With a level playing field, NRM can’t win

UDU, an umbrella organization of parties and organizations at home and abroad opposed to NRM dictatorship and skewed income distribution in favor of a few, congratulates DP for a successful by-election in Bukoto South, Masaka. Opposition successes in by-elections after the stolen elections of 2011 confirm that the wind of change is blowing across Uganda and that a silent and peaceful revolution is taking place. To deliver the final blow to NRM, we need to understand how a tilted playing field brought NRM into existence and has sustained it in power. At the end of the 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections, the Commonwealth Observer Mission reported that the electoral process (from registration of voters to the announcement of results) lacked a level playing field (tilted in favor of NRM), implying declaring results null and void. But that didn’t happen because the electoral commission is not independent. Because of this NRM favor, opposition presidential candidates didn’t concede defeat. Consequently the president formed and is presiding over an illegitimate government. Here is how NRM was born and has been sustained in power.

Hopefully some of recurrent complaints about involvement of external forces in Uganda affairs and formation of empires will be put to rest for good. Good researchers report facts which sometimes make some non-transparent people uncomfortable and begin to behave directly or through surrogates in various ways amounting to frustration. It is difficult to tell who exactly these people are because they don’t use their real names.

1. The Cold War between the forces of capitalism and communism and Great Lakes region geopolitics gave birth to the rise of Museveni. Keith Harmon Snow wrote “War for the control of the Democratic Republic of Congo – what should be the richest country in the world – began in Uganda in the 1980s, when now Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni shot his way to power with the backing of Buckingham Palace, the White House, and Tel Aviv behind him” (Peter Phillips 2006).

2. With support of Tutsi mercenaries and external financial, media and diplomatic facilitation NRA/NRM was able to win the guerrilla war (various articles in EIR and www.kashambuzi.com).

3. Unlike other African governments, external powers did not press for multi-party elections in Uganda. This decision gave NRM government ten years (others get one or two years) to consolidate politically at the expense of UPC and DP. For example, “The new British Labor government has decided that it ‘will not press for multiparty reforms in Uganda’. This is particularly significant because elsewhere in Africa, donors have insisted that aid depends on continued progress toward permitting parties to form and compete freely. What envy Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi must feel when he hears the praise that is heaped upon Uganda for its staunch refusal to allow parties” (Journal of Democracy April 1998).

4. Implementation of stabilization and structural adjustment program (SAP) strictly according to the IMF and World Bank stiff conditionality won NRM the support of these two institutions (at the expense of Uganda’s majority) that persuaded other donors to give full backing to NRM government. With full support of donors and in the name of downsizing public service, NRM removed Ugandans it feared from the civil service or marginalized them and kept seasoned professionals in the diaspora (The Courier Sept/Oct. 1993). To prevent possible riots against austerity measures of SAP as had happened in other countries, NRM with tacit support of development partners built sophisticated intelligence, police and military institutions that have suppressed (with loss of lives) the rights and freedoms of Ugandans at home and abroad with impunity and given NRM an upper hand in political and economic matters.

5. Afraid of Ugandans with superior expertise and experience over NRM cadres, NRM has relied on foreign advisers and experts with little or no knowledge of Uganda’s economic, cultural and religious history. Development professors visit Uganda regularly and have audiences with the president who receives tutorials from them. A team of young British economists were also hired to the discomfort of senior Uganda professionals who were also given foreign supervisors. Other foreign experts came to Uganda to experiment with their pet project or collect materials for writing papers or theses (John Brohman 1996; Sebastian Mallaby 2004 and M. V. D. Geest 1994). Uganda experts could have done the work better and cheaper. It is not surprising that structural adjustment failed given a combination of foreign experts with little knowledge about Uganda and incompetent NRM cadres that were assigned the task of implementing a sophisticated structural adjustment program straight from Luwero jungles. Ugandans with experience in structural adjustment from 1981 to 1984 under UPC government were dismissed or marginalized, a product of winner-take-all which UDU will scrap.

6. In return for NRM’s open door policy to foreigners that wanted to stay in Uganda longer working on their experiments, NRM was allowed room to consolidate at home and engage in Great Lakes politics in pursuit of building a Tutsi-Hima empire (John F. Clark 2002). Corruption, sectarianism, cronyism, mismanagement of public funds, abuse of human rights and freedoms and using military force in campaigns (in Rujumbura constituency a citizen was killed and others injured during 2001 campaigns) and rigging elections were tolerated. It is important to note that those who praise NRM for bringing stability in the Great Lakes region don’t understand or have ignored the complicated and bitter ethnic history in the region. Since 1994 biased authors with influence in western capitals have complicated ethnic relations even further laying a foundation for a more serious instability in the future. The majority in the region are no longer voiceless (albeit powerless for lack of support that is extended to minority in power) as in the past when they were dominated and ruthlessly exploited in silence by the minority in pre-colonial feudal and colonial indirect rule systems.

