The right thing

As a last resort, the people of Uganda – like people elsewhere – have the right to rebel against the dictatorial regime of Museveni who believes in Social Darwinism. Museveni is falsely convinced that Bahororo people were created with exceptional natural qualities including monopoly on military aggressiveness to rule by divine right and exploit other Ugandans with impunity. That is why he can hire his family members and other Bahororo people in key, strategic and lucrative areas without shame. Museveni does not believe in elections. For him elections are a western requirement to get foreign aid. According to him, elections will never remove Bahororo people from power! The 2011 elections confirm Museveni’s determination to rule Uganda. He openly rigged the 2011 elections largely by disenfranchising indigenous Ugandans and bringing in foreigners to vote for him and his NRM candidates from presidential to the lowest electoral office in the land.

Although Museveni claims he has read history, he appears not to have drawn the right lessons. There is sufficient evidence that rulers who believe in the divine right and military supremacy and impoverish and marginalize their subjects end up defeated.

Those with common sense accept changes and a dilution of their powers and survive. King John of England accepted the terms of the Magna Carta that curtailed his divine powers and survived. On the other hand, Charles 1 of England who tenaciously clung to divine right of kings and would not share power with parliament was defeated on the battle field, refused to defend himself in court which he despised, was found guilty and executed.

King Louis XVI of France insisted he had divine authority to impose taxes without Estates General’s (parliament) consent. He refused to make political, economic and social room for middle class in the Third Estate (commoners that constituted 98 percent of France’s total population), refused to share power with the nobility (which had been centralized since Louis XIV) and continued extravagant spending of public funds when the country was experiencing economic hard times and the government was broke. If he had accepted the constitutional monarchy status like William and Mary of England, Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette would have survived. Instead he tried to mobilize foreign mercenaries and to flee the country to wage war on his people and regain full divine rights. He and his wife were apprehended and tried, found guilty and guillotined.

After he returned from exile in 1941, Haile Selassie launched a modernization program largely for his Amharic people – making up 25 percent of the total population. He also brought in foreign advisers to train the army. With Amharic land lords, Amharic urban elite and the Amharic dominated army Haile Selassie thought none would challenge his imperial divine right to rule. He kept the commoners trapped in rural poverty and taxed them heavily. Then he focused on activities to make him the father of African independence.

Meanwhile corruption and inefficiency crept into the imperial administration and rural backwardness intensified made worse by frequent famines. International conflict with Somalia and internal rebellion in Eritrea further weakened the emperor’s grip on power.

In early 1974, the emperor’s power began to crumble. The economic recession triggered by the oil crisis in the early 1970s forced the government to cut down on expenditure. Wages went down while prices went up. Unemployment including of university graduates went up. Then came the devastating famine of 1972-73. The government hid it from the outside world for a long time.

While Ethiopians starved to death, the emperor was photographed feeding chunks of beef to his lions in the palace compound. The photographs of fat lions feasting on beef and women and children dying of starvation were shown on TV screens all over the world. The emperor was accused of insensitivity to the suffering people of Ethiopia.

As a last resort, the people of Ethiopia did the right thing – they rebelled. The unrest of unemployed in urban areas and hungry peasants was joined by students, teachers, taxi drivers and other groups. They took to the streets and demonstrated against the emperor’s flawed policies.

The civilian unrest sparked a mutiny in the junior ranks of the armed forces initially. The privates and NCOs based in a remote barracks in southern Ethiopia at Negele mutinied due to lack of response to their demands for better conditions including clothing and food. Later on the soldiers of the elite units stationed near the capital city of Addis Ababa also demanded pay rises. Additionally, they called for political and economic reforms. In panic the emperor began to hand out cash including on the streets to stave off political demands.

Young Ethiopians who had studied in western universities returned home with radical ideas. They agitated for political reforms and an alternative form of government. They addressed the causes of mass poverty and neglect and recommended regime change.

The debates that ensued galvanized people for more strikes that spread to unions and public servants. The government was afraid to call on the military to intervene as there was a possibility of disobedience. Instead the NCOs of the armed forces in and around Addis Ababa set up a coordinating committee in June 1974. With support of the civilian anti-government opponents, the military committee demanded democracy and a new government. Soldiers who supported the committee began to arrest ranking military officers, government ministers, and members of the aristocracy. By the end of June 1974, the committee (or Derg in Amharic) was in charge of the capital city, essentially ending the imperial rule.

Major Mengistu Haile Mariam – with a dark complexion indicating that he came from the poor colonized south – emerged as leader of the Derg. His humble background appealed to those among the officers who wanted profound changes. He also appealed to the urban poor and other disenfranchised Ethiopians including minorities. His fervent Ethiopian nationalism added to his popularity.

Today’s Uganda has similarities with Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia. Privileges in the economy, politics, social sectors and security forces have disproportionately gone to Bahororo people and their in-laws. National institutions like parliament, cabinet, judiciary and public service have been weakened and reduced to rubber stamp status. Museveni has become everything that matters in the Republic of Uganda, ruling with external backing.

Museveni has focused on a narrow modern sector centered on Kampala as Haile Selassie did with Addis Ababa. As in Ethiopia fewer jobs have been generated in Uganda leaving many youths including university graduates unemployed. As in Ethiopia, the neglect of the majority of Ugandans has resulted in mass poverty and associated social and environmental ills. As in Ethiopia corruption and nepotism have become endemic in Uganda. As in Ethiopia, the demands of privates, NCOs and lower rank soldiers for improvements appear to have been neglected judging by the quality of housing, dressing and eating while the generals and senior officers live in luxuries.

Museveni continues to spend lavishly on his family and to fly his luxurious Gulf Stream presidential jet while schildren drop out of school for lack of lunches. Like Haile Selassie, Museveni handed out huge amounts of cash in 2011 presidential elections to keep his political job.

The people of Uganda like the people of Ethiopia in 1974 have accumulated deep-seated and long-held grievances that what they want is real democracy and an alternative government to Museveni’s. That is why they have rejected the illegitimate results of 2011 elections that were dominated by foreigners who voted for NRM.

It is hoped that the peaceful civilian demonstrations that have begun will be joined by disgruntled security forces (intelligence, police and army) to establish a coalition transitional government to organize free and fair elections.

It is further hoped that the negotiations between NRM and opposition parties being moderated by religious leaders will not highjack the demand for new elections. A so-called government of national unity that offers cabinet posts to opposition presidential candidates in Museveni’s government will go against the demands for another round of free and fair elections.

Meanwhile, demonstration against Museveni as against Haile Selassie in 1974 is the right thing to do. Friends of Uganda should encourage peaceful demonstrations. The people of Uganda want their liberty back. They will not rest until they get what they want. Museveni should not underestimate the will of the people. He should therefore enter into genuine negotiations with opposition parties to come up with a solution acceptable to the people of Uganda.