Uganda: A Movement To End Tyranny Launched

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As the Chinese say, a journey of a thousand miles begin with one step. We shall begin the nation-wide petition marathon for an independent electoral commission today, right here. The petition marathon will continue until 5 million Ugandans have signed the petition.

[Global: Africa]


(A message to the people of Uganda)


We demand free and fair elections NOW! We must take back our country!

A most daunting challenge faces our country today. Will 2011 mark the turning point we are fighting for? Or will the forces of darkness prevail, and we sleepwalk our way into a preventable national catastrophe? The answer to this question cannot wait anymore.

We in UPC are actively preparing and mobilising to participate in the elections of 2011 .We have completed our grassroots elections in most of the country .We are now in the midst of our primaries; I might add that they are proceeding in a remarkably smooth, democratic and peaceful manner. Soon all our elected flag bearers, from the level of LC3 to the presidency, will be ready to pick and process their nomination papers.

For UPC, this moment marks the beginning of an intensive nation-wide campaign for free and fair elections.  Our platform is free and fair elections NOW. Our clarion call is: We Must Take Back Our Country.

Today, we have begun the journey that must lead us to free and fair elections. Today we have embarked on positive non-violent resistance, which will continue until we achieve the objective of free and fair elections. Today we have started the march of freedom.

As we have said many times before, boycott is not in UPC’s vocabulary. We have made it clear from the very beginning, and I reiterate this today, that we are not advocating boycott or no-elections.

Let there be no confusion about this .The choice before the Ugandan electorate is not between fraudulent elections and boycott; that is a false choice. Boycott suggests that the people of Uganda will be passive onlookers, taking no initiatives, waiting for Museveni to impose his fait accompli on the country. No. The real choice is between participating in fraudulent elections, on one side, and participating in genuinely free and fair elections, on the other side. Museveni is working to impose the former option.

On the other side, we the people of Uganda must mobilize and organise as never before in order to bring about the latter option. We must deploy direct and concerted non-violent actions to create a new reality, a new political situation that will make free and fair elections the only option. We must be the agents of shaping our own destiny. We must draw a line in the sand on this issue. This project will turn on the choice and resolve of the Ugandan people, not on Museveni. We must settle the issue of free and fair elections in our country, once and for all, in 2011.

I have no doubt whatsoever that this is within our grasp, that we can accomplish this objective in the year 2011. But to do so, we must all commit to this; we must remain steadfast and absolutely firm in our resolve. 

Our insistence, our non-negotiable demand, is that the elections of 2011, must be free and fair. This translates into two minimum prerequisites: an independent electoral commission; and a clean and verifiable register of voters.

Why are free and fair elections in 2011 such a political and moral imperative for our country? The reasons are very clear; because they have direct impact on the daily life and future of our people.

* The ordinary Ugandans have been completely abandoned by the Museveni regime; this government has simply migrated from providing social services. This situation will never change as long as the Museveni regime does not owe its stay in power to the support and votes of the Ugandan people. Only a government that is truly elected by the voters, will be answerable to them, and will be accountable to them for its actions. Only such a government will invest in quality education for our children, provide accessible healthcare for our families, support our farmers, pave our roads, and provide support to small-and-medium scale business entrepreneurs. There is therefore a very direct link between free and fair elections and the delivery of services to ordinary people.

* The people of Uganda are yearning for change. But the current electoral process is being organised on Museveni’s terms. As in the past, it will inevitably lead to massive fraud and rigging.  Change will never happen under these conditions. After 25 years of electoral fraud and terror, this leopard is not about to change its spots, unless we compel it to do so.

* Across the country, there is great excitement and expectations about 2011. We have not seen this before. There is only one reason for this. The people believe that finally, in 2011, their vote will actually count. If this is blocked, they will lose all confidence in elections as the means for change, in political parties and their leaders as the channels for that change, and in the idea of peaceful transition altogether. Some will simply give up and retreat into despondency and bitterness. Others will feel left with no option but to seek other methods of liberating themselves from 25 years of unyielding oppression. Because liberate, we must.

* Stripped of everything else, ordinary Ugandans have this one asset left in their hands - - the power of their vote. If they are robbed of this as well, they will have lost absolutely everything. They will have no stake whatsoever in the state.

* Quite simply, free and fair elections is the right of the people of Uganda.  Like citizens in other countries, they deserve no less. That is why we must fight to make the people of Uganda the true winners of the 2011 elections.

