Our country is in the grip of a grave national crisis. The country is broken. And the signs are all around us. Staggering and wholesale plunder of national and public resources. Absolute humiliating poverty - - actually programmed poverty. Systematic destruction of cooperatives (rural economy), Jinja industrial hub, and railways. Rampant land grabbing. Almost total non-delivery of social services. Complete collapse of the once solid systems of public education (both primary and secondary) and health service.
Deliberate gutting and destruction of national institutions. Sham elections and bogus multi-party space. Genocide in northern Uganda. Death of rule of law and celebration of impunity. State terror and ‘safe houses’. Brutal suppression of opposition and dissent. A land of segregation and discrimination. The list goes on.
This landscape of destruction and ruin, despair and humiliation, is the fruit of 28 years of President Museveni/NRM rule and the much-trumpeted ‘fundamental change’. In consequence, the country is now facing nothing short of an existential challenge. Sometimes I fear that some of the damage have been so radical and cut so deep into the fabric of our society that they may prove irreparable in the post-Museveni era.
These conditions under which Ugandans live lie deeply embedded below layers and years of doublespeak narratives, a well-financed and well-orchestrated infrastructure of lies and disinformation.
The image of Uganda that has been assiduously cultivated and projected, particularly to the outside world, has no bearing whatsoever on the realities within the country. There is a complete disconnect. But by dint of sheer repetition, these fraudulent narratives have acquired the aura of truth.
The truth is that the Museveni regime has been a catastrophe for Uganda. It has driven the country into comprehensive ruin and brokenness. Faced with this dire landscape, we need to make a fundamental shift in the trajectory of our national destiny. We must embark on an agenda and programme of radical renewal, not a cosmetic make-over. A process that can lead to a born-again country.
To achieve this radical renewal, we need to pursue a radically new national agenda. This agenda composes six principal planks:
• Removal of the Museveni regime.
•Undertaking an independent Truthtelling, Accountability and Reconciliation process , to pave the way for genuine healing .
• Convening a National Convention to adopt a new National Covenant.
• A return to the national project. I mean a conscious return to the mission of reuniting the country, of rebuilding the broken sense of common belonging and shared destiny.
• The fifth plank is a long term challenge, namely rebuilding and transformation. Because beyond regime change , there is the far more daunting task of overcoming the Museveni system and legacy -- this edifice of ruin, deformations and mindsets, spawned by 28 years of NRM’s toxic brews of policies and practices, indoctrination and conditioning .
• And, finally, and most critical of all, we must embark on a far-reaching moral revival in our country.
Part 1: Regime Change and 2016 ‘Elections’
The first order of business, our top priority without any equivocation, must be the removal of the Museveni regime. This is the immediate and most urgent goal of our struggle. Why am I so categoric about this? Certainly, at both the political and moral levels, the regime has lost all legitimacy. As the Chinese would express it, the emperor has long lost the ‘mandate of heaven’.
Most important, because in the context of Uganda, regime change is the key to everything else.
As long as this regime remains in place, all our aspirations and preoccupations will remain blocked. Plainly , under the Museveni regime, it is now impossible to revive service delivery, revamp and fix the broken school and health systems, stem the onslaught of plunder and corruption, have fair taxation , build multi-party democracy , reinstitute the rule of law , reorganise Kampala city or Makerere university , have free and independent media , or reunite the country .
Thus, regime change is not an end in itself; rather its significance lies in opening the way for the far more consequential process of transformation. Any efforts to fix these problems in a piecemeal fashion are futile. Because these problems are mere symptoms of a wider systemic malaise and brokenness.
While recognising particular trees in the midst of this forest, we should, keep our focus on the forest as a whole. The individual trees will not progress one iota until we have changed the situation and environment that is killing the entire forest. This regime is itself the source and perpetrator of these problems, and has been responsible for their entrenchment for nearly three decades. That is why to propose a reform agenda for the Museveni regime is a misnomer, an illusion. This regime cannot be reformed; it can only be removed.
Regime change can come about in one of four ways: armed struggle; military take-over; popular uprising; or through free and fair elections. I am opposed to the first two options. The preferred method, by far, is free and fair elections. But when this option is definitively blocked, then Ugandans have to assume their responsibility and take charge of their own destiny through a popular uprising, employing positive non-violent resistance.
At this existential moment for our country , we need to build a social movement for change that brings together all democracy-seeking and patriotic social forces in our society - - political parties ; civil society ; religious organisations ; women organizations ; youth organisations ; traders ;organised workers ; and professional associations.
What unites us is our common hunger for liberation, dignity and genuine democracy. This social movement should also include many of our brothers and sisters in NRM, those who care deeply about the future of our country. This is an inclusive citizens’ struggle. We must work to forge maximum unity among all democratic and patriotic forces in the country. But this should not become an excuse or alibi for lack of action to remove the regime. We cannot wait until there is complete unity before we act. South Africans did not wait for ANC and PAC to end their bitter rivalry before liberating the country.
The civil rights movement in the US did not wait for Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Stockley Carmichael and the ‘moderate’ clergy to resolve their conflicts before toppling segregation. Similarly, in the 1960s, most of Africa attained independence without first resolving that seminal debate and rift - Independence Now vs Gradual Self-Government.
Our struggle must proceed from a state of relative unity, progressing from a united front of those who are willing and committed today, to a critical mass that can move this to a tipping point tomorrow.
