The October 27, 2012 London conference on federalism in Uganda could not have been organized at a better time. It has given us the opportunity to examine the system under which Uganda has been governed for the last fifty years, the benefits and deficits associated with it and how to proceed in the next fifty years.
One thing should be made clear at the outset: the conference is about federalism which is a system of governance by sharing power between the central and local governments. Following consultations, my understanding is that the conference isn’t about kingdoms. However, fellow Ugandans who still have doubts should seek clarification from the organizers of the conference.
Since the launch of the Republic Constitution in 1967, Uganda has been governed under a unitary or centralized system of government that has concentrated power in the executive branch of government at the expense of legislative and judicial branches and local governments. Presidents in Uganda from Obote I to Museveni have governed like European absolute rulers including the Stuarts of England, the Bourbons of France and the Czars of Russia.
Many Ugandans are very unhappy about the deteriorating situation in our country. However, they are unable to react because they are afraid that if they don’t succeed in regime change or make fundamental changes within NRM the consequences might be severe. They are therefore prepared to wait until time solves the problem or someone else does it for them. That is why some Ugandans are praying virtually daily for donors to come to our rescue. In life there are few, if any, improvements that occur without human involvement and sometimes sacrifices. Intervention by others is more often than not to promote or fulfill parochial agendas that could lead to more hardship for the non-participants in the process. Therefore in order to solve a problem those affected need to participate. Second, success or failure depends upon the goal one sets. For example, those who had planned to unseat NRM regime in 2011 elections and didn’t obviously failed. Those who criticized NRM economic policy succeeded because the government dropped the devastating structural adjustment program in 2009 based on the invisible hand of market forces and replaced it with National Development Plan designed to introduce a public-private partnership model. Third, there are goals that are achieved in stages. You start with producing and disseminating information in the news papers, radios and the internet as Ugandans are doing now. The information is then debated and synthesized into policy and strategy in the second phase. In the third phase the strategy is implemented. Implementation may not achieve all the goals or none at all. The momentum may be slowed or the movement even destroyed completely. History provides lessons we can draw from so that when we do not succeed or do so partially the first time we should not despair and throw in the towel. In some of my publications, I have deliberately drawn on history lessons to show that those that persist and are optimistic win in the end. Below are some lessons that discourage pessimism and defeatism.
The path to democracy, liberty, justice and dignity through the ballot box has not produced the desired results in Uganda and will not unless major reforms are undertaken. In developed societies institutions and laws permit citizens to elect representatives and hold them accountable. When they do not perform they are either recalled or voted out at the next elections. In Uganda these institutions and laws have been virtually destroyed. The NRM government has returned Uganda to the law of the jungle where strong animals do what they want with weak ones with impunity. Currently, in Uganda the weak are losing land to the strong, the weak are denied quality education and healthcare which are provided to the strong, the weak are going to bed every night on empty stomachs while the strong are busy exporting Uganda food and the weak are unemployed while the strong are importing workers through a liberal immigration policy etc.
The history of elections in Uganda has been a sad one.
1. The ballot box did not work in 1961;
2. The ballot box did not work in 1962;
3. The ballot box did not work in 1980;
4. The ballot box did not work in 1996;
5. The ballot box did not work in 2001;
6. The ballot box did not work in 2006;
7. The ballot box did not work in 2011
Consequently, the ballot box is rapidly losing meaning in Uganda and has come to be seen as a formality to meet donor requirements for continued foreign aid and technical assistance. The conditions that make the ballot box work such as independent electoral commission, independent judiciary and term limits do not exist in Uganda. Museveni who has become NRM and the Uganda government by concentrating power in the presidency has defied everyone. In the absence of a level playing field, regime change won’t happen in Uganda through the ballot box. Make no mistake about that. All the 2011 election observer missions reported lack of a level playing field throughout the entire electoral process – from voter registration to the announcement of results. Museveni who is bent on staying in power for life and converting Uganda into a dynasty is not going to allow:
When you entered Kampala with your guerrilla fighters in January 1986 you brought a message of hope. It was contained in the ten-point program. When you addressed the OAU Summit in Addis Ababa and the United Nations General Assembly in New York City you conveyed a similar message of hope for your country, your continent and indeed the whole world. You presented yourself as a unique leader with a new and purposeful political economy message and direction. Your leadership was about change and movement towards improving the standard of living of all Ugandans who had suffered for so long. Your leadership was to metamorphose Uganda into a new and better entity and then move on to the Pan-African stage and perhaps the global platform. There was hope you would end up in the same class as Mandela and Nyerere.
The people of Uganda want their country, dignity and liberty back. Ipso facto, they want Museveni out no matter what others may say.
First, the good news is that Ugandans have finally realized who Museveni is and why he has divided Ugandans up and trampled on their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights with impunity. Museveni fought a guerrilla war on Buganda territory with foreign and mercenary backing. Some 25 percent of guerrilla fighters were Tutsi mostly from Rwanda – Museveni’s cousins. Museveni tortured a Muhima man who wanted to know the guerrillas in their midst that spoke a strange language. Museveni tortured this man to put an end to that kind of questioning.
