People in the Lakes region want peace through democracy

People in the Great Lakes region want peace through free and fair multi-party elections and government of majority rule that promotes liberty and justice for all but have been governed by military leaders from minority groups who can’t win in free and fair elections. When asked, people from different ethnic groups will tell you they have no difficulties living together. It is their political leaders that create divisions along ethnic lines to mobilize support.

After assassination of the president of Burundi in 1993 Hutus attacked Tutsis. One Tutsi who had escaped unharmed was interviewed and he said “The people who killed my family were Hutu from Frodebu (Hutu Party]. … We used to have no problems with them. But when they had the news from Radio Kigali, they said Tutsi must be massacred. We peasants don’t know why the putschists killed Ndadaye. But we are paying for what they did. They provoked the revenge of the Hutu on the Tutsi”(Africa Report Jan/Feb. 1994). I have travelled in the Lakes region and talked to many people and they all want peace. They don’t care who governs provided it is done properly through free and fair elections and the elected government takes good care of all citizens equitably.

The military leaders in power in Uganda and Rwanda come from minority ethnic groups and know that western democracy of one person one vote isn’t suitable for them. So when pressured by the international community, they go for elections at gun point from registration of voters to the announcement of results to ensure they stay in power.

As a general rule military leaders oppose multi-party elections, reasoning falsely that they are divisive and peasant societies are not yet ready for the western version of democracy. In an interview with an American journalist, former president of Mexico General Porfirio Diaz observed that “Here in Mexico we have had different conditions. I received this government from the hands of a victorious army at a time when the people were divided and unprepared for the exercise of the extreme principles of democratic government. To have thrown upon the masses the whole responsibility of government at once would have produced conditions that might have discredited the cause of free government.

“Yet, although I got power at first from the army, an election was held as soon as possible and then my authority came from the people. I have tried to leave the presidency several times, but it has been pressed upon me and I remained in office for the sake of the nation which trusted me.

“My country has relied on me and it has been kind to me. My friends have praised my merits and overlooked my faults.

“The Porfiriato, as this long period [of Porfirio Diaz presidency from 1876 to 1911] is called, produced peace and some economic progress, but these were achieved at a great price” (L. Hanke and J. M. Rausch 1992).

Diaz adopted a policy of peace, security and stability that restrained popular tendencies and abused human rights. In this regard, Diaz reported that “We began by making robbery punishable by death and compelling the execution of offenders within a few hours after they were caught and condemned. We ordered that whenever telegraph wires were cut and the chief officer of the district did not catch the criminal, he should himself suffer; and in case the cutting occurred on a plantation the proprietor who failed to prevent it should be hanged to the nearest telegraph pole. These were military orders, remember.

“We were harsh. Sometimes we were harsh to the point of cruelty. But it was all necessary then to the life and progress of the nation. If there was cruelty, the results have justified it. … It was better that a little blood should be shed that much blood should be saved. The blood that was shed was bad blood; the blood that was saved was good blood. Peace was necessary, even an enforced peace, that the nation might have time to think and work”(L. Hanke and J. M. Rausch 1992). Diaz who came to power by a military coup in 1876 was thrown out by the Mexican Revolution in 1911 and died in exile.

Military leaders in third world countries behave virtually the same. They agree to elections only when they believe they have a chance of winning through various means. When they lose they cause trouble including overthrowing the government that unseated them. It is reported that Museveni wanted the 1980 elections postponed but when he failed to stop it and lost the parliamentary seat, he chose to overthrow the government by military means. Another example comes from Burundi which had been ruled by minority Tutsi soldiers for most of post-independence period. Commentators reported with reference to the 1993 elections that “The fact is that the Tutsi never really accepted democracy. They accepted it initially when they thought Uprona (Tutsi Party) was going to win. … The fear of the Tutsi is that the country doesn’t have many resources and the only way to get something is through the civil service. They don’t want to compete with Hutu. That is why they were frightened of the returning refugees. They say: ‘All they [Hutu] did when they were abroad was study. They’ll do better than us’. The Tutsi want Hutu who are good peasants, who don’t go to school”. Consequently the Hutu government that won the 1993 elections was overthrown. “The Tutsi eliminated the Hutu leaders. The deaths of Ndadaye [Hutu president], Karibwami, and others in 1993 follow the deaths in the 1960s and 1970s of two Hutu prime ministers, three parliamentary presidents and vice presidents, almost all Hutu parliamentarians in the 1965 national assembly, trade unionists, a party president, and thousands of army officers, senior civil servants, doctors, judges, teachers, headmasters, and businessmen. There are no Hutu doctors over the age of 45”(Africa Report Jan/Feb. 1994).

Military leaders in Uganda have behaved more or less the same. So-called peace, security and stability have been maintained at great human cost. The first to go in the 1970s were Acholi and Langi soldiers because Amin mercenaries were afraid of a counter-coup. Then they turned to the educated class for fear they would take all the jobs. Educated Ugandans were hunted down. Many were killed, many were jailed and many others fled into exile. Then they expelled the Asians in order to take their properties.

