Argentina: the military and dirty war

By way of introduction

Uganda has everything to make it a developed country. The British focused on agriculture but in the 1950s realized that Uganda needed industries to create jobs and transform the economic structure. Uganda also needed law and order or an enabling environment including capable leadership for rapid economic growth, equitable and sustainable development.

Under the UPC government in the 1960s an effort was made to employ Ugandans in areas of their competence. Medical doctors focused on healthcare, teachers taught and bricklayers constructed houses etc and were rewarded commensurately.

The struggle for control of political power by civilian politicians within UPC invited the military into Uganda politics when the army commander Opolot joined the Ibingira group and deputy commander Amin joined the Obote group. The Amin/Obote group moved faster and defeated the Opolot/Ibingira group leading to the 1966/67 constitutional and political crisis. From 1967 to 1970 Obote was kept in power by the military.

Eventually the army realized that it held power and decided to run the country instead of supporting politicians. UPC and Obote were removed in a military coup and Amin and mercenaries from Sudan and DRC ran the country from 1971 to 1979 and Museveni after defeating Okello has run Uganda from 1986 to the present with military backing.

During this period of military rule (1971 to 1979 and 1986 to the present in 2012), Uganda has deteriorated in all areas of human endeavor. The period of civilian rule from 1962 to 1970 and 1981 to 1985 witnessed rapid economic growth averaging six percent in real terms and equitable distribution of economic growth benefits particularly in the 1960s.

This evidence of better performance under civilian governments in Uganda and lessons from other countries particularly in Latin America have compelled me to argue for restoration of civilian government in Uganda although the few who have benefited under NRM military regime are resisting without convincing evidence.

With due respect, military commanders are not trained to deal with civilian development issues that require a different profile. Military commanders give orders. Amin issued orders based on dreams and governed by divine right. His word on expelling Asians was final, causing too much suffering. His word to invade Tanzania was final resulting in a war between neighboring countries that once formed the East African Community.

Museveni is the only person in Uganda with a vision. His word on barter trade was final. His word on ending the ten-point program was final. His word on shock therapy version of structural adjustment program was final. His word on privatization of public enterprises was final. Those who offered different ideas were accused of sabotage. He is behaving like that because as military commander he is used to giving orders in the army and can’t change as president because he sees all Ugandans as soldiers who must be ordered. In 1971, 1975 and 1986 Uganda wasn’t in an emergency situation requiring military intervention to restore order. Even if it were soldiers should have returned to the barracks after order had been restored.

Development basically means discussion, give and take and compromise. It is about win-win and not about winner-take-all. Soldiers are not made up of this material. Soldiers fight to destroy the enemy and win it all.

To discuss with someone you should not be afraid that if your idea is not acceptable you or your relative (if you escape) won’t end up in jail or worse. Uganda soldiers are trained to be feared and they enjoy it. You see people run for their lives when soldiers appear in a place especially villages. You have also seen that when Museveni faces a problem he puts on military fatigues and addresses the nation on television with his eyes wide open as if they are going to fall out of the sockets. He does that purposely to instill fear. How do you discuss sensitive or complicated national issues in such an atmosphere?

To keep their jobs, those who work with Museveni, we are told, just keep quiet and take orders. Do you hear ministers talk these days? Do you hear the minister of lands settling land disputes? There is a story subject to confirmation that the leaders of Bushenyi district couldn’t agree on dividing the district into two. When Museveni lost patience he ordered it be divided into four. And that was it.

In countries where there are no checks and balances enshrined in separation of powers among the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government and other instruments, military leaders can do whatever they want with impunity. That is why many Ugandans with a questioning mind or those who can’t keep their mouth shut are languishing in exile. They would want to raise their children at home and grow with their cousins and neighbors. Violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms keeps them out. So when supporters of NRM regime tell you Uganda is stable they mean Ugandans are so suppressed they can’t raise their voices or have run out of the country. And when they tell you Uganda is making development progress, they essentially mean that it has increased export of raw materials, it has privatized public enterprises, capital flight in and out is unregulated and interest rates are so high to discourage borrowing and raise the level of currency in circulation to cause inflation. They never tell you anything about human condition.

