What can Uganda learn from world history?

Ugandans, friends and well wishers should continue to work hard, talk and write until a mutually acceptable and hopefully bloodless solution to Uganda’s spreading and deepening challenges is found. That Uganda is headed in the wrong direction is not in doubt. The Declaration signed by General Salim Salleh and posted on New Vision on March 11, 2012 is testimony to that (although it is not clear whom Salleh is representing and how seriously Ugandans should take the Declaration). The NRM government does not seem to be on the same page. NRM’s continued presentation of processes as achievements is not enough. Economic growth is necessary but is not enough to end poverty. Uganda experienced fastest economic growth in mid 1990s coinciding with the highest skewed income distribution. Diplomas that do not enable holders to find jobs are not something to be proud of. Processes must lead to outcomes that improve the general standard of living of all Ugandans. Presenting misleading information or buying support at home and abroad won’t solve the problem. Using force to crush the opposition will only widen the difference between the oppressor and oppressed classes and make matters worse. Ugandans are seeing what is happening around them and reading about what happened in the past and are drawing lessons. Although different paths were followed some of them deadly, the oppressed got liberated in the end. In some cases wise leaders or classes approached problems rationally and avoided violence. These are important lessons to draw from by Uganda leaders and the general public. The struggle for parliamentary government in England that resorted more to compromise and unity than war as a tool of solving problems with the kings has already been referred to. This article is a continuation of drawing lessons from struggles between privileged and disadvantaged members of society and how different approaches produced different results. Let us look at how different ways were adopted to address problems inspired by external lessons or failure of predecessors.

In Russia, Tsar Alexander who had dreamt of a government of virtue (read NRM’s ten point program) ended up governing as a brutal tyrant. There was police oppression and the institution of serfdom kept Russian peasants enslaved and ignorant. While in France in 1815-18 Russian army officers were exposed to outcomes of the French Revolution regarding liberty, equality and fraternity. On their return home, these officers wanted to effect changes about the rights of Russians and responsibilities of kings. A movement was formed to reform the Russian state. In 1825 they issued the Decembrist Manifesto ending the old regime and creating a provisional government. Although the effort did not succeed, it planted a revolutionary seed in Russian soil. The French Revolution had lit a flame and no matter how brutal the government acted, the oppressed Russians looked to the light it shed and eventually got rid of the Tsar dynasty.

In South Africa, ANC’s revival to end apartheid regime, the creation of youth organizations and student uprisings were inspired by political achievements in Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The 1975 independence of Angola and Mozambique and Angola’s repelling of South African invading force constituted a significant inspiration that produced the Soweto student uprising in 1976. The boycott of schools in Cape Town and beyond in 1980 took place in the wake of Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.

In England, the ruling classes ignored calls for reform until 1830 when the king of France was overthrown. Drawing on this French lesson and in an effort to avoid its emulation in England, the Reform Act was passed in 1832 by which the middle class was admitted as a political partner in the democratic process. The Act, popularly known as the ”Victorian Compromise”, accommodated the industrial, commercial and agricultural interests. There was no bloodshed. But the compromise excluded the working class whose wages remained dismal, working conditions abominable and living environment congested. The English working class which did not harbor a revolutionary temperament opted to achieve social reforms within a democratic framework. More than any other group in Europe, the English working class had confidence in the country. It was therefore determined to get what it wanted without resorting to war. The group drew up a Charter (hence Chartists) of demands to be realized through political democracy. While the objective was social revolution, they planned to achieve it by parliamentary procedure unlike the Russian Decembrists that resorted to violence. In the end a preference for talking to fighting produced the desired results. Many of the proposals in the Charter were enacted into law, making Britain the political democracy that the Chartists sought.

Let us end by looking at how Pope Leo XIII made reforms that adjusted the Catholic Church attitude to reality based on failure of his predecessors. Before Leo became Pope in 1878, the Papacy was experiencing difficulties and had become estranged. Pope Leo worked hard and realistically so that the Church meets the demands of a changed society. He called on Catholics to exercise their responsibilities as citizens in democratic states. He encouraged establishment of universities and new Catholic faculties to make the Church leader in search for the truth. The Pope bent the Church attitudes to the requirements of contemporary life. In his Rerum Novarum encyclical published in 1891 Pope Leo aligned the position of the Church to address basic social questions. He called on the faithful to apply the principles of social justice within the framework of the existing order. He defended private property and appealed for economic and social reform. The encyclical also dealt with the responsibilities of the Church as a social organization. Above all, it called upon the state to promote working class interests through just wages and adequate labor conditions, formation of trade unions, protecting the integrity of the family and taking responsibility for the welfare of all members of the community.

These illustrations and lessons are meant to help Ugandans, friends and well wishers to come up with a formula that will help resolve the current differences in a democratic manner. As a first step, NRM government needs to drop its rigidity and become inclusive. In our communications through Ugandans at Heart Forum General Caleb Akandwanaho has agreed that NRM’s winner-take-all ideology should be dropped in favor of accommodating all Ugandans because the nation and its fruits belongs to all to be shared equitably. If the Declaration signed by General Salim Saleh represents NRM government position, then we should embrace it. However, its sincerity will be judged on its full implementation. General Akandwanaho needs to explain to the nation and the rest of the world the background to the Declaration and how it will be integrated into government work for its full implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

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