It’s important that Ugandans, especially, the young people, clearly understand the political challenges that bedevil our country and how we ought to confront and overcome them.
This piece has been prompted by the discernible misunderstanding as to what the current political struggles are about and what their trajectory is.
How did Uganda, as a country come about?
The constituent territories of what’s now Uganda were taken over by the British following the partition of Africa through the 1885 Berlin treaty. They were taken over by force and administered by British Officer Capt Frederick John Lugard (1890-1892), operating on behalf of Imperial British East African Company (IBEAC), which had a charter of the British Government.
The territories were formally constituted into the British Protectorate of Uganda in 1894 and controlled by the British Government until Independence in 1962.
What was the consequence of a forceful takeover of (Ugandan) territories?
The most fundamental consequence of the takeover was that the entire people within the conquered territories lost POWER or sovereignty over their territories. The Queen of England became Sovereign over the (Ugandan) territories, forged into a new country, Uganda.
The POWER that was lost mainly included: control over wealth; decision making eg: leadership, policy (including taxation); implementation of policies and decisions; and the administration of justice.
Tools employed by the British to maintain power of Uganda for 70+ years:
Four main tools were used, namely:
1) Terror and coercion, inspiring fear in the general population.
2) Granting favours to collaborators, using the wealth (of the people) under their unfettered control.
3) Controlling information; by denying people alternative views and thru Propaganda- disseminating information that justifies, endorses, and praises the obtaining situation, while demonising and restricting/ stopping any opposing views or actions.
4) Divide and rule- dividing the oppressed (subjects) and turning them against each other.
First Liberation struggle:
The struggle of the Ugandan (African) people to regain Sovereignty from British (colonial) monarch constituted the first liberation. Although Uganda’s struggle was not as intense and brutal as in other areas, Ugandans mobilised, organised and carried out many defiance (NON-VIOLENT) campaigns to win the “Independence”.
At “Independence”, the instruments of terror and coercion that the British had used to create and rule over Uganda for 70+ years (and the attendant POWER), were handed over to Uganda’s new “rulers”. The new (“Independence”) rulers literally and metaphorically replaced the Queen of England as the Sovereign.
They have used the same 4 tools the British used to maintain control over the powerless inhabitants of Uganda’s territories. Whoever controls the guns controls the POWER (over Uganda’s wealth, decision-making, executive and Judiciary).
The first liberation shifted POWER from a foreign monarch to domestic “monarchs”. That’s why Mr Museveni (appropriately) refers to himself as the Ssabagabe- King of Kings!
The Second Liberation:
The processes of removing Sovereignty from the post-independence rulers to the people of Uganda constitutes the second liberation. Looked at differently, this is a struggle for the subordination of guns (military) to the will of the people.
This is the struggle that has been going on since independence. The political challenges that our country grapples with are founded in the fact that the people of Uganda have no POWER (over Uganda’s wealth, decision-making (including choosing leaders), executive or justice system) since 1890! They’ve been marginalised and terrorised for 128 year!
Since POWER was taken, and is controlled by guns, all changes of power from one regime to the next have only been mediated by guns. The latest gunman holding POWER is Gen Museveni, in office for 33 years now and still going!
Before the NRM/M7 Junta, there were seven successive post-Independence leaders of Uganda (1962-1986) spanning a period of 24 years. During that time, some positive developments were registered, BUT, there were also huge problems of injustice (political, social, cultural & economic) and Human Rights violations.
Although the many changes didn’t empower the marginalised Ugandans to regain power, they generally created temporally euphoria and hope that things may change for the better. They offered moments of fresh breath to different segments of our society.
The unbroken period of 33 years of NRM/M7 Junta, under which the exclusion, injustices and Human Rights violations have been escalating, has resulted in an all-round huge crisis that risks the country degenerating into a failed state. The calmness on the surface is sometimes wrongly presented as “peace” prevailing in the country- it’s the typical calmness before a storm!
This is why change is very urgent; a change that addresses the root cause of our governance problems- Rule of the GUN.
How will the Second Liberation be achieved?
Unfortunately, there’s still some confusion on how POWER will shift from the “Presidential Monarch” to the people. It’s important that we achieve widespread clarity on the approaches to getting the desired change.
There seems to be widespread concurrence that PEOPLE have NO POWER and that we must regain OUR POWER. What some people don’t seem to delve into is the content of the power we don’t have and seek.
As pointed out above, the POWER we’re looking for mainly includes: control over Uganda’s wealth, decision-making (choosing leaders, policies, laws & regulation), implementation of decisions, and adjudication.
