Soldiers and protection of the public – lessons for Uganda soldiers

From time immemorial when people as individuals or groups complain or demonstrate, it means that something has been wrong for a while and needs correcting by the authorities. Responsible governments would engage in a dialogue and find a solution. But more often than not this is never done. Instead brutal force is used to silence dissent.

Peasant revolts that engulfed France, Germany, Britain and Russia among others during and after the Middle Ages represented efforts to end their suffering. Instead of dialogue, they were killed in large numbers. Those who survived were told to endure suffering on earth in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. Their children watched and listened and did not like what they saw and heard. They vowed their parents would not die in vain. They continued the struggle with better organization and leadership until feudalism was over. In Africa and Europe individuals like Machal, Mondlane, Tambo, Mandela, Neto, Pankhurst, Lenin and many others watched what was happening to their people or gender. They did not like it and dropped everything including their good careers and wonderful families and began the struggle to change the status quo and make life better for all.

As industrialization began in Europe, people moved from the countryside to towns, hoping life would be better. It got worse in the sense that mortality rates in European towns were higher than in rural areas. Wages were low and working and living conditions horrible. In 1905 Russian urban workers “with religious icons in hand and hymns ringing in the air” gathered at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg for a peaceful demonstration about low wages and poor working conditions. Troops opened fire and killed as many as 1000 of them.

As repression and shooting against non-violent resistance continued, soldiers most of them from peasant and working class families, began to wonder why they should be used to kill their relatives and neighbors who were demonstrating for a good cause. During the 1789 French Revolution, French soldiers refused to kill their innocent people and joined demonstrators in Paris who were demanding food at affordable prices and jobs. In 1917 Russians in St. Petersburg demonstrated against food and fuel shortages, unemployment and a war that was going badly for their soldiers. The Tsar ordered troops to disperse demonstrators or worse. The soldiers refused because they too were hungry and had no fuel. They joined demonstrators instead. When Stalin began his collectivization program, there was stiff peasant resistance. He ordered the Red Army to force compliance. The soldiers, many of them with peasant roots, saw no justification fighting against people who were rightly protecting their land.

As time passed soldiers began to realize that their duty after all is to protect the public against external invasion and/or oppression from their governments. So, during the 1989-91 revolutions in Eastern Europe and Russia soldiers refused to kill innocent citizens demonstrating for a good cause. Soldiers in East Germany disobeyed orders to shoot at demonstrators in 1989. In Estonia, Soviet troops refused Gorbachev’s orders to use force against Estonians who were demanding independence. In Romania soldiers fought the secret police (securitate) in 1989 to protect Romanian demonstrators against a brutal regime. And in Russia in 1991, the military leadership did not see the need to shed massive blood of innocent demonstrators against a failed coup attempt by communist hard liners and ordered soldiers to go back to their barracks. Earlier we gave examples of soldiers in Iran, Philippines, Ethiopia and Egypt either staying neutral or joining demonstrators rather than kill innocent people on orders of their commanders or heads of state.

Based on the above analysis, the lesson for Uganda soldiers is clear and simple. Your job is to protect the people – including peaceful demonstrators and to make sure they are not infiltrated by bad elements – not gun them down because your commander says so. Ugandans are protesting for a good cause which you share. They are demanding a better quality of life. They want lower prices including for food so they can buy enough and balanced for their children. They want the government to help them find jobs with good wages and working conditions so they can take good care of their families. They want their children to go to school now so expensive that they cannot afford. They want their children to have lunch at school so they can improve attendance and performance especially of girls. They want to end corruption which has diverted public development funds into private banks and sectarianism which has disproportionately favored a few at the expense of many. They want land grabbing to end. They want a political level playing field. They want their freedom, fairness and dignity back. That is why they are demonstrating – peacefully and unarmed. These are worthy causes.

Why should you – Uganda soldiers – gun down any of these demonstrators. All the above grievances affect you, a member of your family, a relative, a neighbor. Ugandans need a new economic development model in which everyone participates and benefits from equitably. The rural areas where close to 90 percent Ugandans live and earn a livelihood have been neglected. The service sector and privatized industries in towns especially Kampala are largely in foreign hands and labor saving so few jobs have been created contrary to the original intention of privatizing public enterprises and the Uganda economy. Economic growth and per capita income figures which some people think are exaggerated are meaningless in a country where the benefits are disproportionately going to a few families already rich. So ignore them. The government should talk about what is happening to poverty levels, quality education, new and old diseases, urban slums, ecological destruction, massive immigrants and refugees etc. Without land, good education and health, there is no way Ugandans can get out of the poverty trap. That is where NRM found us in 1986 and we are getting deeper into poverty, marginalization and vulnerability. These are facts.

When NRM leaders talk about Uganda challenges they do so as if they are advising the government about what to do. They behave as if they are not the government. They even deny what is obvious like sectarianism. What they forget or underestimate is that Ugandans have passed the age of taking things for granted. That is why education is important and everyone should try to get it or for his/her children. NRM has been in power for over 25 lost years for the majority of Ugandans. People who say Museveni has no vision are very wrong. He has a very clear vision to impoverish Ugandans and make his family rule Uganda forever. That is his vision contained in the 50 year master plan. Those who deny this either are for Museveni or they need to think again.

A new development agenda constructed by Ugandans is available at but NRM is not interested in it because if implemented it would deprive the leadership of the benefits it has enjoyed since 1986. To overcome these challenges will require collective action. Civilian Ugandans need your (soldiers) cooperation and protection. Shed fear, join us and we march together toward a brighter future for every Ugandan. You will not regret. Thank you.