7. As they say, no situation is permanent. The tide seems to be turning against the NRM. The massive rigging of 2011 elections whose results were rejected by many Ugandans, unprecedented criticism of NRM and demonstrations at home and abroad have exposed NRM weaknesses and failures in economic, social, political and environmental sectors through corruption, sectarianism and cronyism, causing development partners to begin to recast their support to the NRM government. The formation of UDU and the publication of its National Recovery Plan have provided a clear alternative to NRM (we have superior professionals than NRM’s). Since its formation, UDU has demanded that a level playing field be created so that parties compete freely. Thankfully, development partners have responded positively and are calling on the government to exercise restraint towards opposition parties. Security forces are beginning to act professionally to maintain law and order and facilitate realization of political and civil rights. With the level playing field getting flatter, we have begun to see opposition parties defeating NRM in by-elections. For the first time in its political history, NRM is feeling the heat because its leader’s vision of running a country like a guerrilla war has not worked. The economy is experiencing severe turbulences since 1986 and is unlikely to recover to the previous 10 percent growth rate necessary for meeting the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. The public education, health and shelter as well as environmental systems are on the verge of collapse. Unemployment of youth is in excess of 80 percent and hunger is killing more people than malaria (that is killing twice than before) in a country that is exporting mountains of food (government has refused primary school lunch for kids because that would reduce amount of exports which is a top priority as foreign exchange earner for the rich). NRM is running the country without a plan, having shelved the five year development plan (as reported by the prime minister) that succeeded structural adjustment program in 2009 for failure to deliver since 1987.

8. The prevailing environment has exposed how vulnerable NRM is which is disintegrating from within witness the formation of another government by the “Gang of Three” within NRM. The president seems to have lost his grip on NRM cadres particularly the big three – the First Lady, Speaker of Parliament and Prime Minister as well as the “Gang of Three”. The Movement which has been kept loosely together by patronage and creation of new districts may be losing some members as they trek back to their original parties. Bushenyi and Masaka recent by-elections need to be analyzed in detail for some clues. If security forces that have never been professionalized choose to support their party members against harassment, the game may soon be over for NRM (without military backing NRM would not survive) unless it ceases completely from abusing the rights and freedoms of all Ugandans. The Cossacks in Russia abandoned the Czar to inter alia support their fellow peasants during the difficult times of 1917. And some members of the Red Army refused to kill their peasant relatives when Stalin ordered them to do so during collectivization of small holder farms. So there are lessons for Uganda to draw from if NRM continues to harass Uganda citizens. Ugandans are getting bolder and won’t allow further abuse of their rights and freedoms.

9. To open the exit door for NRM, opposition parties will need to consolidate their gains and go for more under one umbrella – UDU. We call on the remaining parties and organizations to join. Acting individually won’t work. It will be impossible for one opposition party to muster enough pressure to force a transitional government that should be formed with the progressive wing of NRM because a winner–take-all experience has not worked in national interest. Furthermore, opposition members need to overcome fear completely, go out – especially the youth whose future is being snatched away by NRM wrong policies of liberal immigration, naturalization of millions of foreigners, sale of land to large farmers and pushing Uganda into borderless East African federation etc – and demonstrate; strike and withdraw cooperation from government and make Uganda ungovernable by peaceful means. The current atmosphere is not conducive to investment. Consequently, private investors and tourists will adopt a wait-and-see attitude which will push the economy further down the drain. While Uganda must cooperate with other countries it must do so in national interest like all countries and governments do. So there is nothing to be ashamed of as racism or sectarianism because it is standard practice. That is UDU’s position in the last chapter of the National Recovery Plan posted at www.udugandans.org.

10. During the transition period, UDU will call for full restoration of sovereignty to the people which NRM has high-jacked; restoration of presidential term limits; establishment of independent electoral commission; separation of powers ensuring in particular that no individual will serve both as a member of parliament and minister to eliminate conflict of interest; standardization of campaign finance at presidential, parliamentary and district elections; reduction of advantages of incumbency in elections; equitable sharing of power between central and regional/district governments; strengthening or creation of inter-faith-based institution to participate in the nation’s development process in a coordinated manner; promotion of a bottom up approach to development and move cautiously and incrementally on East African economic integration which should be realized before political federation.

11. When the costs of a project exceed the benefits even after adjustments have been made, it is always wise to close the project and do something else. For the majority of Ugandans investment in NRM has been very costly with fewer benefits. Time has come to close NRM project and go somewhere else because NRM won’t recover. UDU is a viable alternative with a different vision and National Recovery Plan. UDU will not replace Ugandans in existing public institutions as NRM did. UDU is for all Ugandans. Our views have been articulated in NRP and on Ugandans at Heart Forum and at www.udugandans.org. It has a professional leadership and membership at all levels with a clear and transparent sense of direction. There is no need to re-invent the wheel.

Eric Kashambuzi

Secretary General & Chief Administrator, UDU

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