Ugandans should speak up now to prevent human tragedy

There is convincing evidence that demonstration effects work unless preemptive measures are taken – and well in advance. The black people of South Africa were emboldened to confront the all powerful apartheid regime head on after neighbors had removed colonial oppression through armed struggle. The 1972 genocide in Burundi which was ignored by the international community including the Organization of African Unity emboldened those who committed genocide in neighboring Rwanda in 1994.

Because nothing has happened to those who instigated or committed massacres of 2007 in Kenya’s Rift Valley, Ugandans may be emboldened to do the same hoping they will get away with it if the 2011 elections are rigged.

In all these tragedies there was sufficient evidence of serious trouble ahead but the international community ignored it. Regarding the bloody Southern African struggle for independence some western so-called scholars (some of them still alive) boasted that political changes were impossible during their lifetime. In Rwanda the writing was on the wall well in advance of the 1994 tragedy for everyone to read but the international community turned a blind eye. In Kenya, the international community insisted that the country was the most stable in the Horn and Great Lakes regions even when the signs of impending danger were evident. In Uganda there is increasing evidence that not all is well and the situation is deteriorating by the day and yet the international community and recent visitors to Uganda insist the country is stable. Some refer to macroeconomic stability (stabilizing inflation rate to single digits and economic growth to an average of 6 percent per annum) as evidence of overall stability. They have ignored the rapidly deteriorating political, food, environmental, income, jobs and land distribution instability.

Before elaborating on the frightening developments in Uganda, let us refresh our memories about human tragedies – genocide and massacres.

Genocide is defined as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (i) killing members of the group; (ii) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (iii) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (iv) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (v) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group” (UNESCO, 2003). Whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, genocide remains a crime under international law.

According to Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary (1972) massacre refers to indiscriminate, merciless killing of a number of human beings or sometimes animals.

The increasing boldness, frequency and intensity with which Ugandans are reporting and discussing – at home and abroad – atrocities committed in the country since the Amin days and increasingly pointing fingers at NRM and its leadership is a relatively new and extremely serious dimension that the international community can no longer ignore. Consequently, donors must help Ugandans to prevent developments that may lead to massacres or genocide. Anybody can trigger anything to break hell loose because most Ugandans have made it very clear that they have had enough with NRM government. We should therefore not leave any stone unturned to avoid a situation that Anthony Parsons (1995) described regarding genocide in Rwanda when he wrote “The collapse of this [UN Peace Keeping] operation cannot be blamed on the UN. No one could have anticipated the shooting down of the presidential aircraft and the blood bath which destroyed the carefully formulated peace settlement which UNAMIR [UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda] was supervising”.

Similarly, the international community should not be satisfied that it has done everything to prevent trouble by increasing aid flows into Uganda and stressing commendable economic growth projections to 2011 – the election year. The issue is not resource scarcity or economic growth. The principal challenge has two parts: (i) the failed governance by the NRM government led by a minority group that (ii) is determined to stay in power indefinitely by use of force if necessary. Therefore any means can be employed to address this challenge.

NRM and Museveni have endeared themselves (permanently?) to the donor community by collaborating on a number of projects including structural adjustment program that has ruined the lives of many Ugandans. Therefore the proposed power sharing is seen by Ugandans as an attempt by the donor community to keep Museveni in power. Consequently, this idea has not gone down well with Ugandans. In the circumstances, the best donors can do to prevent catastrophe is to genuinely help level the playing field for free and fair elections in 2011. The experience of power sharing in Kenya and Zimbabwe does not offer lessons worth emulating.