What can Uganda learn from the collapse of the Romanovs’ dynasty?

The political developments in Uganda are worrying and could end up in another bloody confrontation if common sense does not prevail at home and abroad. In order to find a lasting solution one has to identify the root cause of the problem like a good medical doctor does before prescribing medication. Pointing out the cause of the problem in Uganda has made some readers uncomfortable who have resorted to using uncalled for language to intimidate and silence the author because they do not want to hear the truth that may force them to accommodate others. These are Ugandans that believe in winner-take-all. Those Ugandans who harbor the notion that they were born to rule others in perpetuity are mistaken and are on the wrong side of history which does not entertain such notions. In Europe those who believed in the divine right of kings were defeated. And in societies where leaders in government and opposition compromise political problems are resolved peacefully resulting in stability, economic development and improvement in the standard of living of all. On the other hand in those societies where leaders are autocrats (rulers who hold absolute power over societies) and resist change the end result is a sad one, sometimes even tragic. The story of the Romanovs is an illustration of the latter.

The Romanovs known as Czars or Tsars ruled Russia autocratically, albeit some worse than others. Their rule was marked by tyranny, inefficiency and corruption as well as uncaring about the suffering of their subjects. Their power was unquestioned and they could do whatever they wanted with impunity. But as time passed the institution of the monarchy became more and more alienated from the people. Ideas from outside began to filter into the Russian society. For example, the Russian army officers who served in the occupation of France in 1815-18 returned home with French Revolution ideas about human rights and responsibilities of kings and wanted to introduce them in their country. The first attempt came in December 1825 by a group of Russian army officers known as Decembrists who tried to take over government. Although the attempt failed the seed of revolution was planted in the Russian soil. Western ideas of modernization and progress that were introduced were confined to the nobility. The needs of working class and peasants were ignored. The latter remained serfs until 1861 and continued to be taxed heavily to finance the many wars including those of territorial expansion. The 1861 emancipation of millions of serfs did not go far enough in giving them economic freedom or land ownership. In fact the freed serfs suffered even more under the burden of fees and taxes. As a result they revolted against poor conditions. The industrialization process and urbanization associated with it created a working class that lived under difficult slum conditions, building potential for trouble.

Because effecting reforms by peaceful means was not forthcoming, several groups advocating alternative strategies were formed. Some called for violence; others for peaceful civil disobedience. A number of military and economic adverse developments made the Russian government and the monarchy unpopular. The defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese war in 1905, very poor performance and heavy casualties in the First World War humiliated Russians. Japan an Asian nation defeated a European nation in modern times. At the same time domestic problems of production, skilled labor and transport reduced the production and distribution of goods and services. Thus, a combination of military defeats and low morale, continued violation of human rights and economic hardship resulted in calls for major reforms. In January 1905 Father George Gapon working in the slums of St. Petersburg, led a protest march to deliver a petition to the Czar calling for democracy and easing the suffering of workers and peasants. The demonstrators were met with brutal government force resulting in many deaths and wounded in the “Bloody Sunday” event. The Czar made half-hearted reforms but continued to rule as an autocrat. As resistance intensified so was brutal use of force to suppress it.

Because much time and resources were spent on agitation and wars, the economy suffered. Shortages combined with printing money made prices rise sharply. Supplies were reduced further when peasants refused to sell grain for worthless paper money. The government got deeper into scandals and corruption, prompting widespread strikes. In the military, sporadic mutinies took place because of demoralization. Matters got worse when an imperial decree ordered conscription of 400,000 people for civilian labor, provoking an outbreak of resistance. The year 1917 began with food shortages as the year 1789 in France. In February, demonstrations and bread riots led by women (as in Paris at the start of the French Revolution) took place and continued into March. When the police could not control the situation, Nicholas II ordered the army to “end them tomorrow”. After officers ordered soldiers to fire on the crowd and killed 150 civilians, discontented soldiers mutinied and joined demonstrators. The Czar’s attempt to disband parliament (Duma) failed because the leaders refused to comply. Events moved fast and the mutineers elected a council (soviet) of soldiers that competed with the Duma for political space. The council joined with a soviet of labor deputies and set up an alternative government. On March 15, 1917, Czar Nicholas II abdicated for himself and for his son. He passed the throne to his brother, the grand duke Michael who in turn declined the crown. The Romanovs era was over because of autocratic rule and use of force to settle disputes.

The point being made in this as in other articles that have been posted on Ugandans at Heart Forum and www.kashambuzi.com is that when a government resorts to use of force and refuses to discuss and compromise with opposition that government is bound to lose power in some cases tragically. The lessons we have learned from the articles written so far should enable us to come to our senses and negotiate a political accommodation that caters to the interests of all stakeholders. In a compromise none gets everything. It is a give-and-take arrangement much better than winner-take-all. After 26 years in the cold, the opposition has entered a phase where it will not rest until the political status quo is modified. Continued resistance by NRM to this wind of change is unwise. History has demonstrated amply that military and/or outside support is not permanent. The leadership of NRM should recast its strategy before it is too late. Distorting information to paint a picture of progress to prolong NRM’s stay in power is very dangerous. Statements about economic growth, vibrant and prospering communities in the north, tourist potential and oil discovery in and by themselves will not bring about the desired changes in the absence of sufficient political will to effect genuine changes to pull Uganda out of the poverty trap. The light will appear at the end of a long tunnel when the 50 year master plan has been scrapped.

Accusing the author of all sorts of crimes and calling him all sorts of names for advocating peaceful accommodation in Uganda’s political discourse may raise issues of selfishness on the side of those making accusations and calling names. The author is on record for opposing war as a method of resolving disputes unless in self defense. The author is also on record for demanding that Uganda belongs to all Ugandans. Those unhappy with these positions should give specific reasons why they object. If the intention is to intimidate with a view to silencing the author or threatening his family that is simply a waste of time. The author’s mind has been firmly fixed on contributing what he can to resolve Uganda’s political conflicts by peaceful means in the first instance. And nobody will succeed in changing that position.

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