Uganda: Bobi Wine, Youth Power and National Liberation

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Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, a.k.a. Bobi Wine. Ugandans seem prepared to chase out U.S.-backed dictator Museveni should he desecrate the constitution one more time.

A dynamic and revitalizing political wind of change is blowing across Uganda, which will likely sweep away Gen. Yoweri Museveni and his neo-colonial cronies who are hell-bent on marginalizing, oppressing and excluding the great majority of citizens from enjoying the fruits of self-determination that our forefathers and foremothers sacrificed so much for in the period from 1945 to the 1960s.

It must be remembered that African nationalists fought hard for the rights contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) in December 1948, precisely because they were denied those rights by European colonial powers that were committed to the social ideology of racism. It was an ideology that maintained that Africans were lesser human beings not entitled to the rights proclaimed as universal.

Foremost among the rights contained in UDHR are: right to freedom of opinion and expression, which includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media.

Another fundamental right is the right for everyone to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.

After attainment of juridical independence in the early 1960s, the first generation of African nationalist leaders attempted as best as they could in the context of the international political environment of the period to create enabling conditions for the enjoyment of those rights by citizens.

But all over Africa in the past four decades, neo-colonial regimes have made a mockery of the right of self-determination, and have brutally rolled back the gains of the first decade of decolonization through greed and corruption.

Because the cancer of corruption and neo-colonialism has spread all over the continent, the wind of change in Uganda follows a trend of clarion calls by Africans whose rights to life of dignity have been betrayed by despotic rulers across the continent: from Kenya to Togo, Cameroon to the so-called Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Burkina Faso to Zimbabwe.

To redeem the promise of self-determination for which so many sacrificed in the 1960s, this generation of Africans have discarded fear and instead embraced an affirmative faith that is far more potent than the terror techniques the various corrupt regimes use to maintain themselves in power.

However, unlike in the other parts of Africa, the wind of change in Uganda is being propelled largely by the exuberance of youthful leaders, who are imbued with a positive sense of national patriotism and moral outrage. Arguably the most prominent of the young leaders in Uganda is the creative genius and Member of Parliament, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, a.k.a  Bobi Wine.

Three inter-related issues of critical importance to the welfare of the great majority of Ugandans have catapulted young leaders to the forefront of the political struggles for the future and destiny of the resource-blessed country.

The first is Gen. Yoweri Museveni’s self-centered manipulation of the constitution to permit him to enjoy unlimited despotic powers and tenure, as if the country is his fiefdom for the benefits of his extended clan. The chilling reality is that if Gen. Museveni amends the constitution to remove the age-75 ceiling for presidential candidates (he will be at least 77 by the 2021 elections) it would pave the way for continuation of a debilitating form of internal colonialism.

The second is amendment to provisions of land statute, which would essentially legalize land grabbing by Gen. Museveni for primitive accumulation of his cronies and for the enrichment of his already wealthy foreign patrons, while consigning indigenous people who are rightful owners of ancestral land to the vagaries of capitalist privatization. Removing land sovereignty from owners of ancestral land would not only deprive common people of their principal means of livelihood, but would also condemn them to permanent servitude.

The third issue is the socio-political exclusion and economic injustice suffered by the majority of young people who are not connected to the corrupt politico-military ruling elites of the country.

It has been in the context of these issues and struggles that a new crop of dynamic leaders, whose patience had been abused and exhausted by unworthy rulers, burst onto the political landscape like lightning bolt.

A refreshing and uplifting thing about the new brand of leaders, who appear not to be burdened by antiquated provincial animosities but weighed down by the current stifling corruption and unconscionable oppression by those in power, is that in its determination to liberate the country from dictatorship and misrule, it has adopted ecumenical approach, very much akin to Freedom and Unity Front’s (FUF) strategic forte.

The engagement of young people in leadership positions to free Uganda from feudalistic and neo-colonial tyranny has become an imperative for three major reasons. First, Uganda has the world’s youngest population, with over 78 percent below 30 years. Second, young people bear the weight of economic injustice disproportionately. About 85 percent of the youth in Uganda are unemployed or underemployed. Third, although the misrule in Uganda jeopardizes the future of the country in general, it compromises the future of youth specifically.

I use the phrase ecumenical rather than simply inclusive approach to describe the method and strategy adopted by the youthful leaders to suggest that if harnessed properly, the strategy and method have the potential to provide socio-political transformation that is informed by spiritual qualities beyond the fetish of materialism.

The ecumenical approach can be detected in the methods of mobilizing and in the grammar of discourse the leadership has thus far used effectively. The approach is perhaps poignantly captured in, and illustrated by, Bobi Wine’s latest democratic liberation song titled, “freedom;” and in his short movie, “A call for action.”

In the remainder of this article I highlight from a historical perspective two major merits of the ecumenical approach exemplified by Bob Wine and suggest why it is bound to succeed and trump Museveni’s approach informed by militarism, violence, sub-ethnic chauvinism and exclusion.

The first reason why ecumenical approach is a winning formula is related to the issue of means and ends. In the history of the world, violence, which Gen. Museveni often uses gratuitously, has never provided durable solution to any problem; at best, it simply freezes outstanding problems.

In the struggle for democracy, it cannot be overemphasized that because democracy as a concept and a system of governance is meaningful only when informed by ethical values, it cannot be achieved by means that are unethical. Certainly, militarism is antithetical to democracy; and no country has ever democratized without renouncing militarism.

Because democracy depends for its flowering on empathy among citizens and on ethical inter-relations and procedures of governance, Gen. Museveni and his sub-ethnic clique who are apostles of militarism as means to conquer and maintain state power could and can not serve as midwives to democracy in the country.

