Uganda must end the culture of war

The history of Uganda has been defined by war than peace. Accordingly, Uganda has no culture of resolving disputes by peaceful means. Ugandans will fight over virtually everything, cattle and land included. The skeletons of war are everywhere and are piling up. The people of Rukungiri, my home district, still remember the devastating Kagogo war. Wars between Buganda and Bunyoro are too well known to be repeated here. Religions that had been invited to protect Uganda ended up fighting each other and tearing some parts part. Colonialism could not be established in all parts of Uganda except through the barrel of the gun which left Bunyoro devastated to this day. Kings and chiefs were overthrown, exiled or jailed.

The post colonial period which was supposed to usher in peace, security, stability, prosperity and happiness for all has turned into a disaster. Soon after independence, Ibingira and Obote were at each other’s throats dragging innocent people into their fight over control of political instruments. This struggle brought the army into politics with Opolot on one side and Amin on the other. Politicians introduced the army into Uganda politics and we are stuck with it. Evidence shows unambiguously that military leaders are not qualified to govern whether they are educated or otherwise. Museveni’s 26 years of gross failures should convince those still sitting on the fence. At independence, Uganda was far ahead of Kenya and Uganda, now it is far at the bottom. The difference is that Kenya and Tanzania have had civilian governments while Uganda has had two military regimes. During the 1960s under civilian rule, Uganda’s economy grew fastest in East Africa. Currently Uganda’s economic growth is below population growth signifying negative per capita income and increasing poverty.

Since 1971 the military has monopolized politics, shutting democracy out (democracy at gun point under Museveni isn’t the kind of democracy Ugandans expected). Because of short-sightedness, Ugandans have encouraged the military to resolve political disputes without giving serious thought about the outcomes. Amin would not have been assisted to overthrow Obote or sustained in power for eight and half years had Ugandans jointly resisted military rule. Many friends and well wishers of Uganda hesitated to recognize Amin government but when they saw the enthusiastic welcome he received in Kampala, they had no other choice. When Amin violated the Asian human rights and threw them out of the country mercilessly, many sympathizers wanted to impose restrictions on Amin government but could not do so given the jubilation in Uganda. As a result, many outsiders lost interest in Uganda affairs (I was living in Europe and witnessed the reaction) even when Amin and his mercenaries murdered or created conditions for murdering half a million innocent people. If Amin had not made the mistake of invading Tanzania, he probably would have died in power (the message conveyed here is that for others to help you get rid of a regime you have to demonstrate clearly that you want that regime changed and you are trying). The transitional government followed in the footsteps of shedding blood although the Moshi conference had created the transitional government to stop further bloodshed.

As if that suffering was not enough, Museveni who lost the elections of 1980 badly at personal and party levels (only one candidate of UPM was elected to parliament), dragged Uganda into a devastating five year guerilla war. DP which had perhaps lost the elections unfairly was not keen on the war. Baganda who had deep grievances against Obote and UPC were not keen either. They were dragged into the war by the ambitions of one man (a situation we should not allow again). I visited Luwero after the war and had discussions with survivors who recounted horrible stories. The unanimous message was that Uganda should never engage in another war. These voices were not listened to and we ended up with another devastating war in Northern and Eastern Uganda. I have researched and written about the suffering of people in these two regions. If the United Nations had not stepped in firmly, Museveni had no intention of ending the war although he has taken the credit for ending it and rewarded with re-election.

After the Second World War, the devastated and exhausted countries of Europe decided to resolve their differences by peaceful means through the mechanism of the European Union (EU). Germany and France which had been at war with each other several times have been the main players in the functioning of the Union. Western Europe has thus been peaceful since then. I have been associated with the EU since 1973 and have been impressed by how determined people can change the course of history.

With this European experience, I decided to join Uganda politics to urge Ugandans to resolve disputes in politics and economics etc by peaceful means. During the first half of 2011, I co-hosted an English program on Radio Munansi. We had lively and interactive discussions – men and women were very active. The message was very clear – let Uganda resolve disputes by democratic and non-violent means. The same message was echoed in the Luganda program – no more war. It was however made clear on both programs that since we are dealing with a military dictator that could use excessive force against non-violent political resistance, we should organize to resist by force of arms. For this reason, there is consensus that Ugandans in the opposition should prepare and be ready for military action only repeat only in self-defense. The opposition in Libya and now Syria used force only after the Libyan and Syrian governments used force far beyond keeping law and order.

