Uganda: Strategies For Recovering National Harmony After Gen. Museveni's Classical Totalitarianism

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Gen. Museveni -- dictatorship at its limit

Maximum Violence Exposes A Regime In Its Twilight

In line with its ethical approach and vision for the country, and taking into account the state of fragmentation and marginalization in Uganda, Freedom and Unity Front (FUF) on July 28, 2015 made public its long-held policy position for the formation of National Unity Government (NUG).

The organization is delighted that the proposal is gaining traction in the international community and among some political elites, as the most reasonable way forward.

In the policy proposal, FUF made it clear that a presidential council of four should head the NUG, coupled with balanced distribution of ministerial and other high profile positions, on regional basis. Implemented in good faith and properly, it should moderately address the concern raised by General Henry Tumukunde, former head of Internal Security Organization, that it is time to move the concentration of power from Western Uganda.

If the proposal is to work for the common and greater good of the country, however, it will not be sufficient for political elites to show guile in cloak and dagger maneuverings.

The elites must demonstrate that besides courage, they possess humility, which counsels them to recognize that the struggle to redeem Uganda is not about them individually, but it is about the great majority of Ugandans who continue to wallow in poverty and despair, with joyous stoicism.

The proposal by Freedom and Unity Front (FUF) for the formation of a National Unity Government (NUG) takes into account the current situation where the socio-political conditions are quite toxic and volatile in the country. A merit of NUG is that it should afford various socio-political groups space and opportunity for confidence building and in the process forestall imminent catastrophe.

A point that needs to be made abundantly clear without any ambiguity is that if Uganda is to develop as a progressive country, it cannot afford to relish in continual vicious cycles of recrimination and bloodletting.

As a people, we Ugandans, and for that matter Africans, must realize that it is not by making others suffer that we shall achieve happiness, security and progress. But rather, our individual and group happiness, security and progress depend upon social harmony and peace brought about by substituting justice for repression and equality of treatment for discrimination and domination.

The time has come for us to endeavor not to be undone by the fetish of power politics and the shallowness of moral grounding.

The habit of settling scores should not become part of our political DNA. Lest we forget, it should be remembered that Uganda’s recent history of political conflict and conflict resolution is not something to be proud of.

The cold fact of the matter is that given the state of fragmentation and repression in the country, unless enlightened, courageous and proactive strategy is in place soon, a whiff of any change might get a cross-section of Ugandans to embark on a killing spree of individuals, social groups and even goats and chickens that are associated with, and who are perceived to have been beneficiaries of, the current regime.

This nightmare scenario is not extrapolated from frivolous prognosis; rather, it is based on Uganda’s recent history. A few examples will illustrate the point.

In the aftermath of the 1966 crisis in the power struggle between the King of Buganda Kabaka Edward Mutesa and Prime Minister of Uganda Milton Obote, Baganda as a group were victimized needlessly, simply because they came from Buganda.

After the military coup led by Idi Amin in 1971, Acholi and Langi we killed in the thousands simply because of their linguistic and regional affinity with the ousted Milton Obote.

After the overthrow of Idi Amin in 1979, people from West Nile were subjected to gruesome collective punishment simply because they came from the same region as Idi Amin.

Again, after the usurpation of power by Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Army (NRA) in 1986, people who come from the northern part of Uganda were characterized as "Anyanya" and "biological substances" and accordingly targeted for elimination simply for the fact that they came from the same region as Milton Obote who had taken power for the second time, after the ouster of Idi Amin.

It is now more imperative than ever to embrace and practice ethical approach to politics because the situation and the value system in the country have degenerated dramatically.

The symptoms of degeneration in the country are clear for all to see.

They include the humiliation of women as exemplified by the stripping naked of Zaina Fatuma Naigaga in broad day light on October 10, 2015; escalating unemployment of youth; the recruitment of children and old women as so-called crime preventers; the mysterious deaths of prominent Ugandans including ministers; the regime’s employment of totalitarian-style surveillance methods to control the population; the politicized and Dracula-like operation of the police vis-à-vis citizens; the electoral commission’s manipulation of electoral process; the chaos and the inability of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) to conduct elections without rigging; and the deep socio-political fissures promoted by the regime in  the country.

The cumulative evidence over the past three decades suggests that the regime in Uganda has become so delusional that even in a stage of siege it is not equal to the constructive task of building the nation to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.

The bloody chaos and rigging during the recently concluded primary elections of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) flag bearers must be taken as a foretaste of what are in store for next year’s planned general elections.

If the NRM can be paralyzed by mass-cheating in its own primaries, how can an NRM government conduct free and fair national elections?

