Uganda: As Gen. Museveni's Ethnic-apartheid Regime Unravels, Even His Former Premier Seeks To Replace Him

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Gen. Museveni--after 30 years things falling apart?


we either live together as a people or perish separately in the fire of recrimination and revenge


Uganda, a country once described by Winston Churchill as the pearl of Africa, is at a critical crossroads in her social history.

There is mounting evidence that after almost 30 years of National Resistance Army’s (NRA) one–party rule under President Yoweri Museveni, the totalitarian regime is at the beginning of its end of tenure in power.

Unless enlightened, bold and courageous measures are taken proactively, there is a danger that the change about to take place, brought about by a convergence of implosion from within the regime and by pressure applied by a determined cross-section of Ugandans groups, would have devastating consequences for the country and the region.

If the country and region are to be saved from sliding into an Armageddon, those who care seriously and deeply about the future of Uganda should focus less on next year’s elections than on fashioning a win-win strategic vision and an inclusive approach for the country, which would foster and protect the rights of all citizens equally.

A win-win strategic vision and an inclusive approach require first and foremost, enlightened, bold and courageous leadership that thinks outside the box. In the second place, it should harness collective efforts, aim to achieve unity and create a political culture that will make our young compatriots proud to call Uganda their motherland.

But before we outline a strategic vision and an inclusive approach to help mitigate the impending social catastrophe, it is necessary to diagnose and understand the nature of the problems and the factors that have contributed to their growth to such a dangerous level.

The growth of the problems that are about to push the country into a freefall can be traced to the initial reasons for the formation of the NRA and to the policies pursued since the it usurped power in the country on January 25, 1986.

There are seven main characteristics of the NRA regime under President Yoweri Museveni that are worth noting and that have contributed substantially to the growth of the crisis that now bedevil the country and that might lead to calamitous socio-political conflicts.

The first is the regime’s disparaging and disdain of ethics in politics. Second are the regime’s gratuitous use of violence and the elevation of militarism into a virtue. Third are the regime’s promotion of ethnic chauvinism and the monopolization of power by its favored ethnic groups.

Fourth are the normalization of greed and the spreading of the virus of corruption that has now become a cancer in the body politics of the country.

Fifth is the over-concentration of power in the presidency without check and balances and accountability.

Sixth is the institutionalization of Yoweri Museveni as the alpha and omega of power in the country.

And seventh are the regime’s reliance on the use of fear and the fostering of poverty as means of exacting compliance and achieving control.

All of the main characteristics of the NRA regime have crystallized and found eloquent expression in the politics of ethnic chauvinism and prejudice, which the regime has unabashedly basked in and promoted.

The politics can be traced to the very inception of the NRA. It should be remembered that from the outset, for the purpose of wresting power, Yoweri Museveni mobilized people to join NRA by appeal to ethnic chauvinism and prejudice.

In fact, he fanned ethnic hatred and demonized certain ethnic groups in order to boost support for his then fledging organization.

Once in power, the dreadful logic of using ethnic hatred and chauvinism for mobilization dictated that, like in apartheid South Africa, ethnic identity, affiliations and criteria rather than merit or generalized rights would be used for upward socio-political, economic and military mobility in Uganda.

Accordingly, this led to the development of apartheid-style policies, which have resulted in the monopolization of military, political, financial and educational powers by the core ethnic groups that constituted the NRA in the beginning.

But the use of ethnic criteria and prejudice has endured beyond the initial demands for mobilization in the contest for power; it has now become the bedrock for the acquisition, distribution and maintenance of power and privileges in the country.

The politics has created deep fissures and dangerous fault lines that are likely to doom the country. This is a fact that is self-evident to the great majority of Ugandans.

But delusional cabals around President Yoweri Museveni continue to burry their heads in the sand and to mistake the superficial quiescence of the people with peace when in fact there are many wars going on deep within most Ugandans.

The apartheid-style policies since the NRA came to power in the country have engendered pernicious hegemonic mentality among the ruling ethnic groups. With the mentality, they conduct themselves as a superior caste entitled to rule Uganda while they expect other ethnic groups to be at best subservient to them and at most be regarded as a subordinate caste. 

It is this dichotomous mentality in the country that is toxic to national unity and that might drive the country to mayhem if enlightened, bold and courageous leadership is not exercised in a judicious manner.

A growing political consciousness among a great majority of Ugandans who are swimming in the chilling sea of poverty while the cabals of the ruling ethnic groups live in decadent oases of wealth has led them to seek their liberation from the yoke of this sordidly corrupt regime.

To make matters worse, land-grabbing, draconian laws that circumscribe fundamental freedoms, lack of healthcare facilities, infrastructure in a state of woeful disrepair and the ruthlessness of the police and the military in suppressing dissenting voices have further compounded the plight of people.

It is in this context of growing political awareness and fear losing its potency as a weapon of control of the people by the regime that people are agitating for change.

Many have come to the realization that although it might be in the interest of the cabals among the dominant ethnic groups for the great majority of Ugandans to be treated as second class citizens, it certainly cannot be in the interest of the great majority of Ugandans to be treated as second class citizens in their own country.

It is significant that although the evidence of the unraveling of the apartheid-like regime had been apparent for sometime to critical observers of the country, it is now also clear to those who have hitherto been in the inner sanctum of the regime.

A stellar example is John Patrick Amama Mbabazi, who until late last year was the prime minister of the regime and the main architect of most of its policies. He has now come out to openly challenge President Yoweri Museveni for the leadership of the country, asserting that Uganda needs new management and direction; and with his insider’s knowledge and crystal ball, he has predicted that there will be change in the country’s leadership in six months. To back up his assertion, he has also embarked on a methodical campaign to unseat President Yoweri Museveni from power.

