrasts on selected areas.

Civilian versus military-backed government

NRM is led by a military president with full backing of the military. UDU proposes a civilian president with full backing of the people.

Specific roles of security forces and the judiciary

NRM has militarized the police, mixed up the roles of the military and the police and weakened the judicial system in the administration of justice.

What the next Uganda leader must have and pledge to do

It is no longer a debatable issue even among once staunch supporters of NRM government at home and abroad. Uganda has become a divided, corrupt, sectarian and retrogressive state. It has remained absolutely poor, hungry, thirsty, sick, illiterate and degrading very fast environmentally and diplomatically.

Uganda image in the Great Lakes region, in Africa and in the rest of the world has been dramatically tarnished. Museveni is no longer regarded as the dean of the new breed of African leaders, peace maker, star performer and blue eyed boy of the west but as a dictator who has presided over a failed state now characterized by resurgence with vengeance of diseases that had disappeared including scabies and jiggers which are undeniably external manifestations of absolute poverty, notwithstanding economic growth, export diversification, privatization of public enterprises, downsizing public service and controlling inflation.

That Uganda is in trouble came out clearly during the Jubilee message on October 9, 2012 when the president could not record in any meaningful way what NRM has done to raise the overall standard of living in view of the fact that it has been in power for more than half of Uganda’s fifty years of independence.

What do we know about federal governments?

The word federal is derived from a Latin term foedus which means covenant or compact. Federalism is sometimes used interchangeably with decentralization. Federalism is a system in which political power is shared between a central (national) government and smaller governmental units. The central government is often called the federal government and smaller units called states or provinces. The division of power between the federal government and states or provinces is defined in the constitution. The principal objective of federalism is to balance the interests of different ethnic and language groups, regions, etc and between different groups or regions and the central government.

Central or unitary governments hold principal powers and choose what to give to states or provinces. Some governments that appear federal use unitary systems, making states or provinces serve as administrative rather than political units. In a federal system, citizens usually owe their loyalty directly to the central government.

Federal systems are classified as coming-together like the American-style federalism and holding-together like India, Belgium, Nigeria and Spain designed to hold multicultural societies together by devolving powers constitutionally and forming a federation. Federalism whether democratic or not is the result of bargain involving an element of give and take. In other words, to have lasting impact federal systems of government should not be imposed by stronger members on weaker ones. Different regions in a country or different states should come to the table as equals and bargain a win-win outcome.

What will Museveni report to Uganda on October 9, 2012?

On October 9, 2012, Uganda will observe 50 years of independence. The president is expected to report what has happened to Uganda and her citizens since October 9, 1962. To do that he needs to recap what independent Uganda inherited from British colonial administration. He should outline why Ugandans demanded independence and how it has been used to realize our dreams. In doing so, he is expected to look at the processes but most significantly at real outcomes in terms of quality of human life and status of our environment. In short, are we better off democratically, economically, socially and ecologically than we were fifty years ago?

On October 9, 1962, John Kakonge (RIP) then Secretary General of UPC that formed the first government issued a statement under the title “Uganda Regains Freedom”. He observed, inter alia, that Uganda inherited an impoverished nation, based on traditional agriculture and very low living conditions characterized by inadequate education and health care facilities, very high mortality rate, low school attendance and many other challenges. He left out the good things that the colonial administration did.

What to do about Uganda

I joined Uganda politics because I was convinced beyond a shadow of doubt that NRM was driving the country in the wrong direction. I also accepted the post of Secretary General in UDU to participate in civic education and diplomatic networking. I was fully aware that the silent, voiceless, powerless and suffering majority of Ugandans needed some people to speak on their behalf. I was equally aware that to do so would involve one in dealing with sensitive issues like sectarianism, corruption and violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms – issues that Uganda’s military dictatorship wouldn’t want discussed.

The hurdle we are facing is that we are dealing with a regime that thinks we are still in the feudal age of lords and serfs or an era of absolute rule and divine right. NRM hasn’t realized that we have entered the Age of Reason (Enlightenment or Intellectual Revolution) that has enabled us to develop a questioning mind and won’t take anything at face value. Charles I of England didn’t accept that change had occurred when he conflicted with British parliament but James II did and allowed the Glorious Revolution to occur. Later on Louis XVI and Czar Nicholas II didn’t understand that there was a wind of change.

Is there anything in Uganda that NRM has done right?

With a professional eye, it is difficult to see what NRM government has done right. However, it is very easy to see what it has done wrong. The costs have by far exceeded the benefits, raising serious questions about how long Ugandans should sustain NRM in power. So far, surrogates for the government have failed to convince the public. That they have failed comes through when asked to provide success stories. They don’t even know how to successfully attack their opponents, ending up embarrassing themselves when asked to substantiate their allegations. Let us illustrate what has gone wrong.

What we have learned since Uganda’s independence in 1962

The discussions within UDU and other forums about the future of Uganda have necessitated an assessment of Uganda’s experience since independence in 1962. This is still work in progress but here are some preliminary findings. Your constructive comments are welcome.

1. Winner-take-all or government of exclusion has created many problems. Future governments should be inclusive on a proportional representation basis. Uganda’s population and natural diversity should be seen and used as an asset;

2. Notwithstanding political deficits, the civilian government in the 1960s performed much better in economic and social sectors than the succeeding military regime of the 1970s and military-turned democratic regime since 1986. Leaders with military background do not appear to be suitable for civilian administration.

3. Learning the art of governing a country on-the-job has proven to be the wrong approach. All the three presidents (Obote, Amin and Museveni) did not have what it takes at the beginning to govern, forcing them to rely on loyalty than competence. Future leaders must show experience, confidence and success in managing a large organization preferably with diverse characteristics as in Uganda. This would avoid or minimize parochialism which has become an endemic problem. Leaders that jump out of a ‘corn field’ onto a presidential stage no matter how educated they are should prove their practical experience. The issues of experience and character should be emphasized. Good character here refers to those leaders that in their lives have demonstrated distaste for corruption and nepotism and are conscious of good public image. When you become a leader you cannot afford to behave recklessly in private or public arena;

Should Uganda opposition use non-violent or armed resistance in the first instance?

I have been receiving comments about why I do not support military confrontation with NRM in the first instance. In other words, why I do not want the opposition to use military means to attack Uganda first? My position is the following:

1. The mood in the Great Lakes Region, African Union and the International Community is not in favor of armed conflict. Protocol on Non-Aggression and Mutual Defense in the Great Lakes Region; African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance and Charter of the United Nations will make military attack on a government regardless of how it came into power very difficult. Opposition attackers will be condemned as terrorists and Museveni will get all the support he needs and enact all draconian laws to cause permanent damage and govern comfortably thereafter. He would welcome that opportunity. We can’t and shouldn’t give it to him. Recall what happened in a successful Mali’s military coup recently: soldiers were forced to hand over power to the civilian. The Madagascar case was also hard for the new government. Conditions when Museveni waged a guerrilla war in the early 1980s were very favorable, not now. So don’t think because Museveni carried out a successful guerrilla war you too can do it.