Combined with savage maltreatment of opposition politicians in recent months and the militarization of the country, it indicates that attempts by President Museveni and his loyalists to cling on to power at all cost might unleash socio-political forces that will likely threaten the very fabric of Ugandan society.
If Uganda is to avoid being swept up by the gathering political storms looming in the horizons, it will not be enough to bemoan the sorry state of affairs in the country. It is the duty of patriotic Ugandans to educate, organize, mobilize and rebuke rather than excuse the excesses of the regime and to speak up for common decency and the human rights of all citizens.

The way forward and in order to avoid the coming nightmare looming in the horizons is to come up with an affirmative formula and approach along the lines proposed by Freedom and Unity Front (FUF).

But apart from the action that must be taken by Ugandans, the major powers should also adopt proactive measures based on principles of solidarity, balanced self-interest and human rights, so as to avoid a repeat of history.

For older Ugandans, the current socio-political situation in the country reminds them of another not-so-distant period in their history. The methodical denial of fundamental freedoms and abuse of power under President Museveni is eerily reminiscent of military dictator Idi Amin’s tragic antics, though with a difference.

To refresh the minds of people, it should be remembered that in 1971, General Idi Amin overthrew a democratically-elected government. Although his troops began butchering innocent citizens from the outset of the military coup, internal social groups who had suffered at the hands of the overthrown administration rejoiced and major world powers feted and hailed him as a "gentle giant."

The depravity of Idi Amin’s regime reached it apogee when in February 1979 he killed in cold-blood Janani Luwum, then the archbishop of the Anglican Church of Uganda, Rwanda and Boga Zaire, after the cleric spoke up against the dictator’s brutal violations of the human rights of Ugandans.

It was the assassination of Archbishop Janani Luwum that galvanized the international community and provided impetus to internal opposition groups to work for the overthrow of the military dictatorship in the country.

Beyond this, it was Idi Amin’s betrayal of his hitherto foreign backers and of him making a mockery of their interests that really pushed the media to expose his monstrosity. The fact of the matter is that by the time the media got into high gear of stereotyping and caricaturing Idi Amin, thousands of Ugandans had lost their lives and the country was in a state of collapse.

Then, in 1986, the militarist Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Army (NRA) usurped power in Kampala. With the aid of public relations agents and uncritical academics, Museveni’s rhetoric of "fundamental change" and not his actions were skillfully marketed to the world to embrace the new military ruler.

A number of major world powers, spellbound by the slick retailing of Museveni and because he agreed to superintend their interests, gave him more than the benefit of doubt: he was hailed as one of a "new breed" of African leaders.

Paradoxically, although he had contributed in no small measure to the instability and human rights violations that plagued the administrations that followed the fall of Idi Amin in April 1979, he was nonetheless credited for ushering political order in the country.

Three decades into his rule, it is clear to most Ugandans that President Museveni’s regime has been responsible for the worst abuse of power, cancerous corruption, sordid patronage, insidious nepotism, social fragmentation and toxic personalization of power in the country’s post-colonial history.

The latest evidence of President Museveni’s attempts to construct a monstrous totalitarian-style state coupled with the humiliation of citizens in Uganda should offer most people who had given him the benefit of doubt opportunity to pause and evaluate. Two outstanding examples can be cited here.

The human rights organization Privacy International and the BBC News Night program have revealed that a British firm, Gamma Group, supplies the Finfisher technology used by President Museveni’s regime to monitor citizens and facilitate internal repression. It is the technology supplied by foreign companies like Gamma Group that is at the heart of the surveillance network system used by the regime to deny Ugandans their fundamental freedoms and human rights.

General David Sejusa, former long-time coordinator of the intelligence services of the regime has indicated that in addition to the modern technology supplied by foreign companies to the regime for internal repression, the regime has put in place a sinister scheme to recruit husbands to spy on wives and vice versa.

Indeed, totalitarian-like methods of instilling fear in people have become the regime’s mainstay in power in Uganda.

The totalitarian-like system is operated by apparatchiks of the regime who have been schooled and conditioned to be cold blooded and heartless when dealing with citizens. In the hands of these agents of death who mask themselves as policemen, no citizen is spared humiliation.

A prime example is Ms. Naigaga's case.

In a sense, the stripping naked of Fatuma Naigaga symbolizes and represents the stripping of most Ugandans bare of their dignity. Because of the gravity of the action by the mafia-like police, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is now investigating the case.

Although the expression of shock and even condemnation by a cross section of human rights organizations is welcomed, Ugandans expect those in the international community who stood up against totalitarianism in Europe not to mince words.

Certainly, the international community should not continue to provide financial, military and diplomatic support to a regime that has become a menace to its citizens. In fact, the dreadful logic that guides the regime to use repression as a means of dealing with dissent and staying in power has increasingly bred counter logic that poses a danger to its hold on power.

