Ugandans Must Prepare For New Dawn As Museveni Dictatorship Crumbles

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A worn-out general. Museveni, Uganda's dictator of three decades. Few contest the belief that regime's on last legs

 

A CONSTRUCTIVE AGENDA FOR A POST- MUSEVENI UGANDA

The three-decade old militarist rule under President Yoweri Museveni in Uganda, which has been characterized by vulgar intolerance, unregulated greed, primordial ethnic chauvinism, sordid corruption, divide-and-rule policies, export of conflicts to neighboring countries, disdain for Ugandans as mere expendable subjects and the tyranny of the gun, is soon coming to an end.

A convergence of factors is contributing to the demise of the medieval-type regime that has been treating the State as the personal property of the ruler to whom the common interests of the population are subordinated. One major factor among many, which has helped raise political consciousness among a cross-section of people to organize to reclaim their motherland, is that Ugandans are tired of being treated as disposable subjects in their own country.

The general mood of outrage among Ugandans is well captured by a compatriot going by the name Mubiru, who, writing in the Observer newspaper of November 7, 2014, notes that: “Uganda’s tragedy is that billions [of shillings] are wasted to buy loyalty from criminal liars while the country’s owners are living in wretched reduced existence of 'eating' grass like cows.”

Although Ugandans are aware that the regime is prepared to brutally coerce where and when it cannot convince, a growing number of people are now determined and prepared to fight a regime that began as an outlaw and has become a kleptocratic autocracy, robbing from the people with impunity.

A sobering truth is that fear, which the regime had used as a means of control, has now lost its previous potent force among a cross section of Ugandans. We detect the lack of fear and new boldness in songs, in social media discourse and opinion pieces, in gossip, in withdrawal in dealing with the regime, in exposition of the regime’s dirty tricks and machination and in open defiance of the kith-and- kin rule imposed on the country.

The diminishing returns on the fear factor means that the regime will now resort to extensive use of bribery to buy faked allegiance. But the tactic will not deter people from organizing for their liberation from the morally bankrupt corrupt regime, which is led by a ruler who, although he might know the things and people he hates, has never been an exponent of a single positive idea.

It is of great significance that with the growing political consciousness, Ugandans have come to recognize that the power is in their hands, hearts and minds to end their long nightmare and to usher in for all Ugandans a new dawn of peace, human security and fraternal solidarity.

In the past few months, Freedom and Unity Front (FUF), armed with faith in the power of Ugandans to transcend parochial and provincial interests for the common and greater good of the country, has been engaged in dialogue with a number of other Ugandan organizations with a view to form partnerships, based on reciprocal respect and shared ethical values, for the struggle to liberate the motherland.

As the various streams of collective efforts gather momentum into a mighty river that like a tidal wave will sweep aside the dictatorship, Freedom and Unity Front (FUF) would like to call upon Ugandans to proactively begin to reflect and discuss the type of country we would like to emerge from the ashes of the dictatorship.

It is not sufficient to simply be against the dictator and the regime.

Ugandans must use the current struggle to get rid of their servitude and suffering, but also to transform power relations in the country so that they realize their aspirations--  live as brothers and sisters within the same country, and improve their welfare and standards of living.

Freedom and Unity Front (FUF) proposes that in order to open a new chapter in the history of the country, we need to come up with a positive agenda that creates an environment of hope instead of despair, efforts instead of resignation, freedom instead of fear, and unity of purpose instead of fragmentation into socio-ethnic enclaves.

In order words, we need to inspire people with the conviction that, despite the burden of the struggle they must endure, they will live in a country where their rights are respected, where they are afforded equal treatment and opportunities and will be supported to engage in activities that improve their lives and realize their God-given potential.

To further complement the statement of fundamental principles that Freedom and Unity Front (FUF) issued on July 23, 2014 and the specific indictments of the NRM regime and mission statement issued in November 2013, I write now to offer a constructive agenda for a new Uganda.

In our view, the agenda must be informed by a positive and inclusive approach to politics; and it should inspire rather than incite people into action. Among the major items for deliberation and commitment, which Freedom and Unity Front (FUF) believe should be indispensable to a healthy new Uganda, are the following:

The first item on the agenda, indeed condition, must be a commitment on the part of the leadership in particular and of the population in general to ethical values and means of reciprocal respect, compassion and caring, fundamental freedoms, equal rights and opportunities, transparency, social justice, accountability and rejection of gratuitous use of violence in politics.

A commitment to ethical values and means must be the moral compass of our struggle and politics.

Indeed, we hold the view that a critical challenge in Ugandan and African politics in the twenty-first century is how to colonize politics and governance with ethical values and means.

