Uganda Part II: Manifesto of The Freedom And Unity Front

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At the launch: Gen. Sejusa, Prof. Amii Omara Otunnu, FUF’s Chairman, and Oxford don Prof. Kaveh Mousavi. Photo: Henry Gombya

[Op-Ed]

On December 14, 2013 the Freedom And Unity Front launched its manifesto before a group of invited Ugandans at The London School of Economics. Over the next four days The Black Star News will publish the entire document, in four-part series; part one was previously published.

Part Two

MANIFESTO OF THE FREEDOM AND UNITY FRONT

POWER WITHOUT ETHICS AND THE HUMAN COST OF DICTATORSHIP

Below are highlights of some of the significant actions by the regime of President Museveni, which have not only brought about unnecessary suffering and despair to the great majority of people on a revolutionary scale, but also now threaten the integrity of the country and international peace and security in the Great Lakes Region of Africa:

1) Personalisation of the state: In 2005, having ruled already for nineteen years, President Museveni, through bribery and intimidation, forced Parliament to amend Uganda Constitution to remove presidential term limit of 10 years so that he can stay in power as long as he wishes. The removal of term limit did not only make a mockery of the ideals for which many young people volunteered and sacrificed to fight with Museveni in the bush war, but it also suggested that President Museveni was intent to do away with institutional checks on power and to entrench himself in power as a dictator.

President Museveni’s adoption of mediaeval-type cocktail of raw power politics is both lethal and reminiscent of what King Leopold of the Belgium did from 1885-1908, when he treated the so-called Congo Free State as a personal estate. The outcome in the Congo was genocide of African people. But yet proponents of European colonial imperialism continued to project King Leopold as a great philanthropist to Africans. In Uganda, Museveni’s personalisation of state powers has been catastrophic for the majority of people. Yet apologists and spin-doctors for President Museveni continue to project him as a kind of indispensable enlightened despot, as if either there is anything enlightened about despotism or Uganda does not have people with better qualities to lead than President Museveni.

What President Museveni has done in Uganda has the trappings and attributes of a totalitarian fascist state. The tragedy is that although it is no secret that President Museveni runs the state informally as more or less a personal estate, the donor countries and big powers have not openly and unambiguously spoken up against President Museveni for his mediaeval and retrogressive political practices.

Given that Uganda has never had a peaceful transition since independence, the constitutional amendment to term limit for a president to serve, more or less foreclosed avenues for peaceful change of the head of state.

2) Death of rule of law: One outstanding example out of many that characterises how President Museveni has delivered devastating blows on the judiciary occurred on November 10, 2006. On that day, Uganda’s government paramilitary unit known as Black Mamba, under the order of President Museveni, laid siege on and invaded the High Court. About two years later, the same paramilitary Black Mamba invaded the High Court for the second time, to arrest Kizza Besigye (leader of opposition party Forum for Democratic Change [FDC]) and Peoples Redemption Army (PRA) suspects who were on trial and had been granted bail.

The actions by the paramilitary unit violated the rights to fair trial by an independent and impartial tribunal and the freedom to be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

James Ogoola, the Principal Judge of the Court at the time, in a poem about the incident, which represented a breakdown of the constitutional order, characterised the invasion as “a rape and desecration of the Temple of Justice.” But the invasion of the High Court by the Black Mamba paramilitary unit was used by President Museveni not simply to rape and desecrate the Temple of Justice; it was intended to instil fear in the judiciary. This was a powerful signal to the judiciary that the government would not tolerate its independence. Indeed, it was a message to the judiciary to cease to function as an impartial institution. The example about the death of the rule of law cited above, among other things, has allowed the rampant extra-judicial killings carried out by the regime’s sanctioned outfits in the country to go unpunished and forecloses virtually all peaceful avenues of bringing about change.

The FUF gives its solemn commitment to the establishment of an independent and impartial judiciary, which will superintend the rule of law and will be the indispensable institution to protect human rights, to arbitrate conflicts and disputes, to check the autocratic tendencies of the executive, and to minimise resort to violence within and between different social groups.

3) Cancer of corruption: Corruption, whether in the form of bribery or misappropriation of public funds, has reached epidemic proportions and has more or less disabled the body politics of the country. In fact, corruption in the mismanagement of national resources has become institutionalised. The hub and fountain of the corruption is the presidential state house, which has been reduced to the epicentre of bribery, financial miss-appropriation of public funds, and unethical conduct. For example, President Museveni carries with him sacks of money that he routinely uses to bride people to support him. The money he gives to people is, of course, public funds that properly belong to the state and not to President Museveni.