A plain truth of the matter is that the singular and most fundamental failing of President Museveni is that he has been devoid of ethical values and understanding. His inability to understand the critical importance of ethical approach to politics can be traced to his sojourn at Dar-Es-Salaam University in the late 1960s when be became infatuated with violence and the utilization of means of destruction to acquire power regardless of the circumstances.

As a student at Dar-Es-Salaam University he wrote an essay on Franz Fanon and violence, which betrays lack of contextual and critical understanding of Fanon’s theories. Nonetheless, his superficial rendering of Fanon, combined with his inability to use the strength of his arguments to persuade others, may have led him to champion violence as the means of revolutionary change.

It is apparent that it is Gen. Museveni’s lack of confidence in his persuasive powers that has often led him to coerce and bribe when he cannot win an argument. In other words, it is Gen.  Museveni’s weakness rather than strength that has compelled him to rely on violence, venal patronage and corrupting bribery as means to achieve his ends of maintaining powers.

Hence, although for public relations purposes in the 1980s he used the rhetoric of democracy to attract support in progressive circles, it is apparent that he utilized it without any comprehension of its ethical principles and foundations. He therefore manipulated the term as long as he was not required to meet its demands.

Understandingly, because he attained state power as an apostle of violence, he could never translate the rhetoric of democracy he espoused as a guerrilla fighter into practice. His current bribery and intimidation of parliamentarians to change the presidential age limit in the Constitution so that he can serve as president for life is the latest example of his lack of understanding of the ethical values and principles that inform democracy and the rule of law.

What is now abundantly clear is that he usurped power simply to maintain it by violent means. But the violence he has used for more than 31 years has now not only lost its efficiency, but has also generated a counter logic, which might end up placing the lives of his extended clan in jeopardy.

To save his extended clan, if not the country, Gen. Museveni should heed the call to allow a peaceful transfer of power, before it is too late. The only safe and win-win way to achieve this is through the ecumenical approach championed by Bobi Wine and his young comrades. This is so because ecumenical approach has transcendental moral appeal that can bring out the better angels in people. As such, it can serve as an effective antidote to the raw politics of militarism and divide-and-rule that Museveni has habitually and lethally used to fragment and impoverish the country. It would certainly minimize possibilities of unnecessary bloodshed in the country.

The second reason why ecumenical approach employed by Bobi Wine and his comrades is superior to, and more appealing than, the crude chauvinistic and exclusivist approach by President Museveni is that in a multiethnic country like Uganda, it can inspire people to work together in solidarity on the basis of equal treatment of all citizens.

In this, Bobi Wine and his comrades can draw on the rich heritage of struggles by our forefathers and foremothers who in the post-World War II period after 1945 until the mid 1960s patched up their petty differences to present a formidable common front against British colonial imperialism that had excluded them from enjoyment of rights. It was because of a similar ecumenical approach that Uganda witnessed unprecedented social peace and unity, economic growth and expansion of social amenities and opportunities that enhanced the welfare of Ugandans during the first decade of juridical independence.

This can be contrasted with the approach of sub-ethnic chauvinism and exclusion utilized by Gen. Museveni and his acolytes, which have put the country in a perilous state of socio-political fragmentation. Here, we can draw lessons from recent Ugandan history, if we are to avoid certain pitfalls.

It is apparent that the problems that now bedevil the country can be traced to the methods and means Museveni, as a guerrilla leader, employed to mobilize for the usurpation of state power.

Despite the enormous misinformation and historical revisionism promoted by Museveni and his public relations mercenaries that he embarked on guerrilla war in the 1980s for democracy and national liberation, the plain historical facts tell a starkly different story.

It must be remembered that Museveni embarked on his guerrilla warfare in 1980 after losing to his brother in law and now his foreign minister, Sam Kutesa in a democratically conducted election in which he was Vice Chairman of the Military Commission that supervised the elections. For purpose of historical record, it should be noted that Sam Kutesa represented the Democratic Party (DP) of Uganda and not the Uganda People’s Congress that was declared the overall winner.

With his ambition frustrated and aware that he did not have widespread political following in the country, Gen. Museveni turned to the manipulation of ethno-linguistic factors to mobilize people to follow him in the bush. He did this by demonizing “northerners” and fanning antipathies against people from that region; and focused his venom on people from Acholi and from Teso in particular. His use of ethno-linguistic chauvinism has been a distinctive hallmark of his divide-and-rule strategy to gain and maintain power.

It is therefore not surprising that once in power, he revealed his naked pathological prejudice by treating people from Acholi and Teso not as citizens with rights but as conquered subjects for collective punishment if not elimination. One tragic result of his policy has been the fragmentation of people along socio-linguistic lines. It is this fragmentation that the ecumenical approach by Bobi Wine and his young comrades is repudiating. It is an approach that holds great prospects of inspiring solidarity among Ugandans from all regions of the country.

As young people take up their duty to provide dynamic leadership in the struggle to free Uganda from more than 31 years of feudal-like and neo-colonial misrule, arbitrary power and injustice gains momentum, citizens and friends of the country must have the courage to patch up petty difference and demonstrate solidarity with one another.

It is clear that the redemption of the promise of Uganda in particular and of Africa in general, lies in an ecumenical approach to the common problems that have dimmed the prospects for the realization of our collective dignity and for the flowering of democratic pluralism and unity in Africa.

With the future on a balance, it is incumbent upon all reasonable and fair-minded people to sharpen political consciousness to recognize that we are closely bound together by the web of history, human suffering and aspiration.

Uganda's liberation through this ecumenical approach could signal an effective approach for other Africans suffering under neo-colonial dictatorship.

 

Professor Amii Omara-Otunnu, Chairman
Freedom and Unity Front (FUF) of Uganda



 

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