Museveni underestimated the people of Uganda

Museveni came to power with a feudal mentality of governance. Feudalism was a system of political, economic and social organization in medieval Europe made up of three classes: the clergy who prayed and cared for the souls; the lords who governed and fought; and the serfs or peasants the majority who worked for the other two classes through exploitative tribute and tithes.

The feudal system was introduced in the great lakes region by Batutsi in Rwanda (especially) and Burundi, Bahima in Ankole and Bahororo in Rujumbura. Batutsi, Bahima and Bahororo were the lords and fighters and Bahutu and Bairu (slaves of the lords) the workers who paid exploitative tribute to the lords in foodstuffs, drinks and free labor including carrying lords and their family members in litters and/or their luggage when they travelled. The clergy and tithes were added to peasants’ burden during the colonial rule. As in medieval Europe the clergy preached peasants (and still do) not to worry about earthly material things and to suffer pain on earth for their rewards are in the kingdom of heaven. The story of a camel going through the eye of the needle conveys this message of hardship on earth very well.

With roots in Rujumbura and Ankole and familiarity with royal courts and feudal system and how Bahima and Bahororo rulers had worked with the clergy to squeeze peasants economically, socially and politically and keep them voiceless and powerless, Museveni decided to extend the feudal system in southwest Uganda to the rest of the country when he became president. He wanted to rule for a long time without resistance from the majority of Ugandans who are peasants.

As president, Museveni quickly formed three classes as in feudal Europe: lords made up of Bahororo, Bahima and their in-laws that are governing Uganda and commanding the military and other security forces and controlling strategic ministries; clergy of Protestant and Catholic bishops (whom Museveni has corrupted with Pajeros, jobs and an assortment of gifts including cows and brown envelops) who are praying for the souls of peasants and reminding them that their reward is in the kingdom of heaven; and peasants the main producers of goods and services for the comfort of lords and the clergy. Consequently, as in medieval Europe, Uganda peasants are being exploited through a wide range of taxes to raise government revenue to provide comfort for the lords and tithes to the church for the comfort of bishops and free labor on public works. Despite their hard work, Uganda peasants are poor, hungry and sick because of ruthless exploitation through these government and church taxes. If Ugandans have noticed, some bishops of Uganda today, unlike in the past, have become very rich.

To keep peasants obedient and follow his orders particularly at election time, Museveni embarked on a long term program of impoverishing them. He killed cooperatives and extension services and drastically reduced budgets for agriculture and rural development so that peasant’s productivity and income remain low (Museveni has emphasized the development of services in towns that benefit Uganda elite and foreign workers and 70 percent of Uganda’s GDP is generated in Kampala City with a population of under two million out of 33 million Ugandans).

Museveni urged peasants to produce for cash and not for the stomach so he generates foreign currency, leaving insufficient food at household level with all nutritional problems and ill health. He refused to provide NEPAD approved lunches that keep children in school and improve their performance especially girls (there was no need for Museveni to ask the World Bank to make recommendations on school lunches because they have worked in developed and developing countries. He did this to pre-empt debate on the importance of school lunches during the campaign for 2011 elections). Museveni drastically reduced health budget and introduced user fees for consultation and medicines, making access to health services unaffordable for most peasants. Similarly education was starved of funds and introduction of user fees and abandonment of some schools kept many peasant children out of school. Through labor flexibility, employers have hired and fired at will and paid wages at or below subsistence level.

The outcome of this policy has been high levels of absolute poverty at over 50 percent, rising unemployment, rising school dropout and rising early marriage, rising hunger, rising infant and maternal mortality and rising diseases of poverty such as jiggers, sexually transmitted diseases and scabies etc among peasants. However, Museveni forgot (or ignored) the historical fact that when peasants are hungry and feel they have been squeezed in other ways they get cranky causing problems for governments. Uganda peasants are on the verge of getting cranky – they are hungry and angry because they feel they are overexploited, impoverished and are losing the only asset they have: land e.g. through municipal expansion into rural areas in some cases without consultations as in Rukungiri. The NRM primary election that saw ministers and senior MPs lose is a signal of what lies in store.

Using security forces and bishops and resistance political system, Museveni virtually destroyed pre-independence parties of Uganda Peoples’ Congress (UPC) and Democratic Party (DP) that had been built on support of followers of Anglican and Catholic faiths. He created a one party political system: the National Resistance Movement (NRM) which he has headed as chairman and led with an iron fist since its creation.

Having severely wounded UPC and DP and strangled FDC, Museveni thought he could dictate what goes on in NRM, kick out of parliament those he does not like and retain those he likes and bring in new ones he can count on or force as necessary to push his agenda through parliament. The rising number of independent NRM candidates is a clear signal that Museveni has a revolt in his closet which if combined with peasant anger could turn into a revolution in the near future.

Museveni who claims to be a historian should study carefully the role of peasants in the ending of the feudal system in Europe and peasants and enlightenment thinkers in the French Revolution. Ugandans have entered the age of reason or enlightenment where they will not accept anything that comes from Uganda leaders including Museveni himself. They will ask questions and demand convincing answers. Failure to respond will result in undermining the authority of Uganda leaders.

Museveni should also study carefully the role of the imperial guard, the military and external factor in the overthrow of the Ethiopian monarchy. The imperial guard stood by as junior military officers dragged the Emperor from his palace and drove him away in a beetle Volkswagen (he was used to riding in Rolls Royce). Western powers that had backed the Ethiopian Emperor for decades withdrew support and blamed him for failing to care for his people especially during the famine of the 1970s. Museveni therefore cannot rely too heavily on his security forces including his presidential guard and donor support. They could slip out of his hands given how unpopular Museveni has become.