Is Uganda ready for change?

During and since our last broadcast on radio Munansi (February 20, 2011) many questions have been raised including whether Uganda is ready for change, where are the leaders, when should the change take place and, will Museveni and his security forces behave like Qaddafi in Libya? Let us look at history lessons for guidance.

Is Uganda ready for change? Yes it is. Historically, in countries where rebellions, revolts or revolutions take place, societies are characterized by extreme inequalities, high unemployment especially among the youth, high levels of poverty and high prices. For example, at the time of the French Revolution, France was characterized by high inequalities in wealth and privileges between the monarch, nobility and high clergy on one hand and commoners on the other. Also, poverty and unemployment levels were high and food prices were high. Uganda meets all these characteristics as discussed in previous debates.

Where are the leaders? Changes have taken place with or without leaders. History shows that some revolutions have had leaders that mobilized the discontented people through advocacy. The England’s peasants’ revolt of 1381 was prepared through agitation by priest John Ball and peasant Wat Tyler. After this revolt, no medieval English government attempted to impose a poll tax again. When Margaret Thatcher attempted to restore it she was forced out of office as prime minister.

The French Revolution had no leaders that mobilized protesters. In mid-July 1789 the poor of Paris gathered to protest high and rising food prices. While there news spread that the king had ordered troops to control the situation. The demonstrators thought the king had dispatched troops to disband their crowd and attack Paris. In panic the crowd attacked the Bastille prison to obtain weapons and gunpowder in self-defense. The crowds then appointed Marquis de Lafayette commander of the people’s ‘army’ in Paris. The poor of Paris began the French Revolution without a leader. It spread to the rest of the country. Leaderless peasants throughout France who had suffered many feudal injustices rebelled against their lords. The nobles were terrified. The national Assembly gathered at Versailles responded and abolished serfdom and unpleasant peasant obligations.

Thus leaderless peasants and poor urban dwellers initiated the French Revolution.

Should the date for change be fixed in advance? History reveals that, by and large, revolutions occur spontaneously. In England’s peasant revolt of 1381, a group of frustrated peasants in Essex spontaneously reacted violently to a tax collector who was attempting to enforce a poll tax. Defiance spread across southeast England including the City of London. The French Revolution was also spontaneous as described already.

In Iran, the 1979 revolution started when Khomeini and his Islamic Revolutionary Council arrived from France at the invitation of the Iranian people. When the government refused to recognize Khomeini and his Council, there were spontaneous demonstrations. The army withdrew support from the government which collapsed and Khomeini formed a provisional government. That is how the revolution began.

Can Museveni and his security forces behave like Quaddafi of Libya? It is possible. However, Museveni, his commanders, police commissioners and rank and file need to know that they will be individually held accountable for their unlawful actions. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) specifies crimes for which individuals are held accountable. ICC has put an end to impunity for perpetrators of crimes and none is exempt (the case of Bashir, current president of Sudan is a fresh reminder that none is spared including Museveni).

The state has a duty to exercise its criminal jurisdiction over those responsible for crimes. ICC has jurisdiction with respect to (1) the crime of genocide (2) crimes against humanity (3) war crimes and (4) crime against aggression. Crimes against humanity committed against civilian population include torture, rape, murder, disappearance of people and similar crimes that cause suffering or injury to body, mental or physical health. War crimes include destruction of property not justified by military necessity.

Regarding individual criminal responsibility, Article 24 states in part that a person who commits a crime within the jurisdiction of ICC shall be individually responsible for punishment.

Regarding responsibility of commanders and other superiors, Article 28 states in part that a military commander or person effectively acting as a military commander shall be criminally responsible for crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court committed by forces under his or her effective command and control. In other words, a superior shall be criminally responsible for crimes committed by subordinates under his or her effective authority and control as a result of his or her failure to exercise control properly over such subordinates.

Regarding superior orders and prescription of law, Article 33 states in part that ‘orders to commit genocide or crimes against humanity are manifestly (clearly) unlawful’. Orders by superiors in this regard should not be obeyed by subordinates. (Those interested in details about ICC should read the whole Statute).

The people of Uganda have the right to demonstrate peacefully. The president and Commander-in-Chief, military commanders, police commissioners and officers as well as rank and file have no right to arrest or kill any Ugandan for peaceful demonstrations. Authorities violate a human right when they prevent or stop peaceful demonstrations. Therefore if the people of Uganda wish to demonstrate against the rigged elections of February 18, 2011, they have the right to conduct a peaceful demonstration. Museveni’s suggestion that he will jail (not kill) anyone who attempts Egypt-style protests show that he is aware of what could happen to him. Museveni has no right to jail anyone including leaders of peaceful demonstrations if that is what he has in mind.

, , , , , , , , , All