Using force to attack a government regardless of how it came to power won’t get the support of Uganda neighbors that have entered into agreement on Mutual Defense in the Great Lakes region; AU Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance that condemns and rejects totally use of force to change a government. The UN has similar provisions. The military coup in Mali should serve as a powerful lesson that use of force isn’t welcome. Unless acting in self-defense Ugandans should refrain from changing NRM government by force of arms. Instead we should mobilize for non-violent resistance which is a legitimate form of regime change. We should insist the army stays out of politics and police functions. NRM is already under severe pressure from within and without and will fall soon, only if we overcome differences in the opposition camp and choose capable leaders without discrimination as to region, faith or ethnicity and other features. We should build on the by-elections momentum.

A meeting was convened in Los Angeles, USA, in July 2011 to establish an umbrella organization named United Democratic Ugandans (UDU) of political parties and organizations at home and abroad to speak with one voice on peaceful regime change in Uganda, noting also that preparations for self-defense would continue under plan B. A National Recovery Plan (NRP) was drawn up as a basis for civic education and blue print for post-NRM development. Since July 2011 UDU has been very active in the areas of human rights and democracy through press statements and articles and diplomatic networks. UDU has called upon the government to allow Ugandans to exercise their rights peacefully through demonstrations, strikes, speeches and other forms of expression. We have demanded that the role of police is to maintain law and order, not to engage in politics on the side of government. We are seeing improvements although a lot more remains to be done. Demonstrations are less disrupted than before and campaigning for by-elections has so far gone smoothly. We have insisted on the independence of the judiciary. It is beginning to work. Parliament is beginning to flex its muscles. Civil organizations including faith-based, women, youth and public servants are demanding change. A new Uganda is emerging no matter what detractors acting as surrogates for NRM may say.

Development partners are expressing their opinions publicly as opposed to a preference for quiet diplomacy with government officials. We wish to thank in particular the governments of the United States of America and the United Kingdom. The USA government has issued several press statements from the State Department in Washington, D.C. and USA embassy in Kampala. Regular contacts between the two governments are in force on issues of democracy and governance in paerticular. The government of the United Kingdom has also become very active in London and Kampala. Discussions have taken place in various branches of government. The outgoing British High Commissioner, Martin Shearman, echoed UDU’s position regarding improvements in peaceful political transition and multiparty political process, separation of ruling party from the state, creation of jobs, building infrastructure and institutions to provide stability or withstand changes, providing better access to education and healthcare, improvement in business environment, investigative journalism and more effective use of the media by government and opposition officials. UDU agrees with the High Commissioner that Uganda needs to increase exports but exports must be of manufactured products that add value which calls for protection of ‘infant’ industries against unfair competition. The High Commissioner’s ideas are contained in UDU’s National Recovery Plan (NRP). Copies of NRP were sent to the governments of the UK, USA and Uganda among others. We have been urging the government to join hands with UDU which already has a post-Washington Consensus NRP and capacity to implement it instead of reinventing the wheel. UDU looks forward to working with the new British High Commissioner, Auson Black Burne. The discussions to mark the 20th lecture in memory of the first Bank of Uganda governor, Joseph Mubiru, were in line with the messages in NRP accessible at

Clearly, there is progress in the direction of democracy and free speech essential for regime change by peaceful means. The process may be slow for those who want quick results. On the whole, there is no need to rush to war. War is ugly and should be used only in self-defense. What is needed is a more coordinated effort among opposition groups under capable, patriotic and clean leadership. NRM is still in power not because it is popular but because the opposition has not been strong enough. We need to strengthen the opposition. UDU which is working more closely with FDC than other parties is beginning to make an impact. UDU leadership has been professional, active and transparent and has encouraged full participation in discussions through the medium of English and Luganda languages. UDU statements on the economy, society and the environment have exposed the shortcomings of NRM. UDU demands that government respects human rights and fundamental freedoms are beginning to show results witness a decline in the use of force at demonstrations and political rallies. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We call on those unhappy with the NRM regime to join UDU for a peaceful change of government without resorting to war except in self-defense. The transitional government will inter alia restore presidential term limits, introduce a truly independent electoral commission, standardize campaign finance to level the playing field for all candidates at all levels and prepare for free and fair multiparty elections. The ball is in the opposition court. With determination as exhibited by Europeans it is possible to end the culture of war in Uganda.

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