As I talk to Ugandans – and I have talked to many at home and abroad – and read their comments on my face book page, I get the impression that a large number believes in the scheme of things – the Great Chain of Being – that your place on earth and in society was determined at birth and you are not supposed to challenge the status quo.
In Rukungiri district in southwest Uganda many people still believe Bairu were not born to rule but to be ruled. Any attempt to change that mindset is met with severe criticism and accusation of sectarianism. Those Bairu that hold some minor positions in politics or civil service must have the endorsement of those “born to rule”. Without that blessing you can’t go anywhere. The evidence is everywhere for all to see where educated Bairu are languishing in poverty or in exile. Development projects have gone everywhere but Bairu area. For a start visit Rwentondo parish in Kagunga sub-county of Rukungiri district which is in Rukungiri municipality and report back your findings.
What we are experiencing in Uganda obtained in Europe before the scientific and enlightenment revolutions shook up things. The scientific revolution in the 16th and 17th centuries challenged the worldview including the authority of the church. In the 16th century Nicolaus Copernicus, a Polish philosopher proposed a theory that the sun – not the earth – was at the center of the solar system. In the 17th century Galileo Galilei Italian astronomer confirmed Copernicus theory. In his book Principia published in 1684 Isaac Newton English philosopher and mathematics concluded that the universe was like a machine governed by rational and consistent laws. French geologists also made discoveries that conflicted with the accepted wisdom at the time, some of them held by the church.
The enlightenment philosophers borrowed the methods of the scientific revolution and applied them to the study of society and government, believing that natural laws govern human behavior and institutions, just as they governed the universe. John Locke an Englishman, medical doctor and philosopher wrote that knowledge and reason are derived from human experience. He contended that human nature was essentially good. However, human character was conditioned by one’s environment, upbringing and education. Ipso facto, by shaping society and the environment and providing good education one could create a better society. Locke also argued that man possesses natural and inalienable rights to life, liberty and property. He further argued that political communities or governments are formed by popular consent, meaning that a contractual relationship exists between the people and the government that conflicted with the divine right of kings. Locke’s ideas were incorporated into the United States Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Right of Man and of Citizen.
The Baron de Montesquieu a Frenchman and critic of absolutist government argued that laws are derived from nature and developed the idea of the separation of powers among the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. These ideas were incorporated into the American constitution and subsequently into other constitutions.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau elaborated on Locke’s ideas about natural rights, noting than “Man is born free … and everywhere he is shackled”. Because of corruption natural freedom and equality are distorted. He reasoned that a reformed society and government can restore liberty and equality through negotiations between the people and the government and create a social contract.
These scientific and enlightenment idea helped people in Europe and America to draw up relationships between the government and the people and did away with the divine right of rulers who regarded themselves as God’s representative on earth and were not accountable to the people.
In Uganda we are still at a stage where basically the rulers think they have divine right either from God or their external supporters and therefore don’t have to be accountable to the people of Uganda. Here are some illustrations. They have decided to export food while millions of Ugandans go to bed hungry. They have decided to grab land from the peasants with impunity. They have refused to provide school lunch as agreed by African Union leaders. They have refused to provide conditional cash or property transfers or targeted subsidies to those Ugandans in need as some governments are doing legitimately. They have refused to protect Uganda industries and jobs and we have ended up with de-industrialization and over 80 percent youth unemployment. They are not bothered because expressing discontent will be silenced by the military and police brutal forces and nobody will raise a finger. Corruption, sectarianism and cronyism have gone through the roof. To them this is to be expected in the scheme of things.
To get out of this mess, we need new thinking and new ideas based on experience, experiment and observation that should change the mindset of Ugandans who in turn should demand real changes based on genuine contract between the people and the government.
As things stand, Uganda will need a transitional government of all Ugandans that will convene a national convention so that Ugandans decide how they want to be governed and agree on a new contract between the people and government to be enshrined in the constitution.
It is against this backdrop that I am contributing my thoughts on the ideal relationship between the people of Uganda and their government. Those interested in further knowledge on this subject please read David S. Mason. Revolutionary Europe: Liberty, Equality and Solidarity published in 2005.