In every society, people make mistakes. Those who recognize them early and correct them get back on the right track and move on. Those who don’t correct the mistakes suffer the consequences.
In England, King Charles I was defeated in a civil war, absolutism and the monarchy were abolished and England became a republic (Commonwealth) under Oliver Cromwell, a military commander. Cromwell governed with an iron hand and his son who succeeded him was very weak. The people of England through their Parliament decided to restore the monarchy under King Charles II with restrictions. The mistake was corrected and England moved forward.
Since the Lancaster House constitutional conference for independence, we Ugandans have made mistakes. In a rush to meet the deadline of October 9, 1962 for independence, we postponed and overlooked major issues which should have been resolved with Britain in the chair. The daunting issues of Lost Counties, Head of State, Batutsi refugees and the fate of Amin were postponed. We abandoned Ben Kiwanuka whom we knew better and welcomed Milton Obote who had just returned from Kenya who didn’t know Uganda and Uganda didn’t know him. When Uganda became independent, it was neither a monarchy nor a republic. It was simply called “The Sovereign State of Uganda” with the Queen as Head of State.
This was a very fragile beginning and we should have known it and corrected it. Instead selfish politicians took advantage of it and in the process drove Uganda into the 1966/67 political and constitutional crisis.
When Obote made economic reforms to balance the roles of state and private sector and launch a mixed economy model (what today we call private and public partnership) and adjust a colonial economy to post-independence reality, he was wrongly accused by those who wanted his job of sneaking communism or socialism into Uganda.
Sections of Uganda frustrated with Obote wanted him replaced by anyone. They believed none could be worse than Obote. We ended up with General Amin Dada, a military commander whom we received with open arms and jubilation. To our disappointment Amin governed like Oliver Cromwell in England, with an iron hand. Unlike the English people, we didn’t use our parliament after the overthrow of Amin to put Uganda on the right track. Instead we fought each other and opened the gate for another military commander named Yoweri Museveni who had been rejected by his own Mbarara people as leader of DP and as MP.
Like Obote, Museveni was barely known (and is still barely known) but we entrusted him with national responsibility. This mistake should have been corrected in the 1996 elections. We didn’t because we were still afraid of UPC and Obote or anyone who associated with him. Museveni is another military leader who has governed with an iron hand.
As if we haven’t learned that military leaders rule with iron hand like Cromwell, Amin and Museveni, FDC has just elected as its president a former military commander. With sincere and due respect to Uganda soldiers, men and women in uniform are trained to deal with enemies and defend their country against external aggression, not deal with civilian populations. That is why police officers who deal with civilians are trained differently from soldiers. That is why we are resisting militarization of Uganda police. We respect our soldiers but we should use their comparative advantage which is protecting and defending the nation. And they should be fully facilitated to do their work effectively and efficiently.
In situations like Uganda where checks and balances and separation of powers among the legislature, executive and judicial branches of government are lacking it is dangerous to elect a military commander to be head of state. Latin America was once ruled by military dictators and human conditions deteriorated. They have been replaced by civilians. Uganda should keep this lesson in mind.
Let us return to Cromwell for more lessons. Oliver Cromwell ruled unjustly. He dissolved parliament twice and then ruled as a dictator under the title of Lord Protector with backing of the army. He ruthlessly put down royalist uprisings in Ireland and Scotland. Cromwell saw the Catholic Irish as dangerous savages and dealt with them harshly and Catholic land was confiscated.
Like Cromwell, Amin ruled Uganda with an iron hand and threatened Kenya and invaded Tanzania. Museveni has also ruled Uganda with an iron hand. He decided that trained and experienced Ugandans should stay in the diaspora. He deleted term limits from the constitution so he rules for life. He has rejected an independent electoral commission so he is sure to get re-elected every five years to meet a requirement for foreign aid. He has replaced Ugandans with Tutsi or tutsified Ugandans in key posts in security forces, public service and private sector and is governing with the backing of the army. At one time a foreigner was deputy army commander and deputy minister of defense! Like Cromwell, Museveni has been involved in wars in Sudan, Rwanda and DRC and is threatening to confiscate peasants land.
What makes us think that another former military commander whether under NRM or FDC will behave differently? Soldiers behave the same. They don’t know how to discuss, consult and compromise because they are not trained that way. And it is not their fault. It is the fault of those who give them responsibilities they are not qualified for. So I don’t blame Muntu or Museveni. I blame those who put them there. They should work hard to correct that mistake or Uganda will continue in darkness and deceived like when Museveni decived Ugandans on October 9, 2012 when he stated that Uganda will become a middle income country in a few years. A country retrogressing from third world status like Uganda is can’t become a middle income country in a few years. The World Bank was so appalled that it objected to that statement.
A military commander gives orders. Muntu was a military commander, giving orders. So, don’t expect him to behave differently as party leader or as president should he enter state house. When Napoleon had trouble with regional leaders, he simply divided up France into 90 provinces of equal size just to weaken resistance to his rule whether the divisions made sense or not. Similarly, Museveni has divided up Uganda into over a hundred districts to rule without resistance whether the districts make economic sense or not.
Now confident Museveni through his prime minister is threatening to give peasants land to rich Uganda and foreign farmers. Ugandans and parliament are quiet. Uganda and Rwanda have decided that colonial borders in the East African community should be abolished. Ugandans and parliament and other members of the community are quiet. Foreigners are taking over our country in broad daylight. Where is the leader of the opposition? What is the view of Muntu the newly elected president of FDC? What is the view of Olara Otunnu, the president of UPC? What is the view of Nobert Mao, the President-General of DP?
Kizza Besigye has stated that he would contest again for Uganda’s presidency if requested but he has to prove that Ugandans still want him to contest. So what are Besigye’s views on land transfer from peasants to rich farmers and the elimination of national borders? Candidates should be evaluated on their policy proposals, not on silence or buying votes.
The debates taking place in the media in Uganda and abroad are encouraging. But we need to go a stage further. All patriotic forces in Uganda whether in NRM or the opposition need to come together. Acting individually won’t help. KANU in Kenya was defeated only after opposition groups came together under NARC. UNIP in Zambia was defeated only after opposition parties came together under MMD. Ian Smith in then Rhodesia was defeated only after ZANU and ZAPU came together. Pinochet of Chile was defeated only after major opposition parties came together.
Besides coming together, Uganda needs bold, selfless, patriotic and experienced leadership with impeccable character – character matters a great deal! And this leadership is there. What is needed is to put it together for the good of all Ugandans.
The October 2012 London conference on federalism demonstrated that Ugandans from all corners of the nation can work together for a perfect union when there is an enabling environment. The organizers of the conference created that atmosphere. Let us build on that.