Uganda Citizen’s compact on free and fair elections

I have read the 13 page document adopted at the National Consultation on Free and Fair Elections. The consultation took place in Kampala on 24-26 November 2014. The mobilization work covered Toro, Bukedi, Teso, Kigezi, Busoga, Sebei, Ankole, Bugisu, Buganda, Karamoja, Bunyoro, Acholi and West Nile for the conference. Here are my preliminary comments on the compact:

1. What criteria were used in this selection of areas that were visited? It would be helpful in the interest of transparency to have the names of the people that were involved in the mobilization exercise; who selected them; who funded their work and how long it took to complete the task.

2. The notion of “birth” is included in the compact. What does it relate to – to the parents’ birth; to the place of birth or status of birth? This needs to be explained clearly so that there are no ambiguities.

3. The compact also contains the phrase “other status”. What does it mean?

Military rule in Africa is coming to an end

Shortly after independence, military officers overthrew elected civilian governments and established military regimes. The ousted governments were accused of a wide range of wrong doing including ideological shifts; excessive involvement in the economy including nationalization of private enterprises, accumulation of external debts and budget deficits; rampant corruption, sectarianism and cronyism; violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms and changing or amending constitutions to accumulate power and govern for life without checks and balances. These abuses had resulted, inter alia, in increased absolute poverty and its offshoots of hunger, disease and ignorance. Therefore removing such failed governments from power by military means was legitimate.

When Obote government was overthrown in 1971, the soldiers led by Amin gave 18 reasons for their action including widespread corruption, regressive taxes, high unemployment, high inflation, income inequality, sectarianism, failure to organize elections, detention without trial and frequent loss of life, creation of a second army, developing Obote’s home area of Akokoro at the expense of the rest of Uganda, breakdown of security and overall violation of human rights as well as overreliance on the army. Against this backdrop, the soldiers believe acted legitimately to prevent a bad situation from getting worse.

Uganda has a complicated history

Boutros Boutros-Ghali former United Nations Secretary General wrote “Without knowledge of history and of one’s own past it is impossible to conceive the path to the future”.

Without understanding Uganda history which is complicated, it will be difficult to conceive a smooth and sustainable common path to the future. Pre-colonial history was marked by wars of territorial expansion, slave trade and plunder to accumulate wealth. Colonial period was characterized by religious conflicts, annexation of territory, economic exploitation (growth poles versus labor reserves), indirect rule where chiefs, their families, relatives and friends benefited at the expense of others, etc.

Uganda attained independence in difficult circumstances. DP was cheated. UPC/KY entered into a fragile marriage of convenience. Our leaders could not agree on the head of state so we ended up with the Queen as head of state represented by a Governor-General. They could not agree on the name of the new country so they settled for “Sovereign State of Uganda”. The leaders could not resolve the “Lost Counties” issue that became so divisive and led to the 1966 Mengo war and the Republican Constitution of 1967 that has pitted Buganda against Obote and UPC since then.

Post-NRM Uganda will need a transitional government led by a presidential team

I have consistently argued that the system of governance in Uganda with strong central government and one person president who accumulates political, military and economic powers in his hands; appoints and dismisses public servants has not worked. This unsatisfactory governance system has pushed Uganda to a point of near disintegration. Calls to secede from Uganda are on the increase. This is a fact we have to accept. Then we need an alternative, at least temporarily, to help us draw lessons for a roadmap for the next 50 years.

Uganda will need an inclusive transitional government for at least three years embracing all political parties and credible organizations, except individuals alleged to have committed crimes against humanity since 1962. The government must be led by an empowered presidential team with impeccable character – character is the defining word to qualify.

During periods of near anarchy as in Uganda today you need this arrangement whose principal function is to give people a breathing space. This has been done before in countries where disintegration was looming on the horizon.

In Soviet Union, when Stalin died in 1953, the supreme authority was officially vested in three top Politburo members. Khrushchev eventually emerged as the leader in 1955 (F. Rothney 2002). The Soviet Union was thus saved.

For revolutions to occur there must be a trigger

As I have written and spoken on a number of occasions, revolutions will not occur unless there is a spark. I have given you the sparks that triggered revolutions in France, Mexico, Russia, Tunisia and Ethiopia. In Uganda the conditions for a revolution are there in abundance. What is missing is a spark which could come any time from now. We can prevent a revolution only if commonsense prevails in the NRM government. Ugandans are not docile people. They are ready but the spark hasn’t gone off yet.

In Iran the revolution was triggered by an article written by the Shah. Here is what happened after the Shah decided to counter the growing popularity of Ayatollah Khomeini.