If the above holds, then it follows that people have no POWER to DECIDE who leads them or how they’re led. In other words, people have NO VOTE! It means that power cannot change merely because people have “voted”.
The fairly fresh experience of the 2016 presidential elections and the 2017 (Age-Limit) Constitutional Amendments serves to demonstrate the point. It’s not surprising, therefore, that elections in Uganda have never caused transfer of power from one holder to another.
Why do Military Rulers organise elections:
Military rulers use elections to consolidate their power (especially through gaining international acceptability) and to weaken the “Opposition”. They generally pre-determine the outcome and create a process that leads to it.
Apart from the 4 main tools these rulers use generally to maintain hold on power, they also employ familiar tools during elections, viz:
1) Manipulating register of voters
2) Vote buying
3) Excluding or compromising rivals
4) Violence- to intimidate rivals and their supporters
5) Voter suppression- discouraging voters in opposition strongholds.
6) Hacking the election- change data, ballot-stuffing, media manipulation, and changing results.
All these are facilitated by the control of all State institutions- especially, security, financial and judicial. Sometimes, “Election Observers” and some members of the International Community play a role of legitimising the rigged elections for various motivations.
Organising elections, however rigged, bestows necessary legitimacy to the regime to seek and get international financial support; especially, long-term loans from multilateral agencies or sovereign bonds.
On the other hand, elections in the restricted environment, offer a great opportunity for the ruling Junta to divide opposition formations and to foment conflict amongst them. They are an effective tool of weakening the “Opposition”.
What should people seeking to regain their POWER do in between and during elections?
The first critical realisation must be that Junta elections, per se (in and of themselves), won’t liberate the power back to the people. Power must be wrestled from those who forcefully captured it, through a struggle.
That struggle must continue, whether there is an election or not. An election can offer a great opportunity to advance or even triumph in the liberation struggle. However, a liberation struggle can be won at anytime, when the conditions for achieving the change are in place.
Three main factors are necessary for people to struggle and regain their power:
1) Raising popular consciousness- people becoming aware of their powerlessness and the attendant consequences; gaining confidence to assert their rights; and overcoming the paralysing effect of fear. This process generates POLITICAL (freedom) ACTIVISTS.
2) Developing leadership networks and structures of political activists. This affords people the capacity to act in concert sustainably. It’s noteworthy that activist networks are better when they are not built on a partisan basis.
3) Planning and conducting NON-VIOLENT actions that disempower and subdue the coercive forces of the Junta and assert the will and mandate of the people.
A critical level of AWARENESS and ORGANISATION must be achieved before undertaking actions that can successfully wrestle power from the Junta. Working on these factors must, therefore, be a continuous exercise.
During elections, there is greater international media and diplomatic attention to the country, which helps cause some restraint on the repressive machinery of the Junta.
As a result, it’s a unique opportunity for liberation activists to work overtime to make progress on the first two factors above. If a critical level of awareness and organisation is achieved during the election time, the Junta can be defeated and FORCED to vacate power. Otherwise, the Junta can be removed at any other time.
It’s important, therefore, that all candidates for any election are knowledgeable about the struggle and activists. Kasese, and increasingly, Rukungiri District offer a good example of how to win elections through struggle.
Liberation and election objectives are different:
The purpose of a liberation struggle is for people to regain POWER and control of the State. An election, on the other hand, is meant for people to choose leaders (and the policies they present) and give them power to serve them. Competition for power, therefore, envisages a situation where people have the power and can chose whom to entrust it with.
That’s why it’s important to aim at building a united front for struggle and a Government of National Unity to manage a transition process to a democratic order.
Transition to a democratic order:
After many decades of struggle, Ugandans are now on the verge of subduing the forces of coercion and domination and regaining their power. When it eventually happens, there will have to be a period of reorganising that State to a new order.
This will especially involve a review of the constitutional and legal framework; reviewing State institutions and building democratic infrastructure; truth-telling, justice and reconciliation; and free & fair elections.
2019, THE YEAR OF ACTION:
Following the latest coup d’etat (overthrow of people’s will) by the NRM/M7 Junta in 2016, we set up the People’s Government (Government of disenfranchised), to, among others, assert the People’s will.
For the last two and a half years, we’ve been preparing activists and their leaderships to undertaken actions that empower our citizens and disempower the Junta until it surrenders power to the people.
That’s why at the end of 2018, we declared that 2019 will be a YEAR OF ACTION! We cannot be distracted by campaigns of those seeking offices through the next “elections”.
Watch the space.
Dr Kizza Besigye is the president of Uganda’s ‘People’s Government’, a parallel government to that of President Yoweri Museveni