Uganda’s democracy won’t be won at gun point

The year 2011 will go down as a defining moment in Uganda’s political economy history. Those who have followed political debates since before independence in 1962 will agree that this year has been exceptional in this regard. The services provided particularly by radio munansi and Ugandans at Heart Forum that have facilitated exchange of information and debate are highly commendable. They facilitated the birth of United Democratic Ugandans (UDU) – an umbrella organization that has brought together parties and organizations opposed to the NRM system to coordinate their activities and speak with one voice.

Uganda has entered the age of Enlightenment based on the concept of reason, not swallowing orders from the military dictator lock, stock and barrel. The debates on oil and Mabira forest are some examples of this Age of Enlightenment. And there is no turning back.

The people of Uganda are thus demanding to start from a clean slate. They want to develop their future path and occupy the driver’s seat with external helping hand as appropriate. The preparation of the National Recovery Plan (NRP) by Ugandans is a concrete example of what we mean.

The Plan has been well received at home and abroad. Its main features were summarized in a statement by Eric Kashambuzi for the November 12, 2011 London conference. The statement is accessible at Hopefully the NRP will be enriched including by discussions at the London conference and other forums and adopted as an alternative to the failed policies of NRM. There is no need to re-invent the wheel.

To facilitate this enrichment, the deadline for submission of comments has been extended to December 31, 2011. Comments should be sent to The Plan is accessible at

To take charge of their destiny, many Ugandans have concluded that future elections under conditions dominated by NRM are a waste of time, effort and resources. They have further concluded that NRM which has lost direction and become disoriented since the abandonment of structural adjustment program in 2009 cannot be reformed and get Uganda back onto the right development path. Therefore the unity being forged among political parties and organizations has the sole purpose of unseating the NRM system and laying the foundation for lasting peace, security and prosperity for all Ugandans.

In other words, the unity we are working on is not a marriage of convenience – to be discarded once NRM is gone – but of conviction with lasting outcomes. We are consciously crafting it to be different from that between UPC and KY in 1961 and the one reached at Moshi in 1979. It was clear from the start that these arrangements would not continue after the immediate objective of blocking DP and unseating Amin government respectively had been met.

Ugandans have a good handle of what happens when you conclude a marriage of convenience – you reap instability and suffering. Ugandans are also beginning to understand the real disadvantages of sectarianism and will hesitate to follow leaders preaching this path for the future of Uganda. Based on experience of sectarianism since independence, consensus is building that future Uganda leaders should be selected based on the core values of meritocracy, patriotism, character, ancestral roots and public service.

Thus the new national unity is to take out the NRM regime and establish a common platform for sustained, equitable and sustainable development for all Ugandans.

While consensus has been reached on removing NRM from power, it has not yet emerged regarding the strategy to be used or the sequencing of parts of a common strategy. Consequently, two options are under active consideration: the non-military in the first instance and the military from start to finish.

There are those Ugandans who believe that a military strategy should be avoided because military solutions breed military governments which do not derive their legitimacy from the people but through the barrel of the gun. Such governments are grossly undemocratic and inherently destabilizing. Generals impose their will on the rest of the population even after they take off their military fatigues, steal elections and wear civilian clothes. Thus, there is no such a thing as democracy at gun point.

Second, this school of thought believes that Ugandans should attack NRM at its weakest point. Military is not NRM’s weakest but strongest point. The weakest point is the economy and services. Uganda’s economic base is agriculture in terms of food for domestic consumption, employment and foreign exchange earnings.

Peasants’ refusal to cooperate in terms of producing for domestic and external markets would paralyze the country through lack of food and foreign exchange. We have seen how the current rising prices of food have rattled NRM‘s foundation.

Musevei’s soldiers will not have the capacity and possibly the will to force peasants throughout Uganda to plant, weed, harvest and carry produce to the market. Hungry soldiers and urban elites will get angry and withdraw or reduce support from the government. Unemployed and under-employed youth will jump onto the bandwagon. Investment and tourism will dry up and development partners will withdraw. Some have already scaled back assistance due to government rampant corruption.

NRM will desist from using disproportionate force against innocent demonstrators because the lesson of Libya is still fresh in its mind. It will have no other choice but be forced out.

Remember that it was food shortage and rising prices in Ethiopia that finally drove the Emperor and his imperial regime out of power. The generals, imperial guards – and yes, his lions – were overwhelmed and just stood by as the Emperor was driven away from the palace in a Volkswagen beetle.

Marcos of Philippines was driven out of power by the solid will of the people. So were the communist regimes in Eastern Europe except in Romania where force from his own troops removed the dictator. Strong and well equipped military and intelligence networks did not save the Shah of Iran from mass demonstrations.

Studies have concluded convincingly that in most cases non-violent struggles have produced the desired results. That is why some groups like ETA of Spain that had resorted to force for many years have abandoned that strategy in favor of non-violence arrangements.

Third, the global mood is not in favor of military solutions to political problems either by the people against the government or the government against the people. There is a preference for negotiated settlement of disputes or peaceful resistance.

Thus, those Ugandans bent on using force from start to finish need to take into account this wind of change before taking a final decision. The use of NATO forces in defending Libyans against their regime was an exceptional case, unlikely to be emulated elsewhere. And without external support in finance, expertise and logistics removing NRM from power by force of arms might be difficult, prolonged and above all bloody (Museveni’s bush war had massive financial, mercenary, diplomatic and media support). However, Ugandans should be ready in the event that a military option becomes necessary in self-defense.

From the analysis above, a general consensus is emerging in support of peaceful means to unseat the NRM system by well informed and motivated people themselves with external backing and replacing it with peoples’ representatives through a democratic process. That is what UDU is working towards.

What we need are smart, dedicated and bold strategists to draw up plans that are location specific, avoiding as much as possible a one size-fits-all solution. In short, different locations and communities should craft their civil disobedience plans on the basis of their endowments to paralyze the country and make it ungovernable. That is what has been referred to as the “War of the Flea” strategy.