We know that when a government fails to take responsibility for the welfare of the people, it should be removed from power. In the last 26 years NRM government has failed to deliver basic services. Ugandans have tried to remove it from power through the ballot box without success. And it is not likely to happen in the foreseeable future without term limits and an independent electoral commission. Logically, some Ugandans are reasoning that since the ballot box has failed, we must resort to war. But some Ugandans have said no. This does not mean that those who do not want war are cowards. It means that they are pragmatic. Starting a war against a recognized government regardless of how it came into power will be condemned by the international community and come to the government’s rescue. In fact, NRM would welcome such attack to give it a golden opportunity to arrest real and imagined enemies of the state in the name of national security against terrorists and put them away for good. It would also help NRM divert development resources to war efforts and impoverish Ugandans further without being blamed. So Ugandans eager to fight need to understand fully the environment at home and abroad in which they are operating before definitive actions are taken.
Uganda leaders and their foreign backers who believe that Ugandans are docile and will not be influenced by Arab Spring Revolutions need to think again before it is too late. The Egyptians had all along been regarded as docile people. But at the start of 2011, they rebelled against what was considered to be a stable government with strong foreign support, powerful military and sophisticated secret service and within less than three weeks, the government was gone. Foreign backers switched sides and congratulated the revolutionaries for a job well done in the name of democracy and will of the people.
History is full of cases which show that a revolution in one place impacts on subsequent revolutions in places where there is discontent. Common discontent such as poverty, unemployment, hunger, inequality and police brutality etc brings people together as in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen to get rid of a government responsible for their suffering. The discontent in Uganda is similar to what obtained in these Arab countries before the revolutions: high levels of poverty, unemployment, hunger, inequality and police brutality etc. In a world that has been reduced to a village by transport and information technology news and ideas are being shared instantly. For example, many Ugandans already know the details of how Wael Ghonim and colleagues organized the Egyptian revolution from his book titled “Revolution 2.0” published in early 2012. Here are a few illustrations.
I know that change is coming to Uganda. But what kind of change: peaceful or bloody change; change from below or from above? Although some readers have distorted my message for whatever reason, I have consistently pleaded orally and in writing for peaceful change – to the discomfort of those who want war – so that every Ugandan lives in peace, security, equality, prosperity and happiness. I have encouraged mixing at all levels – political, economic, social and cultural – to minimize conflicts. But to make appropriate changes we need to know what is happening in our society first. It is reporting the findings of what is happening that has caused discomfort in some quarters. And from these quarters we are getting name calling, intimidation and distorted messages. But the impartial analyst has to report research findings. And that is what we have been doing in the great lakes region. Hopefully we shall all end up on the same page.
Political revolutions occur principally because the oppressor refuses to address the concerns of the oppressed and the latter refuses to withdraw them. Political revolutions, like revolutions in other areas of human activity, take time to occur and have virtually similar background characteristics. When people live under constant conditions characterized as “poor, nasty, brutish and short’, they eventually band together so that their voices for reform are heard by authorities. Regarding peasants, it has been demonstrated time and again that when they get hungry and believe they are being overtaxed (broadly defined), they rebel.
Early this year (2012), South Africa celebrated 100 years marking the founding of African National Congress (ANC) as an independent country with a democratic black majority government. Originally named as South African Native National Congress, ANC was founded at a conference that took place at Bloemfontein (South Africa) on January 8, 1912.
Pixley ka Izaka Seme (Zulu), the founder of ANC earned a degree from Columbia University (USA) in 1906 and later a law degree at Oxford University. He returned to his home country, South Africa, to start a law firm and practice law. “When he arrived in Johannesburg, he found that he wasn’t allowed to use the sidewalks, leave his home without carrying as many as twelve official passes, venture out after 9:00 PM, or vote”. Outraged and appalled, Seme organized a conference at Bloemfontein to “unite all the black South African factions as a single political force”. This was the first unified political organization in colonial Africa composed of black Africans.