There are also other pieces of evidence that suggest that the country is at the beginning of the end of the NRA mono-party rule. Among these is the growing unease and uncertainty among the regime’s stalwarts. This is manifested in the increasing rate at which they are siphoning away large sums of money to “safe” foreign bank accounts, as well as in the growing number of them sending their children to schools outside the country.

With a growing awareness that change is imminent, there have emerged three broad groups who are clamoring for change, with different but overlapping agendas.

The first group is composed of those who until recently were in the inner ruling circle. This group is essentially driven by a desire to keep the gains of the past three decades. To and for this group, what is needed is a mere change of the guard and nothing else. What this group seeks to achieve is re-branding of the NRA/NRM, minus President Yoweri Museveni. Amama Mbabazi stands more or less as a representative of this group.

The second group consists of those who are filled with righteous rage and burning hate for the current regime. But they have also imbibed the regime’s militarism. This group, frustrated with the failure to change government through sham democratic elections, has succumbed to the romanticism of change through violent means, without considering critically the repercussions of change through such means. The mantra among this group is that fire can only be countered with fire; and that President Museveni and his cabals are beyond redemption.

Freedom and Unity Front FUF) falls in a third category. Acutely aware of the checkered history of the country and the region, it advocates a formula for change that is in line with its inclusive vision and approach, both of which are informed by ethical value and principle of equal treatment of all Ugandans.

The vision and approach also recognize that if Uganda is to remain a united country, we must demonstrate practical empathy and moral solidarity with one another. It should be made abundantly clear that members of FUF desire for change is not motivated by interest to settle scores against those who have demonized and cause irreparable harm to millions of Ugandans.

On the contrary, abiding love for the country and her people to live in social peace and harmony animates us. Accordingly, as the momentum for change gathers pace and in order to avoid a freefall into social catastrophe, FUF calls for a formation of a transitional National Unity Government (NUG).

What should be the nature of NUG? How should it be constituted? What criteria should be used to form it?

First and foremost, the transitional government should reflect the social diversity of the country. People selected to participate in the NUG should give undertaking that they would not be involved in partisan politics after the dissolution of NUG.

To lead the national unity government, a presidential council of four people should be selected. The four people should be selected to represent the old four regions of the country, namely, Buganda or Central Region; Eastern Region; Northern Region; and Western Region.

Such a presidential council would encourage people to identify with the national government and it would foster a sense of belonging and unity.

What should be the main functions and mandate of a National Unity Government (NUG)?  NUG should be tasked to do the following:  prepare a level playing field for free and fair democratic elections by principally forming a truly independent election commission; reform the judiciary to be able to independently administer justice through the rule of law in the country; mandate a commission to craft a permanent constitution; establish  a commission to recommend how best to enshrine decentralization of power in the constitution and in the political culture, as an antidote to the emergence of dictatorship in the future; and appoint a commission to set up a framework for national peace, truth and reconciliation that would foster accountability and healing.

During the period of national unity government, focus should be on promoting national peace rather than seeking justice because whereas peace by its nature is an n imperative for civilized existence, justice is a remedial virtue. 

As such, the question of justice should be left to a democratically elected government to handle.

FUF recommends that the tenure of NUG should not exceed three years.

The formation of National Unity Government should, however, be preceded by a national consultative conference of all bona fide groups, including the NRA/NRM.

Seasoned and neutral diplomats from the African Union, the European Union, the USA and the United Nations should facilitate the conference.

To allow representatives of the various organizations and groups to discuss the formation of National Unity Government freely without fear or interference, the conference should be held in the UK, perhaps in Chatham House.

FUF calls for a national unity government not out of political expediency; but rather, it is based on an ethical conviction that a viable approach to governance in Uganda must necessarily be inclusive.

It is on the basis of this ethical approach that FUF entered into a healthy partnership with the Federalist Alliance for Democracy and Development, which could serve as a model for the country.

As the evidence suggesting the beginning of the end of the NRA regime becomes clearer to many people, politically conscious Ugandans are duty bound to engage a cross-section of compatriots and to appeal to all to transcend parochial personal interests for the sake of saving the country from sliding into a social catastrophe comparable to, if not worse than, what has happened in South Sudan, Rwanda and other countries in the region.

This requires that we must educate and mobilize people to realize that however traumatic their experiences might be, we must come together in a spirit of solidarity and empathy to save our country from degenerating into a bloody chaos. This is not an abstract concern; with the militarization and fragmentation of the country along ethnic lines, there is a distinct possibility of hell breaking loose.

Although the various groups in Uganda were brought together by fiat of colonial imperialism without their consent, we have over the years forged bonds of solidarity that should not be broken by the perversions of ethnic chauvinism and prejudice promoted and finessed by the NRA dictatorship.

When future generations look back at what we did during the country’s hours of imminent peril, let it not be said that we resorted to an unethical formula of an eye for an eye to compound our already dire conditions.

Instead, let it be said that we had the courage to act with foresight and that we appealed to the better angels within us to form a national unity government in order to avoid dehumanizing social catastrophe.

The cold truth is that we either live together as a people or perish separately in the fire of recrimination and revenge. 

Given the circumstances and consequences of our action, we would be wise to choose a win-win formula for our collective salvation


Professor Amii Omara-Otunnu,

Chairman, Freedom and Unity Front (FUF)

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