Why I have clashed with Museveni

Some people –Ugandans and non-Ugandans – close and not so close to me have wondered – directly and indirectly – why I have decided to oppose Museveni when there is no chance of winning because he is powerful at home and abroad. Besides I or someone else could get hurt. Some have even questioned my motive.

This is the first time in Uganda’s political history that I have actively campaigned. I have chosen to participate in order to defeat Museveni in his re-election bid for another five years. He has been president for 25 years already. During this period, as outlined below, the welfare of the majority of Uganda citizens and the environment has deteriorated.

My education and profession were influenced greatly by the injustices of the colonial indirect rule system which was an extension of a repressive feudal system of lords and serfs (rich and poor) in Rujumbura county of Rukungiri district in southwest Uganda. The chiefs and their families lived very well at the expense of the poor who produced goods and services. Through tribute, taxes and free labor the poor peasants toiled for the comfort of the chiefs. Most of the nutritious food (goat meat, chicken, eggs, beans, fruits etc) was consumed by chiefs. Heads of households would disappear for months to work for tax money leaving their wives behind toiling to keep the family alive.

Children of chiefs were driven to and from school or had bicycles while those of the poor walked long distances. On Sundays, children of chiefs dressed elegantly. They had long trousers and shoes and girls wore well designed and colorful dresses while those from poor families wore the same school uniform of cotton fabric, washed on Saturdays and won on Sundays, dry or not. Often fellowships bypassed commoners with better grades and jobs went to those who were less qualified – all because they belonged to the families of chiefs.

While in grade seven, I complained to one of the teachers why there was so much injustice in our area. He explained that one of the reasons education – originally designed for children of chiefs – had been extended to all children was to ultimately eliminate social injustice through jobs, incomes and improved standard of living for everyone. He urged me to get good education and use it to help lift everyone out of the poverty trap.

Those who are familiar with my professional work and activities in my home district of Rukungiri will tell you how committed I have been to social justice, equal opportunity and respect for human rights. My philosophy is to give everyone equal opportunity – through quality education and health care, balanced and adequate food and nutrition security, adequate housing and clothing – to utilize their God-given talents to improve the quality of their lives and of their communities. I have been influenced by the ideas of John Locke who viewed nature as one of peace, good will, mutual assistance and preservation (of life and property). Locke also asserted that king and parliament were responsible to the people and ultimately the people determine the government making it servant of the people.

Uganda’s independence in 1962 based on democracy and majority rule ushered in a period of unprecedented opportunity for those who had suffered under colonial rule. Social services improved especially schools and health facilities in rural areas. The colonial status quo was jolted to the disappointment of those who had benefited under colonial rule and Museveni was one of them.

Museveni and I went to Ntare School. Prefects – and I was one of them at Ntare and Butobere Schools – had a responsibility to assess student behavior and potential for leadership. Although I did not have much time to observe Museveni closely because he was in a different dormitory, the impression I got was that he was not satisfied with Uganda’s independence.

Museveni and I come from the same region of southwest Uganda. He comes from Ntungamo district of former Ankole district and I come from Rukungiri district of former Kigezi district. These are districts where indirect rule benefited chiefs and their families and Museveni belongs to this group and disadvantaged commoners and I belong to this group.

With independence the commoners began to climb out of the poverty trap not at the expense of chiefs and their families because they continued to enjoy a better life. Obote’s UPC government extended opportunities to disadvantaged groups to advance in life. Within two years of independence the gap between the rich and the poor in southwest Uganda began to narrow. It was at that time – in 1965 and 1966 – that Museveni and his student friends became staunchly anti-Obote. Apparently, Museveni did not want Obote to help commoners whom chiefs had exploited to climb out of poverty.

Museveni began to develop his political ideas from that moment to reverse the independence developments that empowered commoners. His search for a philosophy to reverse what Obote was doing went as far back as the pre-colonial days as recounted by O. A. Amaza (1998). The pre-colonial period was defined by a feudal system of lords and serfs.