* Finally, the spectre of catastrophe hangs ominously over our land. Below a superficially normal situation, the country is teetering on the brink of a political explosion, borne of a quarter century of entrenched dictatorship, humiliating impoverishment, obscene corruption, nepotism, electoral fraud and impunity. It would be a major historical blunder to misread the current situation in the country. The last hopes of the Ugandan people are now pegged on the 2011 elections. Genuinely free and fair elections in 2011 provide the last window to avert a looming national catastrophe. This is the only preventive measure left. Let nobody say tomorrow that they did not know that the situation in the country was this explosive!

Free and fair elections in 2011 is not an end in itself.  It is a means to return power to the people. It is an avenue that will lead us to higher ground. It is the passage that will unblock the barrier which separates us from the realisation of our deeper aspirations.

In our campaign for free and fair elections, we shall emphasise this link. We want to move these aspirations to the centre of our national debate and agenda.

First, free and fair elections will open the way for us to establish sustainable democratic governance.

Second, we must embark on a national project to reweave the fabric of national unity, which is gravely fractured, while celebrating our diversity.

Third, we have a broken country. We need to reinvent Uganda. We need to reconstitute the Ugandan state .We have important unfinished business on our national agenda. There is need for a new national compact which will set out a new architecture of governance and distribution of power in the country. We need a new democratic constitution to replace NRM’s regime constitution.  This must be the outcome of a transparent and   democratic national dialogue in a free and representative forum, a national convention. This will be the occasion to put on the table, for dialogue and resolution, major issues that have been pending on the national agenda. These issues include reconstituting the state; federalism; land; uneven development; our unity and diversity.

Fourth, we shall continue to press for truth-telling and accountability. We must have independent investigations of the major traumatic episodes in our recent history, particularly, the massacre of 10 September; Luwero; massacre of Muslims in Mbarara; Ombachi massacre; and genocide committed in northern Uganda.

These episodes remain deep and festering wounds on the body politic of our country. Even as I speak, horrendous human rights abuses are going on in Karamoja.

I want to see us, as a people, climb to the top of a certain hill - - the hill of reconciliation and healing. There to embrace in humility and prayerful forgiveness. There to wipe away the tears of the communities that have long been hurting in silent, unacknowledged agony.

But the path to the top of that hill necessarily passes through the valley of sorrow, of reckoning and of acknowledgement. We cannot leapfrog our way from the land of impunity, where we are embedded today, onto that hill of reconciliation and forgiveness.  Our country cannot turn a new page; it cannot experience healing without walking through this valley. 

That is why we must bring forth the truth, and the whole truth shall set us free.

And, finally, our struggle is of course about political, economic and social transformation.  But it is about much more than that. It is also, at a deeper level, a struggle to recover the soul of our country.

As a people, I fear that, we have lost our sense of outrage; our sense of the unacceptable; our sense of taboo. Things that would make the heavens tremble with fury, we Ugandans take in our stride, with a mere shrug of the shoulders.

So many abominations have become commonplace and ‘normal’. How else do you explain the now routine killing of children as so-called human sacrifice? And nothing happens. The serial burning down of schools, and nothing happens; the massacre of 33 unarmed demonstrators, and the following day and the following week, it is business as usual in the country; the wholesale plunder of the country by our rulers, while our people are dying from jiggers, and nothing happens. And the corrosive money culture that rules our society today.

Our country is in the midst of a major moral crisis.

Yet we are a people of faith. Yet this is a land in which God is taken very seriously.

Where are the people of God when we need them most? When will they raise their prophetic voices, to denounce plunder and rigging, genocide and impunity, discrimination and nepotism, poverty and humiliation? How long shall we wait for them to speak truth to power? Where is the fellowship of intercessors? Beyond the palpable explosion of religion, our country is crying out for a root-and-branch spiritual revival, a radical renewal that can redeem our land from the grip of evil.

A word about the security services. I have no quarrel with our compatriots who are serving in the security services (that is the armed forces, the intelligence agencies, and the police). They are our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters. I honour their service to our country.

My quarrel is with those who exploit and cynically use them; those who give them lip service while practicing nepotism and neglecting their families. This struggle is for the future of all our children, for a life of dignity for all our families and parents. We are in this struggle together.

I have spoken recently about building a national social movement, so that together we can begin to chart a new path leading to a new Uganda. Our first order of business, our immediate priority, is the struggle for free and fair elections in 2011.

The specific strategy we have adopted for this struggle is positive non-violent resistance. This strategy for change has been used in popular struggles all over the world to bring an end to entrenched dictatorship, repressive colonial rule, systematic discrimination, and other forms of grave injustice. Our own struggle will focus on our central demand for genuinely free and fair elections--until this objective is achieved.

I want to especially invite our young people to join in this positive non-violent resistance. Because this struggle is, above all, about their future.