Ipso facto, soldiers tend to suppress their citizens into silence and/or invade other countries when there is a disagreement, in search of glory or regain popularity at home. Field Marshall Amin invaded Tanzania to regain domestic popularity; General Museveni has invaded or threatened to invade neighboring countries largely in pursuit of Tutsi Empire dream and General Galtieri invaded Falklands to gain popularity at home. Consequently, attention is diverted from development to non-development activities which are mostly destabilizing. As noted above, the Great Lakes region is far worse than it was in 1986 when Museveni came to power through force and was joined by Kagame in 1994.

The case of Argentina and parallels with Uganda

With reference to Argentina, I want to show how military direct rule or support to civilian governments has adversely affected socio-economic and political development and human rights so that Ugandans and others can draw parallels.

In Argentina society power of the military goes back to the days when General Jose de san Martin defeated troops loyal to the Spanish regime during the war of independence. In 1930 an elected government of Yrigoyen was overthrown by a retired general. Subsequently, with support of the military a coalition of Conservatives and Radicals opposed to Yrigoyen formed the government that ran the country from 1932 to 1943. During this period, the supporters of the coalition benefited disproportionately from the economy and skewed income distribution in the country.

The Second World War divided Argentina into pro-allied supporters and pro-Axis supporters including some in the army. Fearing that the civilian politicians might install a pro-allied president, the army intervened in 1943. Col. Juan Domingo Peron became a minister in the military government. In 1946 Peron won the elections. In 1949 he amended the constitution to ensure re-election and governed as a dictator. He survived a coup attempt in 1951. The authoritarian nature of the regime and attacks on the Roman Catholic Church compounded Peron’s problems and eroded his popularity. The military stepped in and he was overthrown in 1955 and fled into exile.

For almost thirty years (1955-83), Argentina was a troubled country in large part because of the struggle between the armed forces and Peron’s supporters. Several military and civilian leaders who suggested the return of Peronists to active politics were overthrown by those who opposed the idea. Much attention was focused on survival that the government virtually forgot the economy. Economic and political tensions and the lesson from the Cuban Revolution during the government of military leader Juan Carlos Ongania created conditions for guerrilla resistance by Peronists. Guerrilla activities included kidnapping and assassination, forcing the military to overthrow Ongania. His successor Gen. Roberto Levingston was also overthrown by Gen. Alejandro Lanusse who became president.

Lanusse inherited a situation that was virtually impossible politically and economically characterized by guerrilla activities and a bad economy because development policies couldn’t be implemented in such an environment. He accepted the writing on the wall and in 1973 allowed elections with participation of Peronists although Peron himself was not allowed to contest. The Peronists won and paved the way for the return of Peron and he became president again with his third wife Maria Estela (Isabelita) Martinez de Peron becoming vice-president. Peron was then 78 and died in July 1974. He was succeeded as president by the vice-president Isabelita. By this time the Peronists were divided, the economy was messy with inflation over 360 percent. In March 1976, the military overthrew the government (Europa Publications Limited 1995).

Beginning the dirty war

The new military leader General Rafael Videla launched the ‘dirty war’ against the opposition. All real and imagined opponents were arrested at one time holding 3500 prisoners, others simply disappeared estimated at between 10,000 and 20,000. Disguising their brutality as maintaining national security the generals pursued an all out attack on opponents with impunity.

Because the focus was on liquidation of opponents, the generals paid little attention to the economy. The result was severe deterioration that forced the introduction of stabilization program to reduce inflation and win back foreign creditors. Meanwhile wages and investments declined. Real interest rates went up benefiting banks and financial institutions. Public enterprises were privatized. However, bank failures triggered more trouble: massive capital flight, inflation rose again to over 100 percent followed by a recession that reduced industrial capacity utilization to below 50 percent, job losses and drastic decline in real incomes. In the midst of this mess, Videla stepped down in March 1981 and was replaced by Viola who stepped down in early 1982 and was succeeded by General Leopoldo Galtieri, the army commander.

To divert attention from the domestic monster, Galtieri invaded the Falklands Islands controlled by Britain where 1800 British grazed 600,000 sheep. Galtieri had hoped this adventure would win him popular support. But he miscalculated and lost and humiliated the nation. Patriotic fervor turned into an ugly showdown and loss of the presidency. Galtieri was replaced by an obscure retired General Reynaldo Bignone who realizing that the situation had gone beyond military capability decided to return the country to civilian rule in 1984. “It was as if the Argentine generals had by their incompetence restored legitimacy to the civilian politicians” (T. E. Skidmore and P. H. Smith 1997).