“The Shah penned an article, a report supposedly about Ayatollah Khomeini, calling the cleric a coward, a traitor, a communist and insinuating that he’d partaken in particularly lascivious deeds. On January 7, 1978, when the Shah had the article published …, it was the first time the cleric’s name had seen the ink of Iran’s printing press since 1964. It also marked the last time the Shah’s people were going to put up with his crap [hence the spark].

Sadly, in Uganda history is repeating itself

In Uganda politics has two meanings. There are Ugandans like me who see politics as an art of capturing power and using it in the interest of the people. On the other hand, there are those who see it as a means to enrich themselves. In the rush to get power, Ugandans in the latter group have hurriedly entered into marriages of convenience that are unsustainable and therefore destabilizing.

In the struggle for independence, men like Ignatius Musazi, William Rwetsiba, George Magezi and Ben Kiwanuka, among others, that had legislative experience at the regional (Lukiiko) and national (Legislative Council) levels were replaced by ambitious but very young and inexperienced people like Milton Obote, John Kakonge and Grace Ibingira, among others who formed Uganda People’s Congress (UPC).

Within UPC there soon developed ideological and cultural differences. Ibingira who became the youngest cabinet minister at independence in 1962 was connected with the ruling house of Ankole had aristocratic and capitalist values. John Kakonge, a commoner from Bunyoro was defined as a socialist while Obote a commoner from Lango was somewhere in between.

Everywhere Change begins with awareness

As I have been writing and saying change be it in politics or economics etc begins with awareness. You have to understand how you got your place in the scheme of things – how you became a ruler or ruled. And must you remain that way?

As we acquire education and travel, we end up reading about enlightenment or reason by Europeans who challenged the status quo inter alia of divine kings, peasants or serfs who were heavily taxed without benefits, leading to the American and French Revolutions followed by others throughout the world.

The Atlantic Charter agreed to by Roosevelt and Churchill called for self-determination of colonized people. Following the formation of the United Nations the General Assembly adopted a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It states in part that we are all born free and equal in rights and dignity. The differences are man-made: one group using whatever means but largely force turned another group into a servant or slave thus losing God-given political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights – especially the right to land ownership and the right to determine one’s destiny.

The people’s power can’t be defeated

With my own initiative and resources and alone, I have researched, written and published extensively about the Horn and Great Lakes regions of Africa with a focus on Rwanda and Uganda – the two neighboring countries. I have tried to understand the root causes and consequences of endemic conflicts in these two regions.

By way of comparison, I have also tried to understand the causes and consequences of conflicts in the French, Mexican, Russian, Ethiopian and Iranian Revolutions and People’s Power in South Korea during the presidency of Syngman Rhee and in the Philippines during the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos.

I have concluded that by and large conflicts start when individuals struggle for political power to access economic resources and enrich themselves. In doing so, they rely on members of their class, ethnicity or faith – hence class, ethnic or religious wars.

The winners do everything to cling to power by using repressive tools like the military, intelligence and police and reliance on external support. They violate the political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights of the losers hoping the latter would be controlled and exploited forever.

Social relations in Uganda must change

In Uganda the exploitative (feudal) relations between leaders and the people (lords and serfs) is on the rise in one form or another. God created us equal but man in his desire to dominate created divisions of rulers and ruled.

In Europe the feudal system developed after the fall of the (western part) of the Roman Empire in AD 476. Because of the instability that followed weak members needed protection but had no money to pay for that service. So they gave up their land. The king or overlord in turn gave part of the land (fief) to lords (king’s vassals) who in return swore to train and fight on behalf of the king as knights (horse warriors). Serfs therefore lost their land. In return for food, shelter and clothing etc serfs worked the lord’s land and virtually had no freedom. The feudal and manorial systems of exploitation began to be challenged through peasant revolts beginning in the 12th century and they eventually collapsed.

They were replaced by states with more powerful kings that ruled and exploited their subjects by ‘divine right’ i.e. their power came from God. They were answerable and accountable only to God. The people could not hold them accountable.

Why Uganda needs opposition with a long-term common vision

I supported NRM’s ten-point program which was well written, inclusive and put Ugandans at the center of development. Sadly, the program was suddenly and unceremoniously abandoned in mid-1987 before implementation started. It was replaced by a ‘shock therapy’ structural adjustment program (SAP) that the NRM had vehemently opposed during the Obote II regime and vowed to scrap it once in power.

Museveni rejected advice from Ugandans and some foreigners that urged a gradual and sequenced approach to minimize the adverse impact on poor and vulnerable people. The minister of finance who was an economist was dismissed and replaced by a medical doctor. Museveni then relied on foreigners who tutored him about the merits of market forces (S. Mallaby 2004).

The design and implementation of the program were placed under the care of the IMF and World Bank apparently for lack of domestic capacity (P. Langseth et al., 1995) when in fact there were many qualified and experienced Ugandans eager to come home but Museveni was not keen to receive them (The Courier Sept-Oct. 1993).