The East African Bribery Index of 2012, a corruption survey conducted by Transparency International found that among all of the five East African (EA) countries, Uganda stands out as the country with the highest levels of bribery scored at 40.7%. The other East African countries, which include Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania scored 18.8%, 29.5%, 2.5% and 39.1% respectively. Human Rights Watch, in a report issued in October 2013 concludes that, “Years of evidence indicate that Uganda’s current political system is built on patronage and that ultimately high-level corruption is rewarded rather than punished.” As a result of the growth in corruption, a number of donor countries have cut all budget support until 2015. The plain reality is that corruption has become a form of political management of the state. Accordingly, President Museveni uses corruption and the unchecked economic power the ruling clique is allowed to amass, as placebo to de-sensitise and lull them to the suffering of the masses in grinding poverty. In a real sense, the escalation of corruption in Uganda is a function of the lack of institutional mechanism o f ensuring accountability and transparency.

4) Increasing inequality and ravaging poverty: President Museveni, by his actions, has sown, bred and nurtured despair in all sectors of the country, except among his tiny band of corrupt cronies. In a 2012 Uganda government’s supported study by the Directorate of Social Protection, which was published in the regime’s mouthpiece, New Vision newspaper revealed that about 67% of Ugandans are either poor or highly vulnerable to poverty.

Using criteria established by the United Nation’s Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), the study found that about 23.1 million people, out of a total population of about 34.5 million, are prone to poverty, and about 8.4 million people (about 24.5%) are trapped in absolute poverty. Behind the statistics are individual human beings whose lives have been painfully ravaged and robbed off dignity and quality of life. For these citizens, it is not simply a theory that poverty is a violation of the human right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and of his family. Rather, it is a lived painful and slow dehumanization of their existence, in which their lives seem like a permanent nightmare. For the country, it is a great loss of valuable human and productive lives. Yet, tragically, President Museveni has cynically fostered poverty as a means of social control. Hence, while President Museveni has permitted his family, cronies and sycophants to steal public funds and to live a life of decadent opulence, the great majority of people have been reduced to a state of destitution. In fact, as indicated above, the great majority of people who are in perpetual struggles to satisfy the barest of physical wants live in crippling poverty and more often than not, sleep on empty stomachs. And having fostered the conditions of abject poverty for the masses, as indicated above, President Museveni then turns around with sacks of embezzled governmental money to “give” people, for which they are expected to be grateful to him. Perversely, President Museveni has popularised the practice of flaunting public funds without accountability, which in any modern state would be regarded as morally and politically unacceptable and would be met with public outcry, as normal. This might be a powerful indicator of how desperate people are and how much the value system has degenerated in the country.

5) Assassinations as means to maintain power: Over the years, President Museveni has used state organs and underhanded methods to eliminate real or imagined rivals, associates of opponents and those perceived not to support him. The regime unleashes the system of terror on individuals it perceives as possible threats and those that might serve as possible alternatives to lead the country, in order to destroy resistance to, and exposure of, the misrule and corruption in the country. In fact, even President Museveni’s own cabinet ministers and high-ranking officials live in terminal fear of being poisoned on his order or on the orders of his henchmen. Among prominent Ugandans who have died in unsatisfactorily explained and mysterious circumstances are the following: Andrew Lutaakome Kayiira on 6 March 1987 (he was leader of the Uganda Freedom Movement); Brigadier Nobel Mayombo on 30 April, 2007 (at the time of his death was Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Defence); Major-General James Bunanukye Kazini on 10 November 2009 former commander of the Uganda People’s Defence Force [UPDF]); and Ceriah Nebanda on 14 December 2012 (she was a young dynamic and outspoken woman parliamentarian who had raised concerns about corruption in the ruling circles). In all cases cited above and in numerous other cases, the regime has been complicit in the violation of the right to life, liberty and security of citizens.

6) Shrinkage of political space: Apart from trying to liquidate organisations that might serve as sources of serious resistance to his misrule, President Museveni has severely curtailed, if not virtually eliminated, freedom of association, which is a fundamental human right. A telling example can be cited here. In May 2013, Uganda government passed Public Order Management Bill, which stipulates, among other things, that police approval is required if three or more people want to gather to discuss political issues. The Bill would now make the brutal roughing up of prominent dissident voices, such as happened several times to Kizza Besigye, legal. It is apparent that President Museveni is hell-bent on denying Ugandans their inalienable fundamental freedoms, because he fears that if Ugandans exercise their freedoms, they would not only disclose the harm he has done to them, but also organise to bring an end to his authoritarian and repressive regime. Sadly, President Museveni does not either realise or understand that loyalty or allegiance to authority must be won and deserved from citizens; it cannot be imposed upon citizens.