It has been reported that Museveni doesn’t believe in true democracy. Regarding Burundi’s 1993 elections, a commentator and former friend remarked “Museveni was against elections in Burundi, because it would betray the cause of Tutsis. When they held it, you know what happened later. After the swearing in of Ndadaye in June 1993, the President [Museveni] at the swearing in ceremony was my former friend. So he came, and he told us, when he came back, about the successful experiment in Burundi. Museveni said, a few weeks later: You know, if you think the solution of democracy is made in elections, that is wrong.

“A few months later Ndadaye was dead. Museveni was not even ashamed to say that the experiment in Burundi was not solved by elections”(EIR Special Report 1997).

At that time in 1993 Museveni was insisting that Uganda was not ready for elections because of their divisive nature. Donors had suggested he should have elections five years after he captured power by military means but he flatly refused. When international pressure mounted, he organized one in 1996. Many of us inside and outside Uganda know how the campaign was conducted. His presidential opponent was harassed and intimidated and even prevented from campaigning in certain areas. Museveni threatened that if he lost he would go back to the bush and cause real chaos. In district elections Museveni made sure his supporters won. In Ntungamo district troops had to be deployed to secure the election of a Tutsi candidates over a popular Mwiru opponent.

In Rukungiri town a person was shot dead and others injured by Uganda security forces at a rally organized by the opposition presidential candidate who was immensely popular in his home area. Rukungiri has been a troubled area during every campaign because of military candidates. Civilian candidates and their supporters are harassed and intimidated and many don’t turn up to vote.

When Museveni came to power, most of his guerrillas had very little training and were afraid that if they were subjected to competition, they wouldn’t get jobs in public service. However, if they didn’t their former commander and now president would be in trouble. Museveni decided that all Ugandans in the diaspora, the educated and experienced, should stay there earn and send home foreign currency as their contribution to nation building. So former guerrillas were recruited in large numbers but had no capacity to run the country including preparing an economic recovery program.

To fill this capacity gap, NRM government invited the World Bank and IMF to take charge of preparing and implementing the recovery program and hire foreign experts and advisers. In this regard, a senior government official reported that “When the NRM Government came to power in 1986, it was faced with the momentous task of rehabilitation and developing a shattered economy, and raising the standard of living of the population after more than a decade of continuous civil strife and insecurity….

“Faced with these acute problems and limited domestic capacity to respond effectively to them, in 1987, the Government sought the assistance of the World Bank and IMF in designing and implementing an economic recovery program” (P. Langseth et al., 1995).

The truth of the matter is that Uganda had enough qualified and experienced Ugandans at home and abroad. The problem is that these were better qualified and experienced and wouldn’t be easily controlled by former guerrillas. It was therefore better to lay them off under the retrenchment program or keep them outside and bring in young expatriates who posed no threat. Some of the experts came in to experiment with their pet projects and others wanted to help but didn’t understand Uganda’s complex history and culture.

They embarked on stabilization and structural adjustment program (SAP) knowing full well that Chile and Ghana had already experienced tremendous problems and had made adjustments which Uganda ignored and opted for shock therapy version and trickle down mechanism that had never produced desired results anywhere. Uganda is falling behind Kenya and Tanzania in human condition reversing its standing since independence.

To divert attention from mushrooming domestic problems, Museveni has begun a pan-African crusade of economic integration, arguing that African balkanization has handicapped Africa’s development but at home he has balkanized Uganda from 39 districts to over 100. At the East African community level, Museveni appears to have dropped fast tracking political federation ahead of economic integration which was the wrong way to go which was suspected to be linked with Tutsi Empire. His push for infrastructure and institutions at the African and East African levels to facilitate national development sounds fine provided it doesn’t eat too much into national sovereignty and keeps national borders inviolable.

The military governments in Uganda since 1971 except from 1981 to July 1985 have presided over failed economies. Under proper leadership Uganda would be in the upper middle income category, given its human and natural abundance and generous development support from partners but the country is drifting backwards, witness reemergence of diseases that had disappeared.

The longer Museveni stays in power, the poorer Uganda will become regardless of what he accomplishes at the Continental level (to be chairman of every organization will make him work full time and forget the domestic agenda) which seems to be his focus instead of constructing infrastructure and strengthening institutions and taking care of starving children and reducing maternal mortality etc at home. He should draw a lesson from Diaz who refused to relinquish power until he was swept out in the Mexican Revolution and died in exile.

In Latin America, military regimes came into power during the 1960s and 1970s to put the economies on the right path but they all failed because running countries isn’t their cup of tea even when they hired a civilian most likely an economist in charge of the economy. By the 1990s, they had handed back power to civilian government and the region is doing pretty well.

In Uganda there is sufficient evidence that for the good of the country and her people, Uganda should return to civilian rule by democratic means under capable and impeccable leadership in expertise, experience and character. For a start, Uganda should have a transitional government to clean up the place and organize proper multiparty free and fair elections. Democracy at gun point isn’t what Ugandans have been looking for.


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