Unless an agenda for a anew Uganda is informed and guided by a moral purpose, courage and compass, it will end up being a substitution of one group of power entrepreneurs for another. This is why Freedom and Unity Front (FUF) subscribes to the notion that every government must be built and justified upon a contingent moral obligation, if not social contract. Its action is right to the degree that it maintains rights. When it is either indifferent to the rights of people or wedded to the limitation of their rights, it forfeits its claims to the allegiance of the people.

The second item must a commitment to the equal rights and treatment of all Ugandans. Freedom and Unity Front (FUF) urges all Ugandans to adopt the fundamental principles of equity and fair play as our national creed; and from this to ensure that all Ugandans are equally entitled to all the rights duties of citizenship.

In the context of the current struggle for liberation of the country, for example, we should assure President Museveni and his sycophants, that despite our political differences, they are as entitled to all the rights and duties of citizenship as all Ugandans, even though they have neither afforded their critics rights nor treated them with any common human decency.

Our commitment to equal rights and treatment of all Ugandans must also make it clear that no part of Uganda must be subjected to the indignities of ethnic or collective discrimination and punishment.

Apart from the fact that collective punishment and discrimination is wrong and contrary to any notion of reasonable responsibility, when backed by State power, can be very lethal and devastating to national cohesion and decency.

The third item on the agenda must be decentralization of power not simply of authority. In the political grammar of Uganda, we need to institute federalism in the country. Both Freedom and Unity Front (FUF) and its partner, the Federalist Alliance for Democracy and Development in Uganda (FADDU) are committed to advocating federalism as an imperative for Uganda for two main reasons. Both reasons are distilled from the history of Uganda and the world at large.

In the first place, we need to decentralize power because in our history and the world over, concentration of power in an individual or organ has often led to abuse of power. In the experience of Uganda, abuse of power has been most egregious during periods when power was over-concentrated at the center and in the presidency.

This was true in the first Obote administration after 1966. It was the case during the military dictatorship of Idi Amin from 1971 to 1979. And it has been abundantly clear under the medieval-type rule of President Museveni from 1986 to the present.

In all these cases, the over-concentration of power in the rulers made them suffer from delusion of self-sufficiency, as they grew accustomed to being unchallenged and in turn to being resentful of people who are critical of their shortcomings and prejudices. If we do not decentralize power, we ran the risk of might simply exchanging one dictatorship for another and hence continue political enslavement in a different form.

The second major reason why we advocate the institution of federalism is in order to democratize our politics and to use federalism as a means to facilitate people’s assumption of responsibilities for their governance and development. Because democratic authority must have roots in the experiences of citizens, it is important that governors should come from, and be accountable to, the people; and that people should be involved in self-sustaining activities that affect their lives.

Indeed, if governmental administration is to be creative and accountable, and if it is to take into account and integrate the experiences of those most affected by policies, it must be decentralized. An added merit of decentralized decision-making is that it often minimizes error.

Empirical and historical experiences indicate that policies and solutions that do not grow organically from local communities but are imposed by agents of State who are not acquainted with the nuances of local conditions and culture more often than not do not achieve viable results.  Federalism should therefore enable us to avoid the pitfalls of leaving governance to a body of passionless experts and bureaucrats. If properly calibrated, federalism can foster people’s sense of belonging, as well as their sense to stakeholders in their governance.

As such, federalism can serve as the lifeblood of democracy.

It is for the aforementioned reasons and the two subsequent items that Freedom and Unity Front (FUF) is unequivocally committed to championing of federalism as the most appropriate system of governance in Uganda. Federalism should therefore constitute a structural and institutional component of checks and balances on power.

The fourth item must be the question of national unity in Uganda. It is obvious at the moment that Uganda is simply a juridical territory without an underpinning social consciousness of a unified Uganda-hood. We must acknowledge that the problem of national unity is a real and critical issue; and that the fiction that there is a Ugandan consciousness cannot be sustained.

The fact of the matter is that President Museveni, by his apartheid-type policy of kith-and-kin rule in which important positions are reserved for members of his family and ethnic group and in which the same set of criteria is used to award scholarships and other governmental contracts, has fragmented Uganda more than ever before in her history. His regime’s propaganda and open discrimination and marginalization against various social groups have certainly dealt devastating blows to national cohesion and decency and have simply been toxic to Ugandan body politics.

Given the social fragmentation in the country, how do we fashion a piece-meal strategy and formula to bring about social solidarity, cohesion and unity? Apart from a principled commitment to equal rights and treatment of all Ugandans regardless of where and how there were born, which should contribute to the building of confidence and reasonable healthy relations between and among the people of Uganda, we recommend that a convention be reached for proportionate and weighted regional apportionments of central government jobs, scholarships, contracts and other benefits.