7) The media: Cowed and manipulated. President Museveni has unleashed a system of terror on the media more or less proportionate to the fear he suffers of his misrule being exposed. In Uganda today, the media operate in a political environment akin to that in a totalitarian fascist state. Although the country’s constitution provides for freedom of expression and press freedom, several laws and administrative orders take those guarantees away, and the government continues to crack down on critical journalists and media houses using both subtle and blatant methods. The USA State Department’s Human Rights Report of 2012 on Uganda documents cases when government detained radio presenters and closed down radio stations for airing opinions or music the government deemed critical of its misrule. The Open Society Initiative for East Africa, in a report conducted by and for Human Rights Network for Journalists in Uganda in 2011 concludes that press freedom in the country was shrinking and sinking. The report shows consistent and constant attacks on journalists by government agents throughout the country, which did not only impede but also threatened the security and lives of journalist in the course their legiti mate and professional work. On numerous occasions the Museveni regime has closed down independent media outlets, such as the Daily Monitor and CBS Radio Buganda, Red pepper, Radio Sapiancia belonging to the Catholic Church, KFM, SUUBI FM. Some independent journalists have died in mysterious circumstances and many placed in detention, while others went into exile. Those that are still in the country, toiling to survive, have had either to exercise self-censorship or to totally abandon the profession, as they were unable or unwilling to effectively perform their critical roles as the eyes, ears and voices of society. FUF takes the principled position that freedom of opinion and expression, freedom to seek, receive and impart information are not simply essential ingredients of any democratic and open society, but are also intrinsic and fundamental rights to which the media are entitled. As such, freedoms and rights of the media will be legally guaranteed and entrenched in a post-Museveni Uganda.

8) Balkanization of the country and abuse of the military: In the country at large, President Museveni has used divide-and-rule tactics based mainly on ethnicity, religion and regional politics to devastating consequences. In so doing, he has compartmentalised the state and encouraged the crystallisation of social consciousness along those lines. Although the fragmentation of the country into small entities is economically untenable, as it drains away resources due to duplication of multiple positions and functions in tiny enclaves, it nonetheless serves President Museveni’s parochial political interest of dividing the resources to these tiny areas as a system of patronage to ensure political loyalty not economic or administrative viability. This divide and polarise experiment has perpetuated a long-standing fallacy that services are being taken nearer to the people. The same methods have been used to abuse the military so as to ensure its compliance and loyalty even when President Museveni is on clear breach of constitutional rule. At the moment, there are deep fissures in the country and the military are quite fragmented, both of which raise grave concerns about the integrity and viability of the country, with dangers for possible civil war.

9) Duplicity and cynical manipulation in international affairs: In international affairs, President Museveni has sponsored groups to destabilise virtually every country in the Great Lakes Region, while cynically manipulating the war against terrorism to his advantage to garner undeserved support from Western powers. President Museveni’s cynical manipulation of international issues might be illustrated by his stand on the International Criminal Court (ICC). Early this decade, President Museveni was a cheerleader of the ICC when it served his interest to use it against his political opponents. In fact, in 2003, a year after the ICC came into force, President Museveni appeared jointly with then ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, to announce that Uganda had decided to refer the crimes committed by the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) to the ICC. The announcement made headlines globally. It was a shot in the arm for the newly created court.

In the following year, 2004, as a professed enthusiast of the ICC he referred the case of the LRA to the ICC. However, a decade later, when he deemed that the ICC might no longer serve his interest, he changed colours and position. He has now not only become a bedfellow of President Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir of the Sudan, who has been indicted by the ICC for crime against humanity, and whom President Museveni had previously threatened to arrest if he were to go to Uganda, but has also become a virulent critic of the ICC.

In an address to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2013, he castigated the ICC calling it "arrogant" and "shallow". In the speech in New York, he accused the ICC of not understanding what he termed as complex African issues and stated: "…the ICC in a shallow, biased way has continued to mishandle complex African issues. This is not acceptable. The ICC should stop.” At best, President Museveni might be characterised as a political chameleon; at most, he is simply a cynical politician who practises and worships raw power politics without scruples.

10) Environmental degradation: Although Uganda is blessed with abundant natural resources and although most Ugandans depend for their sustenance on the environment, President Museveni has failed to grasp the tenets of sustainable development and to ably direct a sound agenda. Rather, he has treated the environment as a commoditised means of greasing the hands and lining the pockets of corrupt government officials.

The cynical attitude of the government to the God-given rich environment in the country might be illustrated by President Museveni’s determination to mortgage away part of Mabira Rain Forest, which is home to about 300 species of birds (some of which are endangered) and which play a vital role in the country’s eco-system by storing carbon and regulating rainfall, to a group of rich industrialists for sugar cane plantation farming. He has gone about this without consultation with local communities and/or obtaining scientific assessment of its impact.

A reputable study estimates that environmental degradation in the country – which includes wetland encroachment and contamination of water resources – today costs about US $ 1–4 billion. In 2007, three people were killed by government’s operatives when grass–root groups mounted protests against the proposal by President Museveni to give away part of the Forest.

Despite the many protests and deaths of people for the preservation of God’s treasure-some gift to Uganda and the world at large, President Museveni has remained deaf and has vowed to continue to promote the interests of irresponsible industrialists who care more about maximisation of profits than the protection of the environment. President Museveni’s reckless undermining of the environment imperils not only prospects for sustainable development, but also the very viability of, and resources needed for, a meaningful future for generations to come. It has serious impact on the future development of the country especially in matters of power generation necessary for industrialisation, food security for citizens and regional stability if water sources are adversely affected by this misguided abuse of the environment.

  The above is second of a four-part series. Readers can send their reactions or comments on the FUF's manifesto to milton@blackstarnews.com to be considered for publication or post them directly to the website. 

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