One thing that is indisputable is that Ugandans including many in the NRM want change preferably by peaceful means. War has no support domestically and in the international community. On the other hand, the ruling clique in the NRM that wants to hang onto power and hand over to their children when they retire is working hard to keep Ugandans divided as illustrated by the creation of over 100 districts that has killed the unity project which was NRM’s flagship at the start of its administration in 1986. History shows unambiguously that when people are divided they fail and when united they succeed in their endeavors. The purpose of studying history which everyone should do at school or through self education besides passing examination is to draw lessons about what to avoid and what to emulate with modifications as appropriate. NRM has definitely mustered the history lesson of keeping Ugandans divided including encouraging them to seek work abroad so that it weakens the middle class that champions agitation for change. The following paragraphs will demonstrate using examples from different parts and different times how unity brings about success.
For an individual, group or nation lasting success does not come easily. It has to be earned. Throughout my adult life I have observed that those who succeed work very hard, have determination and resilience and usually want to change the status quo: overcome poverty or end autocratic regime etc. They innovate, sacrifice and take risks. Those who take it easy usually don’t get very far. For example, students who miss classes, don’t do home work, complain about teachers all the time have no chance of success. During my school days children from poor families were urged to work very hard and break the chains of poverty and vulnerability. I have also noticed that those who are favored at work fall by the wayside soon after those who favored them leave the scene.
Too often people involved in the struggle for change confuse the goal and the strategy or the means to achieve the goal. The goal remains the same but the strategy adapts to changing circumstances. Let us take South Africa as an illustration. The African National Congress (ANC) was formed in 1912 to end a white minority system of government (the goal) by non-violent means based on Gandhian principles and tactics (the strategy). However, following the massacre of peaceful demonstrators at Sharpeville in 1960, ANC changed the strategy from nonviolent campaign to armed struggle. The goal or the principle remained the same. The war got prolonged and became very destructive and expensive on both sides. Under the mature and wise leadership of Mandela and de Clerk and perhaps assisted by a hidden external hand, ANC and apartheid government decided to negotiate a settlement. The ANC suspended the guerrilla war and began negotiations (a new strategy) to end the white minority system of government (the original goal). In 1994 after hard negotiations of give and take the white minority government system was defeated at the negotiating table and black majority rule was achieved with Mandela as president, Mbeki as first deputy president and de Clerk the last president under the white minority government as second deputy president. In the course of the negotiations the whites were assured that they would not be thrown into the ocean. Three further observations are in order. First, it is important to note that negotiations cannot take place until both sides have agreed to the solution. A third party working covertly or overtly may be needed to create an environment for a decision to be taken and negotiations to begin. Second, negotiations must be conducted with honesty by all stakeholders and implement the agreement reached. Third, negotiations must continue notwithstanding obstacles that may even lead to a temporary breakdown until an agreement is reached.
The world we live in is very unpredictable and Rwanda is a good example. Until the economic crisis that started in 1989 with the collapse of coffee prices on the international market, Habyarimana’s economic and social programs had been hailed by the international community and Rwandese as success story to be emulated by the rest of Africa. By 1990, a weakened Rwanda was under attack and the government collapsed in 1994 in the midst of genocide. What caused the change of circumstances – from success story to genocide in a four year period?
Chris Atim has reported that four developments contributed to a quick shift from success story to genocide. But first, let us briefly examine the economic and social situation between 1973 when Habyarimana became president in a bloodless coup and 1989 when the price of coffee on the international market plummeted.
Since the 1990s, Uganda under the leadership of President Museveni has been described by donors, foreign media and the United Nations as a ‘success story’ and a Washington Consensus ‘star performer’. When the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government came to power in 1986, Uganda had suffered fifteen years of political instability and economic collapse. There was excess capacity of idle labor, land and industries. The latter were performing at twenty percent of installed capacity. What Uganda needed was political stability and some foreign currency with which to import spare parts and inputs like hoes to rehabilitate the economy.
The government restored security in the southern half of the country and development partners provided funds after an agreement was signed with the International Monetary Fund in May 1987 making Uganda a ‘shock therapist’. With the blessing of good weather, excess capacity, resilient and hardworking people, the economy recorded rapid growth reaching 10 percent in mid-1990s albeit from a low base, inflation was tamed by reducing money in circulation, raising interest rates, balancing the budget largely by dismissing civil servants, introducing fees, eliminating some schools or classes and reducing teachers, charging fees for health services and reducing or eliminating subsidies. Because of these reforms, Uganda became a star performer and a successful ‘adjusting’ country.