It is in this broader context of the social movement that the opposition should work to rebuild inter-party cooperation. In the immediate, we should construct our collaboration around concrete projects of common preoccupation.
I believe that the first and most urgent project on which we should unite is the campaign for free and fair elections in the context of 2016. Collaborating on a concrete project is also good for building trust and confidence, and the habit of working together. From this specific project, proceeding naturally and deliberately, we can graduate to deeper and more ambitious levels of togetherness.
2016 road map
This brings us to the so-called road map for 2016. Before we can discuss anything about elections in 2016, we must first ask: what kind of elections? The current Museveni/Kiggundu system will produce the same sham elections as in the past. It is designed and operates as the rigging machine for Museveni/NRM. What Ugandans should focus on now is not a scramble for 2016, but a robust campaign for a new electoral system that can ensure genuinely free and fair elections. Ugandans should never again accept to escort Museveni into another sham elections.
Concretely, the campaign for free and fair elections should focus on undertaking four tasks. First, it should put forward a basket of specific demands, proposing remedies to the key concerns which have bedevilled previous elections.
This basket should include proposals on: independent electoral commission; clean and verifiable register of voters; role of security forces and militia; financing of elections and deployment of money; demarcation of constituencies; securing the journey from counting, to collating , to announcement of results ; and adjudication of dispute for presidential election .
Second, this basket of demands should be discussed by all stakeholders, in a national forum, in order to garner national consensus on a new and legitimate system.
Third, it is imperative to mobilise serious concerted pressure in favour of a new electoral system. This should be the immediate priority for the social movement. Museveni/NRM will always contrive to continue with sham elections. They will only accept new arrangements when, under pressure, they are left with no other option.
Finally, whereas a national dialogue is necessary on this matter, it should not be open-ended. It should be undertaken within a specified sunset time frame, to avoid stonewalling by Museveni/NRM. The country needs to know the outcome in good time in order to chart the path forward accordingly.
In embarking on this new campaign, I very much hope that we have learnt some critical lessons from the painful debacle of 2010/11. At that time, within the then opposition umbrella (IPC), we adopted a common position with clear-cut demands. We announced and reaffirmed this position several times.
Internationally, some key constituencies had been mobilised in support of this campaign. For example, the Congressional Directive on Free and Fair Elections in Uganda. Museveni was under great pressure. Sadly, at this critical moment, the rest of IPC members suddenly made a U-turn and abandoned our collective demands.
This was a tragic error, for which Ugandans have paid a high price. And with this U-turn, how could we expect international sympathisers to remain fighting for our cause? This episode damaged our credibility and commitment for change. I hope this time Ugandans have the resolve to pursue the campaign to its logical conclusion.
In the event that Museveni/ NRM rejects the demands for overhauling the electoral system, my position remains the same as in 2010/11-- Ugandans should not accompany Museveni/NRM in yet another sham elections in 2016. In all this, Ugandans must realise that there is no magic wand that will miraculously deliver us from this fascist rule. Change will only come through the engagement of a critical mass of Ugandans, through our personal and collective agency.
We, Ugandans, must become the change agents we wish for in our country. To prosecute this political project requires, above all, one indispensable ingredient: RESOLVE. This ingredient has been conspicuously missing from the Ugandan scene. Without resolve we would have never witnessed the recent successful uprisings in the Middle East and elsewhere, the collapse of apartheid in South Africa, or the ending of segregation in the United States.
For nearly three decades, the regime has drummed great fear into our people. Worse, Ugandans have been conditioned to internalise and accept the oppression and humiliations visited upon them as ‘normal’. It is particularly striking that , with notable exceptions , the intelligentsia (who bears special responsibility for leading a change agenda) - - the political class , civil society leaders , the professional classes and associations ,etc. , have been largely unengaged , watching from the side-lines as this catastrophe swallows up the country. Many are self-absorbed, most are afraid and risk-averse. But all are longing and praying for change. More of us must be willing to become the agents of our own liberation. This is entirely attainable. But we must be prepared and have the resolve to suffer a little, to sacrifice a little, and, if need be, to die a little.
This is the only path to liberation and taking back our country from those who have hijacked it, and who have subjugated us for the last 28 years.
UPC and the country’s political landscape
Uganda Peoples Congress was founded in 1960 by Milton Obote, who led the country to Independence and later served two presidential terms under the party’s banner. Obote was still party leader at the time of his death in October 2005, although he had previously announced his intention to step down.
On May 14, 2010, the party elected Dr Olara Otunnu (pictured), a former United Nations undersecretary-general for children and armed conflict, to lead the party. He replaced Obote’s widow Miria.
The party won 9 out of 289 elected seats in the 2006 general election. In the presidential election of the same date Miria Obote won 0.8 per cent of the vote. Uganda People’s Congress dominated Ugandan politics from independence until 1971 when Milton Obote was overthrown by Idi Amin. The party returned to power under Obote in 1980 until he was overthrown again in 1985 by Tito Okello. The history of the UPC is intertwined with the ethnic divide that has plagued Uganda since it was a British protectorate.
The UPC’s poor performance in the 2006 elections forced the party to review its place in Ugandan politics. The party chose Dr Otunnu. The elections, however, revealed internal conflicts in the party that are likely to affect its performance at the 2011 elections.