Although this formula might appear symbolic, it has great social significance for people’s consciousness.

When people see and feel that their own members are represented in important institutions and organs of governments and afforded opportunities to get scholarships and contracts, for example, they are more likely to identify with the country. We must endeavor to ensure that every Ugandan sees and feels that his/her social group is subjected to equal treatment as other Ugandan social groups.

All Ugandans, especially the power elites, must learn and accept that no ethnic group in the country is intrinsically more deserving of respect than any other; and that nothing should be determined by the mere accident of having been born in a given region or ethnic group.  Although it is impossible and undesirable to try to guarantee outcomes, whether of incomes or wealth, as these must depend on effort and talents, the government should accord equal treatment and equal opportunities to people from all regions of the country.

The fifth item should be about the establishment of a robust and independent judicial system to superintend unfettered rule of law and the utter rejection of political justice as practiced under the current regime where legal institutions and processes are used to create, sustain and legitimate the National Resistance Movement’s (NRM’s) political domination. In a new Uganda, respect and enforcement of legal rights and the rule of law must be an important condition of our politics and national life.

We must commit ourselves to establishing judicial independence in which judges are not dependent on government in any ways, which might influence them in coming to decisions in individual cases. We must ensure that our judicial system is staffed by people of juristic integrity and competence who show neither personal bias nor prejudice nor take into account irrelevant considerations such as the political, ethnic or religious views of the parties. Indeed, whether we can ensure the rights and dignity of Ugandans against despotism and whether we can curtail the tendency to resort to violence and diminish within reasonable bounds arbitrary action among different social groups and individuals and in their relations with one another, will depend in large measure on whether we succeed in establishing a robust and independent judicial system. Freedom and Unity Front (FUF) proposes that Ugandans must heed, embrace and put into operation the timeless truism expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that: “Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.”

The sixth item is about guaranteeing fundamental freedoms and liberties to all Ugandans. In a new Uganda there must be unabridged and constitutionally entrenched guarantee of fundamental freedoms and liberties to every Ugandan and all the people who legally live and work in the country, as enunciated in most international conventions and summarized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

It is only when individuals and groups are afforded optimum freedoms can they engage meaningfully in socio-political and economic activities that affect their lives, as well as those that affect the communities in which they are integral members. Indeed, it is only when democracy is informed by freedoms that facilitate and promote the human dignity and worth of the individual can it become a political ideal of practical relevance to the lives of people.  In a new Uganda, optimum freedoms should be guaranteed to individuals as long as the guaranteed freedoms are not used to commit harm and infringe upon the freedoms and rights of other people.

The seventh item should address the vital issue of socio-economic mal-development, imbalances and inequalities in the country. We must recognize the problem as one of systemic underdevelopment brought about by policies of successive governments that did not encourage meaningful economic development in the greater northern and eastern regions of the country in particular.

Unfortunately, the historical lack of meaningful economic development in the two regions has been exacerbated by President Museveni’s policy of social exclusion and discrimination and by his habit to blame the victims of under-development, when, for example, he uses the epithet “backwards” to refer in a blanket manner to all those who come from the regions of the country that have been historically neglected.

The regime has added insult unto injury by encouraging land-grabbing in those regions. The question of land ownership is vital in an agricultural society because land constitutes the bedrock of existence. As such, its ownership must rightfully belong to people, and should not pass into foreign hands and other agencies through dubious devices and ordinances without the due understanding and willing consent of the people concerned.

Because we consider redressing the structural economic imbalances and disequilibria in the country as an imperative if we are to harness and maximize the resources of the country, as well as to achieve meaningful national unity and democracy, we recommend that the country adopts and implements a formula of equalization of resources and development, which shifts national resources to disadvantaged regions in order to ameliorate the impact of the imbalances.

The adoption and implementation of a formula that fosters equalization of resources and development would greatly promote national unity and democracy. In as far as national unity is concerned, a cold historical fact is that there has never been a healthy unity between people who are vastly unequal.

Because economic development often affects the mentality and attitude of people, national unity, for example, will be difficult to achieve unless we try our reasonable best to equalize economic development and not burden social groups that have already been victimized to feel “inferior” to those who come from more economically developed regions of the country. Surely, we cannot afford to have many nations at different levels of socio-economic development in the same country, if we are to live in social peace and harmony. It should also be realized that it would be difficult for democracy to survive in any meaningful form in the midst of obscene inequalities, massive poverty and depressed areas and mass unemployment.