I do not offer the Ugandan youth yellow envelopes stuffed with money. What I do offer our youth is something much more valuable and enduring. I want to provide them with equitable access and opportunities, with engagement and hope.  So that when they complete their studies, they are not asked what family or part of the country they come from, before being offered a job. I want their   prospects for employment to depend on their hard work and qualifications.

I want to see again that a child born in Mucwini, a place which is difficult to find on anybody’s map, can receive quality education in that village. And from the village foundation, make his way to Gulu High, Budo and Makerere.

I want us to build an inclusive society, where a child born into an ordinary family anywhere in our country can dare to have such dreams. And I see no reason why not.

This campaign is larger than any single political party; indeed it is larger than political parties. It aims to bring together all democracy-seeking social forces: political parties; civil society; religious organisations; the business community; workers; pressure groups; the youth ; and women organisations.  What unites us is a common hunger for freedom, and democratic governance in our land. This will be a citizens’ struggle.

In this, I include many of our brothers and sisters who are in the NRM. Because there are many patriotic and democracy-seeking Ugandans who are travelling in the NRM bus. I call on the NRM members who care deeply about the future of our country to join in this struggle.

There are several examples from recent history that instruct us about positive non-violent resistance: Mahatma Gandhi’s salt march campaign in India; the civil rights movement in the USA; “Solidarity” movement in Poland ; the “Velvet” revolution in Czhechoslavia; Ignatius Musazi’s boycott campaign of 1949; “Unbwogable” campaign for an independent electoral commission in Kenya; and the Save Mabira Forest campaign here.

I know we have been told that we cannot produce any change because the Museveni regime is so entrenched and ruthless, that we should accept the status quo as a fact of life; well they said the same thing about Milosevic in Serbia, about Mobutu in Zaire, about Marcos in the Philippines, about Taylor in Liberia, about Ceausescu in Romania, and about General Pinochet in Chile.

I know we have been told that change will come gradually, that we should be patient and wait.  We have been waiting for a full quarter century. How long shall we wait? The time has come to borrow a leaf from President Obama who, quoting Martin Luther King, insisted on “the fierce urgency of now “.

I know they have promised to crush me; actually these small bones will be quite easy to crush, but our spirit will grow bigger and stronger. I know we have been told that Museveni’s is an empire on which the sun will never set; well the sun did set even on the British empire.

The moral force that propels our struggle is far more powerful than the fearsome Presidential Guard Brigade, the tanks, the kiboko squad, and all the awesome weapons of terror in the regime’s arsenal.

With these bare hands, waving the oboko lwedo (this is handed by elders to those embarking on a major struggle; it confers blessings, empowerment and solidarity) we shall prevail over this edifice of oppression, over the violence and terror of this regime, over the tanks and the kiboko squad. We shall prevail because our lapir (the cause for which we are fighting) is clean. And because our lapir is just, we are not alone - - we are surrounded by the blessings of our ancestors.

We shall move forward trusting in God; because He is the God of justice; because He is not indifferent to the agony and humiliation visited upon his children; because He has brought down mighty rulers from their thrones of arrogance and decadence; because He has said to the oppressor, “Let my people go!”.  Because He is a just and faithful God, we are not alone.

I call on all Ugandans, within the country and in the diaspora, to join in this struggle; from Rukungiri to the Ssese islands; from Yumbe to Kyenjojo; from Rakai to Sironko; from London to Los Angeles.

We shall not be moved, just like a tree that’s standing by the waterside; we shall no be moved. Let us march in peace, in solidarity, in fellowship, fasting and praying until we hold free and fair elections.  We have it within our grasp to save our country.

As the Chinese say, a journey of a thousand miles begin with one step. We shall begin the nation-wide petition marathon for an independent electoral commission today, right here. The petition marathon will continue until 5 million Ugandans have signed the petition.

We Must Take Back Our Country!

As I have gone around the country, over and over again, I have posed these questions to my compatriots: To whom does this country belong? Who are the owners of Uganda? Is it Museveni and his politico-military clique? Are we guests, squatters or refugees, here by the grace and courtesy of Museveni? Or are we the rightful owners of this country?

Invariably, the audience roared back: “We are the owners”.

We Ugandans have been reduced to subjects (not citizens) in our own country, subjugated and humiliated in our own land. The people of Uganda are being held hostage by this politico-military clique.

If this country belongs to us, then it is high time we behaved as its owners. How can we be supplicants and subjects in our own land?

That is why I say: We Must Take Back Our Country! We must regain control of our country from the politico-military clique which has hijacked it for the last 25 years. We Ugandans must take charge of our country again.

Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. This is our country.


Olara A. Otunnu is President of Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) political party

"Speaking Truth To Empower."


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