Many Ugandans are very unhappy about the deteriorating situation in our country. However, they are unable to react because they are afraid that if they don’t succeed in regime change or make fundamental changes within NRM the consequences might be severe. They are therefore prepared to wait until time solves the problem or someone else does it for them. That is why some Ugandans are praying virtually daily for donors to come to our rescue. In life there are few, if any, improvements that occur without human involvement and sometimes sacrifices. Intervention by others is more often than not to promote or fulfill parochial agendas that could lead to more hardship for the non-participants in the process. Therefore in order to solve a problem those affected need to participate. Second, success or failure depends upon the goal one sets. For example, those who had planned to unseat NRM regime in 2011 elections and didn’t obviously failed. Those who criticized NRM economic policy succeeded because the government dropped the devastating structural adjustment program in 2009 based on the invisible hand of market forces and replaced it with National Development Plan designed to introduce a public-private partnership model. Third, there are goals that are achieved in stages. You start with producing and disseminating information in the news papers, radios and the internet as Ugandans are doing now. The information is then debated and synthesized into policy and strategy in the second phase. In the third phase the strategy is implemented. Implementation may not achieve all the goals or none at all. The momentum may be slowed or the movement even destroyed completely. History provides lessons we can draw from so that when we do not succeed or do so partially the first time we should not despair and throw in the towel. In some of my publications, I have deliberately drawn on history lessons to show that those that persist and are optimistic win in the end. Below are some lessons that discourage pessimism and defeatism.
One thing that is indisputable is that Ugandans including many in the NRM want change preferably by peaceful means. War has no support domestically and in the international community. On the other hand, the ruling clique in the NRM that wants to hang onto power and hand over to their children when they retire is working hard to keep Ugandans divided as illustrated by the creation of over 100 districts that has killed the unity project which was NRM’s flagship at the start of its administration in 1986. History shows unambiguously that when people are divided they fail and when united they succeed in their endeavors. The purpose of studying history which everyone should do at school or through self education besides passing examination is to draw lessons about what to avoid and what to emulate with modifications as appropriate. NRM has definitely mustered the history lesson of keeping Ugandans divided including encouraging them to seek work abroad so that it weakens the middle class that champions agitation for change. The following paragraphs will demonstrate using examples from different parts and different times how unity brings about success.
Although I have written a lot about Uganda’s economy, I continue to get requests from readers to write more and elaborate on issues that remain unclear to some. In doing so there is a risk of repetition. As I have observed before, I am not writing for professional economists but the general public that wish to understand some economic concepts and how they impact on their quality of life. This brings me to the notion of economic growth. In any economy economic growth is necessary but it can have meaning only if it contributes to tackling poverty and improving the standard of living of the population. Thus, economic growth in Uganda or elsewhere is not an end in itself although NRM has treated it as such. As a minimum, growth must meet the basic needs of education, healthcare, food, clothing and housing. So are sound economic fundamentals.
Democracy that is based solely on elections regardless of whether they are free and fair will eventually fail;
Democracy that keeps the same party and leaders in power election after election will eventually fail;
Democracy that revolves around one all-powerful leader will eventually fail;
Democracy that sends its brightest and /or experienced citizens into exile and then harasses them there will eventually fail;
Democracy that is based on economic growth and per capita income regardless of how the benefits are shared among the citizens will eventually fail;
Democracy that is underpinned by security forces and safe houses will eventually fail;
Democracy that permits corruption, sectarianism and cronyism to thrive will eventually fail;
Democracy that is based on loyalty rather than competence will eventually fail;
Democracy that is not transparent and accountable to the people will eventually fail;
Democracy that defines security in national defense terms and forgets other kinds of security will eventually fail;
Democracy that does not permit freedom to assemble, associate and express opinion against the government will eventually fail;
Democracy that presides over crumbling institutions, infrastructures and systems will eventually fail;
A society that takes things for granted or keeps silent when it is hurting can hardly makes progress. Societies that have progressed including ancient Greece had people like Socrates that questioned the status quo and would not remain or be silenced when unsatisfied about something. They developed a questioning mind and took nothing for granted. They would not budge even under the threat of death. Socrates was advised that he could avoid the death sentence for allegedly corrupting the youth if he paid a small fine and swore to remain silent about politics or went into exile. Socrates refused reasoning that the unexamined life was not worth living.
The political and military environment and laws of Uganda especially the anti-sectarian and anti-terrorism laws have made it very difficult for Ugandans to question the wrong things that have and are happening in our country. The tough anti-terrorism act has a broad definition which describes terrorism as the “use of violence or threat of violence with intent to promote or achieve political, religious, economic and cultural or social ends in an unlawful manner”(Human Rights Watch 2003). What is threat of violence and what is unlawful in the Uganda context? Under this broad definition anything said or done that the NRM government does not like can land any Ugandan in jail for a long time or forever. When you have laws like these there is no democracy, no freedom, no fairness and no dignity. Under these circumstances Uganda cannot claim to be a democracy where people are sovereign with freedom to express themselves. It is a dictatorship, pure and simple, regardless of whether elections are held or not which forces people to stay silent.