A meaningful agenda for a new Uganda must therefore readdress the historical problem of economic structural imbalances and infrastructural disparities in the country.

The eighth item on the agenda must be to review the role of the military in the country. In reviewing the role of the military, it must be made clear that soldiers should not be apportioned primary blame for whatever they have been involved, as they simply carried orders for the most part. If any misdeeds or violations of human rights were and have been committed by the military, the primary responsibility must rightly be on the shoulders of political elites and rulers who have misused the military for personal and partisan purposes rather than to protect and defend collective national interests.

We need to review the role of the military because, as indicated above, for most of Uganda’s history, power elites and rulers have misused the military for partisan internal repression and to pursue parochial agendas rather than to defend collective national interests and to provide human security to citizens. As such, the military, which have been used mostly as mainstay of socio-political power, have not only stifled democracy but also siphoned off disproportionately high percentage of our national resources when compared to other sectors of society such as education, health care, agriculture and infrastructure

The fact that the eclipse of democracy in Uganda and in various parts of the world has been the result of militarism and military autocracy, which has been achieved at staggering human cost, should more than alert us to the danger of over reliance on the military.

Because of our tragic experience with the military, and if we cannot professionalize the military to carry their functions in non-partisan manner, we should debate whether perhaps the time has come to adopt the Costa Rica model. There, on December 1, 1948, President Jose Figuerestook the extraordinary step and hitherto unheard of, to disband the military and asked that the nation’s military’s budget should be redirected toward healthcare, education and environmental protection. The decision to abolish the military and to invest in bread and butter sectors of the society instead of guns has paid handsome peace dividend for Costa Rica. Significantly, it has ensured the consolidation of democratic institutions and cultivated a remarkably healthy and happy population.

The ninth item should be to determine the terms and criteria for establishing a credible and neutral truth and reconciliation commission. We are cognizant of the fact that since 1966, both the government of the day and various military formations have victimized various different groups. In order to open a new chapter in the country’s history, there will be need to face the demons of and in our past.

Although we need political will to do this, we should avoid being politically partisan, if we are to bring about viable healing and reconciliation. And although we must also embrace Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s admonition that there can be no future without forgiveness, we should also be vigilant to ensure that people who have committed gross violations of human rights do not use the process to reinvent themselves without repentance.

The tenth item on the agenda should be to examine and reach a consensus about the role our youth and women should play in society and how they should be rewarded. For too long, our rulers have been content to at best to pay lip-service with paternalistic slogans to praise our youth and women, who are really the most productive members of our population. The time has come to muster moral courage to afford and empower our youth and women with practical opportunities and rewards that properly recognize their progressive and productive roles in society. As we articulated in our manifesto, this must not be regarded as a matter of charity but rather one of rights.

FUF proposes that we should embark on education and constitutional reform that will ensure that our youth and women are not subjected to social and cultural practices that undermine their God-given dignity. Our youth and women should also be supported and rewarded to play substantive and not simply token roles in politics, governance and society at large.

Uganda must begin by committing herself to the implementation of all international conventions relating to the human rights of women, especially the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol.

Eleventh item should be to devise strategy to tackle the cancer of corruption that has now infected every sinew and sector of our society and has become an existential threat to our national existence. This is an issue that we covered in out manifesto of November 2013.

The twelfth item should examine Uganda’s international relations. Freedom and Unity Front (FUF) would like the country to adopt its statement issued on July 23, 2014, where we stated: “The leadership of FUF is driven by a wider desire vision and an abiding desire to see an Africa at peace with itself and at peace with the rest of the world. Accordingly, we seek to form constructive partnership s with the international community that would foster international peace, human security and solidarity not only in Uganda and the Great Lakes Region of Africa, but in the entire continent.”

The twelve-item agenda we have submitted here to Ugandans is, of course, not an exhaustive list of issues that should be considered for a post-Museveni Uganda. But with the growing political awakening among Ugandans and as we are increasingly organizing and coordinating our efforts in order to reclaim our birthrights as citizens, there is need to begin thinking proactively about specific issues that deserve urgent attention for a new Uganda.

We have submitted this agenda out of a conscious awareness of our obligation to our motherland, our forebears, our generation, our children and generations yet unborn.

We are confident that the terror and bribery that the regime habitually uses to exact compliance, will be defeated with a living faith burning in our hearts and minds, with the rightness of our cause and with our constructive and inclusive approach. As we seize the moment to redeem our future, we know that our efforts will bear fruits and usher in an affirmative new dawn soon.

 

Professor Amii Omara-Otunnu is Chairman, Freedom and Unity Front

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