We need military backup in resisting NRM dictatorship

Military forces are created principally to protect the nation against external invasion. But they can and do step in when a government abuses human rights and fundamental freedoms of citizens. History is full of noble examples of military intervention against an oppressive regime. At times the military stays neutral when people resist the regime.

During the French and Russian Revolutions of 1789 and 1917, many in the military actually joined public protest and assisted in removing these oppressive regimes. During the brutal Stalin collectivization program, some members of the Red Army refused to participate against their own people. During the Ethiopian Revolution of 1974, the Imperial Guard stayed neutral in support of the people indirectly that had suffered so much. In the Philippines the defense minister and deputy army commander and their supporters joined the demonstrating masses and prevented Marcos from stealing the election. Marcos was defeated and driven into exile and democracy was saved.

During the 1989 Eastern European Revolution and 1990/91 political changes in the Soviet Union, the military sided with the people. In 1989 Romanians protested against the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu. He ordered security forces to attack and disperse demonstrators. Some units of the army refused and others even joined the demonstrators. The public won and the dictator was defeated and a new regime formed. In East Germany, communist leader Erich Honecker couldn’t even dare call on the military to disperse demonstrators presumably for fear the army may reject his orders. Without support of the army the regime collapsed and Honecker was forced to resign and subsequently indicted for crimes committed in the Communist era.

In the Soviet Union the fundamental changes brought about through glasnost and perestroika under Gorbachev leadership angered conservative and anti-revolutionary communists. This group that wished to maintain the status quo included senior officials in the military and KGB. It attempted a coup in August 1991. However, reformers including Yeltsin and mayor of St. Petersburg resisted and were supported by the military and the Russian people. The coup collapsed and the Soviet Union vanished.

In Uganda there are many stories that many senior military officers and even in the police are very unhappy with the direction the country has taken. Security forces are human like civilian population. When their families go to bed hungry, when they fail to pay school fees and medical bills their families suffer like those of civilians. When they don’t get paid because their salaries have been stolen by corrupt officials in the NRM regime there are household problems. We have witnessed spouses of police officers demonstrating because their husbands are not being paid on time causing too much domestic suffering.

In any organization, military or civilian, when you aren’t happy with the way the institution is governed, you resign. But when you stay on and support government wrongdoing then you accept collective responsibility and you are held accountable like others in the leadership for wrongdoing.

To prove their sincerity those unhappy with NRM regime should match words with action. The security officers and rank and file should quit and join the opposition to bring about peaceful change and do it before the situation gets worse to the extent of provoking a military confrontation.

It is very clear to those that have followed Uganda politics that the NRM regime is in real trouble and is about to implode as differences within it widen. The recent developments in the wake of the mysterious death of a 24 year old Member of Parliament have raised the political temperature to the boiling point forcing the president to refer to some members of parliament as ‘idiots’ and ‘fools’ and reportedly ordering dragging of the speaker into a police station for interrogation. Earlier at a meeting of senior officials it is reported that the president cocked his gun and was in an angry mood.

Ugandans and development partners don’t need more evidence to call for regime change by peaceful means. Sooner rather than later perhaps there might be a military showdown as happened in Romania in December 1989 when units of the military joined public demonstrations and toppled the regime.

UDU has consistently advocated a transitional government of all stakeholders including NRM to sort out the political and constitutional situation; restore checks and balances and separation of powers and then organize free and fair multiparty elections underpinned by an independent electoral commission, standardized campaign finance and an independent vetting committee. The constitution in particular needs to be amended to restore presidential and introduce parliamentary term limits and other appropriate changes conducive to smooth democracy and good governance as well as observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Let 2013 be a year of taking decision including by military officers and members of other security forces. It isn’t enough to complain that NRM is driving Uganda on a wrong path but you stay on earning your fat salary and enjoying other huge benefits. The two are mutually exclusive. Stand up and get counted as a Ugandan wishing to bring about peaceful change or stick with NRM and face consequences. There is no middle ground.