Similarities with Uganda

To let the parallels sink in I shall repeat some of the ground covered above. Uganda civilian government was kept in power by the military between 1966 and 1970. The military overthrew the civilian government in 1971 and took over under Amin and was itself overthrown in a military defeat by Tanzanian troops and Uganda rebels. Elections were conducted in 1980 and a civilian government was formed. It was overthrown in July 1985 and replaced by a military government which was itself overthrown by a guerrilla force in January 1986. The military NRM regime turned democratic for convenience but has for all intents and purposes remained military with soldiers in parliament and in the police force.

The NRM government focus has been on security build up to suppress citizens into silence or throw them in jail or force them into exile and invade or intervene in neighboring countries especially Burundi, Sudan, Rwanda and DRC in the false hope of creating a peaceful and stable political atmosphere for rapid economic growth and equitable development.

The Great Lakes situation is worse than it was before Museveni and Kagame appeared on the scene in 1986 and 1994 respectively. Millions of people especially in Rwanda and DRC have lost their lives and others have been displaced from their land and properties.

Bahutu who are victims for centuries but have been painted by biased international commentators as ‘bad guys’ who have no place under the sun have suffered a great deal including Hutu genocide in Burundi, DRC and massacres in Rwanda.

All human beings must be judged by the same set of rules. Because of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Tutsi have been treated as victims in a hostile environment who have been allowed to arm themselves in so-called self-defense. The fact of the matter is that for centuries Tutsi have been the aggressors. They should be condemned for the genocide of Hutu in Burundi in 1972, 1988 and 1993. They should also be condemned for the alleged massacre of Hutu inside Rwanda and genocide of Hutu in DRC. Those who have allowed Tutsi to abuse others bear responsibility as well. The truth can’t be hidden forever. We all belong to one Creator and no man or woman or institution should set double standards.

Let me make it very clear once again because it keeps coming up: all people in the Great Lakes region including in all parts of Uganda should live together in peace, security, equality and happiness. That is my position and no detractor should interpret it otherwise to start trouble. Batutsi from Rujumbura helped me when I was growing up (I have even provided their names which isn’t my usual style because I wanted to demonstrate that I am telling the truth but some have insisted I am a promoter of Tutsi genocide and would want all Tutsi wherever they live be destroyed) and I still have Tutsi friends to this day but that doesn’t and shouldn’t stop us from pointing out wrongdoing by them when it occurs.

When I sensed as a young kid that my father had a financial problem and may not raise enough school fees for all of us, I warned him against the temptation to steal church money. He didn’t and I am very proud of my father. I was prepared to drop out of school to help solve that problem. That is who I am. I tell it like it is with all the good intentions in the world.

Let us return to where we left off on the Uganda story. Much NRM attention has been focused on failed experiment with stabilization and structural adjustment program hoping it would create an enabling environment for rapid economic growth and equitable distribution of income by class and regions through trickle down mechanism.

The military approach of issuing orders, the marginalization of professional opponents, rampant corruption, sectarianism and cronyism have dealt Uganda’s economy and society a heavy blow with over 50 percent living below the poverty line; re-emerging diseases that had disappeared; over 80 percent of youth unemployed; over 30 percent of Ugandans going to bed hungry; refusal to provide school lunch when Uganda is a main exporter of food; rising maternal mortality of over 500 per 100,000 live births and focusing on urban-based capital intensive services especially in the capital city of Kampala have reversed the gear and Uganda is moving backward toward a fourth country category, not forward to becoming a middle income country as the president reported on October 9, 2012.

Continuation of reliance on the military and soldiers to run governments in the Great Lakes region will make matters worse. Development partners supporting this policy need to refocus. Spreading and deepening poverty and desperation in Uganda will not be addressed unless the militarization of Uganda politics is dropped. Democracy, governance and development in Uganda will not happen as long as the military stays in power and focuses on security matters without addressing the root cause which is poverty and unemployment which can’t be solved by buying more guns, tear gas and constructing torture chambers but by development projects which civilian government has a comparative advantage.

The military obviously has an important role to play but it is not in running governments. Imagine appointing a qualified and experienced economist to be commander of Uganda armed forces. Imagine what would happen! That is what happens when you appoint a military commander to run a country.

In South and Central America where military governments were once prominent have handed over to civilian rule and these countries are doing better economically, socially and politically than under military rule. This is an important lesson for Uganda.


, , , , , , , , , All