The revelation of the spy system in place in Uganda, combined by the indecent handling of Fatuma Naigaga, might mark a turning point in the way the regime under President Museveni is viewed by the international community. It is hoped that it provides the necessary impetus to get Ugandan groups to work together for a better and inclusive country.

The international community should demonstrate moral and practical solidarity with Ugandans in their hour of need not least because we live in an interdependent world where human rights violations in any part of the world affect people from other regions as well.

A second reason why the international community should speak unambiguously about what is happening in Uganda is because the country cannot be expected to peacefully succeed in removing a regime whose mafia-like police are armed to the teeth and have instruction from their superiors to act ruthlessly towards citizens.

Thirdly, because of the lack of affirmative action by major powers especially on issues of democratization and human rights, their political capital and moral authority are diminished.

And lastly because President Museveni has become a poster ruler for an ideology — totalitarianism — that is not only against the purposes for the existence of the state in the modern world, but also because the actions of his regime contributes to the disturbance of international peace and security in the region.

In the modern world, every civilized state is founded on implied social contract or compact based on consent between the governors and the great majority of citizens. The state, as a socio-political organization, is not simply a territorial jurisdiction; but more importantly, it exists as a means to improve the quality of life of individuals and to foster the common and greater good of society. Its fundamental purposes are four-fold.

The first is to promote and respect the welfare and human rights of citizens. The second is to create conducive conditions that would enable and empower individuals and groups to realize their God-given potential. The third is to provide legal framework and security for conflict resolution and social peace. And the fourth is to ensure optimum freedoms to citizens: freedoms that are indispensable for the flowering of the creative genius of citizens and without which any sustainable socio-political and economic progress can be achieved.

When a state is evaluated, it is done so less on account of what its governors profess to stand for than on whether the four purposes have been realized by the great majority of citizens. In other words, the state can be properly evaluated only by reference to the impact of its operations on the lives of people.

In modern history, the four major purposes of the state have been optimally translated into the lives of the great majority of people in representative democracies where the actions of both governors and citizens are guided and informed by ethical principles and values.

However, from time to time in history, bigoted rulers infected with medievalist mentality and deep insecurity have catapulted themselves to power to lead regimes that played god to citizens and by their actions challenged the modern concept of the state. After World War I, for example, three archetypical bigoted rulers who were exponents of totalitarianism emerged on the political scene and posed the gravest threats to the modern notion of the state emerged in Europe. These were Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union, Adolf Hitler in Germany and Benito Mussolini in Italy.

Why and how were these three rulers regarded as lethal threats to the modern concept of the state? It was because of their actions in three vital and inter-related areas. The first was that they adopted illiberal policies that personalized and concentrated power in themselves. They saw and projected themselves as the embodiment rather than the transitory agents of their respective states. In order to play god to citizens, they developed toxic personality cults around their ruler-ship.

Second, they made virtue of militarism as the cornerstone of their international relations. Accordingly, they built large militaries that became the mainstay of power. During their tenure in power they promoted the idea of might as right and went about gobbling up less militarily robust neighboring states.

And third, in internal affairs, they disparaged consent as a basis of the relationship between them and their citizens. In place of consent, they employed various methods of controlling the lives of citizens; and extensively mobilized repressive apparatuses of the state to spread fear like a virus to paralyze and fragment the population. Among the methods they used for controlling the lives of people was surveillance, which they employed extensively to monitor and deny citizens the fundamental freedoms of free flow of information, movement, association and even of thought.

In the case of Hitler, he first made Jews scapegoats of the ills in society. He then demonized and excluded them from citizenship of the country, after which he embarked upon the Holocaust as a final solution to exterminate European Jews.

In Africa today, President Museveni is one of a number of rulers who have become ardent apostles of totalitarianism. Like their counterparts in Europe in the second quarter of the twentieth century they have not only personalized the states in which they find themselves, but also, like the proverbial African locusts, spread fear and denuded their people of hope for social peace and justice.

In the case of Uganda, President Museveni has been in power now for 30 years, which is more than all of his predecessors in the post-colonial Uganda combined. There is not only sufficient evidence to evaluate his tenure in power, but it is also obvious that he has run out of positive ideas to improve the country. His main concern is now to stay in and centralize power so as to continue to enjoy the underserved benefits of being in power.

The method he has used to stay in power is to spread fear through violence, which has driven moderate people into despair and extremists into desperation. And the centralization of power has not allowed for the growth and consolidation of institutions.

In the final analysis, no guns or humiliation shall forever extinguish the people’s aspirations and yearning for fundamental freedoms and decent living.

Because we live in an interdependent world, no people are islands unto themselves; and for positive change to take place without violence and bloodshed, the international community can facilitate it by showing moral and practical political solidarity with enlightened internal forces.

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