Lest we forget here are a few names of Tutsi who commanded the guerrilla war and served in Uganda’s army. Fred Rwigyema, major-general of NRA and its deputy commander – Museveni being the commander, Paul Kagame a major in NRA and head of intelligence and counter-intelligence, Dr. Peter Baingana a major and head of the NRA medical services, Chris Bunyenyezi a major and commanding officer of NRA’s 306 brigade and major Sam Kaka commanding officer of the NRA’s military police. Some returned to Rwanda in 1994 after the fall of Habyarimana regime. Some have returned to govern Uganda with Museveni.
There is evidence in time and space that when conditions become unbearable the downtrodden masses revolt. Time has come for Ugandans to do the same. The precondition for successful revolutions is to overcome the psychology of fear.
For the last twenty five years Ugandans – except Bahororo and their cousins – have lived in hell on earth worse than for serfs in the Dark Ages in medieval Europe.
Serfs or peasants in the Dark Ages fed on a meal of wheat, beans, peas and pork which was better than cassava and maize for the majority of Ugandans today. But there was a lot of injustice and suffering as lords accumulated wealth at peasants’ expense. The priests kept telling peasants not to worry about deprivation on earth because their rewards were in heaven. Eventually serfs in Western Europe got fed up when exploitation became unbearable overcame fear and revolted. The peasant revolt of 1381 in England was led by priest John Ball and peasant Wat Tyler who mobilized some 100,000 peasants and matched in protest in London and elsewhere. Eventually they triumphed and feudalism came to an end.
Since the leaked report alleging that Rwanda and Uganda troops committed genocide against Rwanda and DR Congo Hutu in DRC, Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation and government spokesperson Hon. Louise Mushikiwabo has been talking negatively and discouragingly about rewriting the history of Africa’s great lakes region. In contrast, many believe that the region is and has been unstable precisely because the history of the region was not properly written.
Influenced by European race theories that put a black person at the bottom of the race pyramid and the white person at the top, aristocratic explorers, missionaries and colonial officials in the great lakes region (Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi) credited all the magnificent civilizations they found in the region to Bahima and their Batutsi and Bahororo (Batutsi from Rwanda) cousins whom they described as ‘white’ people who got lost in the region and turned dark because of tropical sunshine. Further, they described them as intelligent, physically attractive and born leaders to indefinitely rule others in the region. On the other hand, Bantus or Negroes (especially Bahutu and Bairu) were described as a race of ugly and unintelligent human beings without leadership qualities and only fit for menial work. They were denied the civilizations they had developed in a region that had been described as part of the ‘Dark Continent’ without a history and civilization.
Uganda’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) government led by Museveni conveyed a message of hope when it came to power in 1986 after a costly guerrilla war. It promised to end all forms of sectarianism (ethnic, tribal and religion in particular) and all privileges by birth, root causes of political instability in the 1960s and the dark period from 1971 through 1985.
On capturing power the NRM government created an environment that accommodated every Ugandan and leveled the playing field so that every Ugandan could participate in the national development process on equal footing. This would correct pre and colonial deficits including lumping together people from different political, cultural, professional, social and discriminatory formations. For example, in southern and western Uganda pre-colonial authoritarian and exploitative governance system of rulers and ruled was not only retained but reinforced through the indirect rule system, causing endemic struggles between the two classes particularly in former Ankole and Rujumbura county of Rukungiri district.
Uganda’s situation was further complicated by religious feuds between Anglican Protestantism and Roman Catholicism and the economic divide between the north and the south. Thus, throughout the colonial period no attempt was made to create national consciousness through economic, social and political linkages. The federal independence constitution imposed by the British to keep Uganda together when it was very clear there was no sense of common statehood made a bad situation worse.
Some of the readers of my article on “Why Bahima will not marry Bairu women” and Ms. Phionah Kesaasi’s response titled “Bahima-Bairu theory is short on evidence” have advised that we forget Bahima-Bairu antagonism and move on. Others including Kesaasi have wondered “why a highly educated man like Kashambuzi” should spend time on minor issues like intermarriage. Here are some reasons why I have difficulties forgetting the past which has crept into the present.
First, in 1863, John Hanning Speke, a British explorer, wrote that he was told by Bahima (Wahuma) that all the people who occupied their land bordering Victoria Lake were given the name of Wiru (Bairu) or slaves. Bairu had to supply Bahima with food and clothing etc. Speke’s book was reprinted in 2006 and has become a text book in schools and universities around the world.
Because of comprehensive intermarriages (both ways) between Bahima and Bairu in Bunyoro, Toro and Buganda the ethnic differences have disappeared and people in these areas are living in relative peace with one another. Sadly in southwest Uganda (in former Ankole and Rujumbura of Rukungiri district where the limited intermarriage has been one way, the inter-ethnic or inter-tribal antagonism has remained very strong – let us be honest about it.