On March 15, 1992 Museveni convened and chaired a meeting at his Rwakitura home of Bahororo leaders (Museveni is a Muhororo by tribe) to map out how the Bahororo should dominate all other tribes in Uganda through quality education and healthcare, monopoly of security forces, civil service and the economy by marginalizing others. It was recorded that Bairu (the commoners in southwest Uganda) and other tribes of Uganda should never see this document otherwise the roadmap “would fail to take off”. Fortunately for other tribes of Uganda the report of the meeting was leaked and we have copies.

Structural adjustment based on balancing the budget, retrenching public servants, reducing budgets for education, healthcare, nutrition and agriculture etc gave Museveni the strategy he needed to implement his feudal system and reverse the gains of the 1960s under Obote’s government.

In its 1993 report the World Bank recorded Uganda’s economic and social achievements. It reported that between 1963 and 1970 Uganda maintained relative price stability and GDP grew at an average annual rate of 6 percent. The health sector developed into one of Africa’s best through low-cost health and nutrition programs. Although school enrolment remained low, the education system developed a reputation for very high quality.

Hiding behind reconstruction and structural adjustment programs – which in some cases went beyond expert advice (30 percent tax for converting old into new Uganda currency) – Museveni has re-launched a feudal system (of rich and poor) to benefit Bahororo as agreed at Rwakitura on March 15, 1992 and impoverish the rest of the country particularly rural areas where close to 90 percent (depending on how an urban area is defined) of Uganda’s population live and earn their livelihood.

Based on economic reform experience of Chile (1982-3 recession) and Ghana (1986 complaints of social hardship) before Uganda launched its economic reform program in 1987 and since then, I have warned – through discussion and writing including to the president, speaker, prime minister, minister of finance and leader of the opposition – that steps should be taken to minimize adverse impact on the people of Uganda. The government prepared excellent documents such as on nutrition, modernization of agriculture, poverty eradication and decentralization to bring resources and services closer to the people. These documents have by and large remained unimplemented although Uganda gets an annual average of $700 million for development from donors.

Consequently, 52 percent of Ugandans live in absolute poverty with 20 percent in the lowest income bracket poorer; income distribution is highly skewed in favor of the rich 20 percent that own over 50 percent of the economy. Uganda’s economy is concentrated in the capital city of Kampala accounting for 70 percent of GDP with less than 2 million of Uganda’s total population of 33 million; over 30 percent of Ugandans go to bed hungry every night; 40 percent of children under five are undernourished; neurological abnormalities have increased and insanity stands at over 33 percent because of poor eating dominated by cassava and maize and stress; maternal mortality has increased from 527 in 1995 to 920 per 100,000 live births in 2005; over 80 percent of primary school children are dropping out of school in large part because of lack of school lunch which Museveni has denied against a decision by NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development); and over 80 percent of youth (15-24) are unemployed with 60 percent of them university graduates. The families of the rich have not been affected by these adverse outcomes.

Environmental degradation in rural and urban areas has reached catastrophic levels. Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has warned that if steps are not taken urgently to stop and reverse degradation Uganda will turn into a desert within 100 years. Forests and wetlands are disappearing, rivers are drying, lakes are shrinking, water tables are dropping and droughts are becoming longer, more intense and frequent alternating with floods.

The level of corruption and mismanagement has reached alarming proportions and the minister of finance announced recently that the government is broke while the NRM ruling party is dishing out billions of shillings to tilt elections in favor of Museveni and his NRM.

Because of my philosophy regarding freedom, social justice, equal opportunity and respect for human rights and my decades of support for poor, vulnerable, voiceless and powerless people, I have clashed with Museveni’s leadership over this state of affairs. I am convinced Museveni is deliberately pushing the majority of Ugandans into the “Dark Ages” in order to weaken them and control them politically through a dynastic arrangement.

It is for this reason that I have campaigned for Museveni’s defeat on February 18, 2011. We need a new government with a totally different philosophy that puts people at the center of development, fosters participation and equal opportunity.

I will support such a government.

Eric Kashambuzi

January 31, 2011.

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