The discussions taking place at home and abroad about the future of Uganda are encouraging. When people with diametrically opposed views begin to engage, that is a good sign. The meeting organized by FDC in London late last year (2011) that invited all political parties and groups is commendable and should be emulated. As we progress along this worthy path, we need to remind ourselves about the difference between principles and strategies. By and large principles remain the same; strategies change in response to prevailing circumstances. Let us begin with outstanding principles?
First, we must remember at all times that all Ugandans are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Nobody is born more equal and with more rights and freedoms than others. For example, all Ugandans have a right to adequate and balanced diet, equal and quality education and remunerative employment, decent clothing and shelter and pursuit of happiness. Every adult has a right to elect freely his/her representatives and to recall them before the next elections should that become necessary.
Second, Uganda belongs to all Ugandans. Ugandans must therefore share equitably what the country produces. A political party that wins elections must govern for all Ugandans. Apart from specific political positions, all other positions in government must be filled on the basis of competence. The winner-take(s)-all practice must be abandoned.
Third, land ownership must always belong to Ugandans who are sovereign. We must stick to this principle adopted by the British colonial administration because it makes sense. This decision was taken after careful consultations between officials in Entebbe and London. That decision is still relevant thanks to Bell, Spire and Simpson. In the absence of quality and relevant education and employment, land has become the only source of life and asset and therefore non-negotiable and non-transferable. Ugandans must utilize land to meet their own demands but also contribute to meeting demands of others as members of the international community through increased productivity and elimination of food losses before and after harvest.
When any or all the three principles are violated, Ugandans have a right to reclaim them. This brings us to the strategy part. In a true democratic society where free and fair elections are conducted regularly, the governing party that interferes with these principles should be voted out and the new government reverses unpopular decisions. When election fails to produce the desired result Ugandans have two options: armed or civil resistance to remove the unpopular regime. While both options should remain on the table, Ugandans need to choose carefully which one to apply first.
The NRM government has already violated some of the principles through sectarianism and foreign ownership of Uganda land. Defeating NRM at the ballot box has not worked, excluding political engagement as a means of resolving conflicts. This leaves armed or civil resistance. There is temptation by some Ugandans to use force because that is the language that Museveni and NRM understand and that is what brought them to power in the first place. To them fire must be met with fire. But we need to understand at least three things. First, what were the domestic and external circumstances during the 1981 when the guerrilla war began? Are the circumstances similar but favorable to the opposition this time? What was the strength of the national army in 1981 compared to what it is today? Second, we must understand our history. Uganda has been dominated by war than peace. Slave trade wars; religious wars; resistance against colonial rule wars; 1966 war at Mengo; 1979 war; 1981-5 guerrilla war; Northern and Eastern Uganda war. These wars destroyed lives, properties, infrastructure and institutions and physical and psychological deficits are still being felt. Add on instability of the 1970s and you realize that Uganda has experienced more sadness than happiness. Third, Ugandans need to understand that you attack an enemy where it is weakest. Against this background, is armed resistance against NRM the best option? Or should we go with civil resistance as the first strategy?
My reading of the situation is that the domestic and international mood is not in favor of armed resistance. Existing armed groups are reviewing the relevance of continued armed resistance and moving towards other means of achieving the same goal. ETA in Spain has dropped armed resistance. Iranians that began resistance against the Shah by armed means changed strategy to civil resistance because the former was very costly. The international mood is against dictatorial regimes and their violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms but wants them removed by non-violent means including elections. Civil resistance is a non-violent strategy that the international community supports as it did for Tunisians and Egyptians. The international community has already made it easy for us by declaring Uganda a country under a dictatorial regime implying that it should be removed. Some studies have demonstrated that it is wise to attack an enemy where it is weakest. NRM government is weakest in the economic area and strongest in the military domain. The short period of walk-to-work demonstrated that the economy can suffer and force the government to change course or be toppled. NRM which depends on agriculture and Kampala would be easy to paralyze with good strategists versed in non-violent tactics similar to the ‘war of the flea’, recognizing that 70 percent of Uganda’s economy is generated by Kampala and the immediate surrounding areas. If farmers refuse to cooperate Kampala would have no food and the government reduced foreign currency both of which would irritate the elite and demand regime change. With a helping hand from our development partners channeling donor money through civil society organizations and independent central bank refusing to print money NRM would be in real trouble within a short time.
Thus, given this scenario, civil resistance seems to be a better initial strategy to adopt, always reserving the right to armed defense should that become necessary. The message here is that opposition should avoid being the first to use military means because NRM would receive neighbors, African Union and United Nations support to defend the territory against invasion and Museveni would swiftly clean up the place before the atrocities get the attention of the international community, end opposition, real or imagined, and govern happily ever after. Ugandans should therefore not hand him this opportunity on a silver platter because he has prepared for military confrontation since he came to power in 1986 because he knows he is not popular.
Finally, the international community is not in favor of zero-sum games or winner-take (s)-all arrangements. That is why they favor coalitions or governments of national unity as in Kenya and Zimbabwe. This gives assurance that no one will be victimized and cooperation with opposition becomes easier in the formation of a new government. But when threatened with zero-sum games those connected with the government will cling to the government for survival to the end. Nelson Mandela succeeded in ending apartheid by assuring whites that they were welcome to stay and formed a government of national unity in the first five years. Therefore Uganda opposition should find a way of working with the NRM and the international community. It is a few leaders in the NRM that have caused the suffering. Those should be identified and dealt with according to the law of the land or by the ICC.
It is against this background that I have suggested three champions to effect peaceful regime change in Uganda. We need three people with impeccable record and determination to change the regime in Uganda in the best interest of all Ugandans. We need a Mandela to galvanize opposition groups that have a common goal. We need a De Clerk representing NRM willing to work with the opposition. We also need a Mcleod representing the international community to facilitate negotiations between NRM and opposition groups to form a transitional government with responsibility for preparing free and fair multi-party elections at an agreed time. To achieve this, Ugandans need to minimize personal, religious, ethnic and regional ambitions and pick the leadership that is truly patriotic and has demonstrated practical leadership qualities including networks. Experience shows that leaders since independence burst onto the Uganda political stage without a clear or sufficient record of public or private service or general background. We also need to recognize that accepting or rejecting a potential leader should be based on solid and undisputed evidence.
Uganda is ready for change. The difference is how change comes about. And that is the part that calls for cool minds.