Uganda has reached a political impasse with the potential for explosion largely because of winner-take-all or zero-sum game mentality.
During the campaigns for the 1980 elections, I had the opportunity to talk to the leadership of the three parties because I had gone to school and university with them, reconnected with many of them after graduation, and made new Ugandan friends in the United States, Europe and Africa. I counseled that whoever wins the election should include Ugandans from the other two parties and stressed the need to pull together particularly given the ruinous years of Amin’s rule. The response was lukewarm and nothing came of it. The result was a destructive guerrilla war and overthrow of the Obote II government.
Let me share other experiences and hope that they will help those in present and future leadership positions.
In the mid-1970s when I was working in Lusaka, Zambia, I met many Ugandans who had taken refuge there. There were many antagonistic political camps. Each one wanted me to join their group. I wanted to understand the agenda and composition of each group before making up my mind. After careful analysis I found that there were no major differences in their agendas. They all wanted to remove the Amin government and go back home. I suggested that if that was the case – to topple Amin’s government and go home – then why form different groups? I advised that speaking with one voice would save resources and time and demonstrate to the outside world that Ugandans in exile were united and had a good political, economic and social agenda for Uganda after the fall of Amin.
I decided to invite a carefully selected group of Ugandans from each camp to my home for dinner so I could gauge the political temperature. Some made it clear that if I had invited so and so from the other groups then they would not come because they feared they might pollute the atmosphere. My response was that I invited all the guests on the basis of acquaintances I had made and not on their political views. I added that I was a neutral person and I felt it was not fair to dictate to me whom I should invite to my home. In the end we had a good turn out and the dinner went very well.
After this positive dinner experience, it became clear to me that Ugandans could join hands in a common cause. Subsequently, a new group was formed with the intention that all Ugandans irrespective of faith, language, gender, age or level of education were represented. The group was called Uganda Unity Party. Within a short time some members from other groups joined and others began to show keen interest in joining because this was truly a national party that seriously discussed Uganda issues objectively. Because the group had quickly established a unified front, it was acknowledged and invited to the Moshi conference in Tanzania where Ugandans in exile met to map out the future of Uganda shortly before Amin and his government fell. One of the representatives in our group at the conference was appointed a Minister of State.
I would like to share two additional experiences from an international perspective because Uganda is a microcosm of the United Nations. Hopefully one or two lessons will be drawn from this experience.
When I was president of the African Students Association at the University of California at Berkeley in USA the campus had a tough group of Africans because the Berkeley campus was at that time one of the most radical in the country. As leader of the association, I developed the practice of accommodating all members’ views and taking decisions that reflected consensus or compromise. I managed not only because I adopted a policy of comprehensive consultations but also did more listening than talking. Aware that in all societies in time and space there are individuals who want to monopolize the microphone at the expense of others, I gently conducted the meetings so that every one who wished to speak had an opportunity to do so.
The other experience I wish to share was gained while I worked with the United Nations which is a club of people from 192 member states of the United Nations. They come with different histories, perspectives and ideologies, different cultures and above all different temperaments. When in charge one is required to treat each member respectfully bearing in mind the principles and ideals of the United Nations. The situation is even more complex when one chairs or leads inter-agency teams which calls for all the patience in the world not to trample on the mandate of any agency. When one writes a mission report, they ensure all participants clear it in draft. When you chair an inter-agency meeting you make sure you have read all the briefs and understood the contents. Because of this successful style of management I was most of the time assigned to areas that were problematic.
The above mentioned experiences and more are documented in my book titled “Defying Poverty through Struggle” published in 2009.
To conclude the time has come when all Ugandans must pull together for the sake of our country. We are all Ugandans irrespective of where we come from or how old or young we are. Let us all be guided by Article I of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.
United we stand, divided we fall.