As a researcher I have interacted with many Ugandans at different social levels. All want children to do better than their parents. All want to be treated with respect. All those opposed to NRM want unity to succeed etc. However, the surprising part is that there are very few people acting individually or collectively through institutions that practice what they preach.
Look at the NRM government. It has preached modernization of agriculture but practiced very little. It has preached industrialization of Uganda but in practice the country is de-industrializing. It has preached environmental protection and sustainable management of natural resources but is threatening to give away a portion of Mabira forest for sugarcane plantation. It has preached good education in quantity and quality but cannot even provide lunches that keep children in primary school and make them perform better especially girls.
In rhetoric many Ugandans – married or not – feel that Uganda’s population is growing fast and needs to be controlled, but very few are willing to practice birth control. They feel their ‘neighbors’ should do so first.
Holding regular elections even if free and fair does not constitute democracy. It is just a small part of a bigger package. In Uganda elections are held basically for two reasons: to give NRM legitimacy and to meet the requirement for foreign aid and technical assistance. To many Ugandans true democracy occurs when public opinion helps shape government policies and behavior including accountability. In Uganda what NRM is doing has very little, if at all, to do with public opinion. What Ugandans want is very clear and simple and we have the means to deliver but NRM leadership is not interested. Ugandans want a country and society that is peaceful, stable and free from absolute poverty which Robert McNamara, former World Bank President, described as “a condition of life so degraded by disease, illiteracy, malnutrition, and squalor as to deny its victims basic human necessities” as well as freedom from abuse of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
What Ugandans want that has been denied by NRM government is recognized by the international community and the African Union (AU) both of which Uganda is a member. The United Nations Millennium Declaration of 2000 and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance of 2007 state very clearly what Ugandans are struggling for against stiff NRM resistance. Here is a sample of what we mean.
Regarding freedom that has been denied to Ugandans, the Millennium Declaration states: “Men and women have the right to live their lives and raise their children in dignity, free from hunger and from the fear of violence, oppression or injustice. Democratic and participatory governance based on the will of the people best ensures these rights” Regarding equality that Ugandans do not enjoy, the Declaration states: “No individual and no nation must be denied the opportunity to benefit from development. The equal rights and opportunities of women and men must be assured”. On tolerance that is a very rare commodity in Uganda, the Declaration states: “Human being must respect one another, in their diversity of belief, culture and language. Differences within and between societies should be neither feared nor repressed, but cherished as a precious asset of humanity. A culture of peace and dialogue among all civilizations should be actively promoted”. On respect for nature which has been trampled in Uganda, the Declaration states: “Prudence must be shown in the management of all living species and natural resources, in accordance with the precepts of sustainable development”.
I know that change is coming to Uganda. But what kind of change: peaceful or bloody change; change from below or from above? Although some readers have distorted my message for whatever reason, I have consistently pleaded orally and in writing for peaceful change – to the discomfort of those who want war – so that every Ugandan lives in peace, security, equality, prosperity and happiness. I have encouraged mixing at all levels – political, economic, social and cultural – to minimize conflicts. But to make appropriate changes we need to know what is happening in our society first. It is reporting the findings of what is happening that has caused discomfort in some quarters. And from these quarters we are getting name calling, intimidation and distorted messages. But the impartial analyst has to report research findings. And that is what we have been doing in the great lakes region. Hopefully we shall all end up on the same page.
The political developments in Uganda are worrying and could end up in another bloody confrontation if common sense does not prevail at home and abroad. In order to find a lasting solution one has to identify the root cause of the problem like a good medical doctor does before prescribing medication. Pointing out the cause of the problem in Uganda has made some readers uncomfortable who have resorted to using uncalled for language to intimidate and silence the author because they do not want to hear the truth that may force them to accommodate others. These are Ugandans that believe in winner-take-all. Those Ugandans who harbor the notion that they were born to rule others in perpetuity are mistaken and are on the wrong side of history which does not entertain such notions. In Europe those who believed in the divine right of kings were defeated. And in societies where leaders in government and opposition compromise political problems are resolved peacefully resulting in stability, economic development and improvement in the standard of living of all. On the other hand in those societies where leaders are autocrats (rulers who hold absolute power over societies) and resist change the end result is a sad one, sometimes even tragic. The story of the Romanovs is an illustration of the latter.
I have followed and participated in Uganda politics since before independence. Those at Butobere, Ntare, Rukungiri, Nairobi, Berkeley (USA), Arusha, Brussels (Belgium), Addis Ababa, Lusaka and Mbabane (Swaziland) where I was born, studied or worked and now New York where I reside will recall the political discussions we had and are now having about the desire for Ugandans and Africans to take charge of their own destiny. The lesson I have learned is that when people are determined for change, they will get it regardless of the hurdles on the way. We used to hear that Africans were not ready for independence. They needed more time and guidance. They were like children beginning to walk or to ride a bicycle. Some even argued that people in Southern Africa would never be liberated in our lifetime. Ready or not, the people of Uganda and Africa pushed on and got independent.
There are Ugandans who still harbor the notion that a foreign power (s) will dispatch troops to Uganda, remove Museveni and his government and install a new one. And they are complaining bitterly why the suffering of Ugandans has been ignored. It is unclear where they got this idea of foreign invasion from or that the suffering of the people of Uganda is ignored. What is clear is that foreign powers, organizations and individuals have not closed their eyes and ears to the suffering of Ugandans. They are seeing, they are consulting, they are hearing, they are acting privately and publicly. We have read press releases expressing concern about violation of human rights and freedoms in Uganda. We have also seen missions dispatched to Uganda for direct talks with the government. Museveni and NRM image has shifted from a darling of the west to a dictatorial regime uncaring about the welfare of Ugandans. That is a powerful message. Museveni is scared. Some world leaders have spoken eloquently about their opposition to dictatorial regimes that have overstayed in power. They have been warned that they are on the wrong side of history. And you know who these leaders are. The dictatorial regimes they are talking about include Uganda. So let us be very careful how we express our feelings. That is why it is important ideally to have one spokesperson with a command of the appropriate diplomatic language to use to convey messages without ruffling feathers.
Ugandans and development partners who reason that Uganda is on course to achieve full liberal democracy as an expression of the will of the people to choose who should govern them in a free and fair environment, hold them to account and even recall them if they consider them incompetent, dishonest or heedless of public opinion are missing one fundamental point. As long as Museveni is in power full democracy on a multiparty basis will not be permitted. If you read his speeches and interview reports carefully and dialectically and watch his actions you will not fail to realize that Museveni did not go for military training and suffered hardship until 1986 to bring democracy to Uganda.
During an interview, Margaret A. Novicki of Africa Report asked Museveni “What advice would you give to your African colleagues who are resisting movement towards democracy?
Museveni responded that “I have no sympathy for those who resist democracy. Democracy should not be resisted. Power belongs to the people, not to an individual. Why should you want power for yourself? Who are you? You are a servant of the people. If the people don’t want you, then you go and do other things and they elect whom they want. I have no sympathy for them”(Africa Report July/August 1993).
The people of Uganda have rejected the 2011 presidential results because of massive rigging, disenfranchising voters, inflating voter register, allowing foreigners to vote, military intimidation, using public funds to bribe voters and relying on a partial electoral commission in Museveni’s favor. The people of Uganda want to exercise their natural right to demonstrate peacefully against the presidential results and convince Museveni to step down so that free and fair elections based on a level playing field are conducted.