Faking a bogus coup is easy; averting a genuine one is the issue
Posted Sunday, February 3 2013 at 02:00
Uganda’s Defence Minister and the Chief of Defence Forces have a deep sense of History. What better season than picking the time when the country marks 42 years of Idi Amin’s military coup to state and confirm respectively that the army can stage a coup again? Even as an old man who has survived, travelled and read a bit more than an average Ugandan, I have never seen such public ecstasy as seized Kampala on the afternoon of January 25, 1971. We were little boys in primary school and that Monday morning the headmaster turned us back saying there was trouble in the country so we should go home and stick close to our parents.
Walking back home along Entebbe Road, it was evident that the situation was not normal. There was no traffic except for death looking dark green military trucks. And then we had our first sighting of a tank – what a sight and experience! The monstrous vehicle did not have wheels and was moving on tracks – which we called chains - cracking the tarmac road surface as it headed to the Airport to prevent any reinforcements from outside and the air force from joining the battle.
At three in the afternoon, the martial music on Radio Uganda was finally interrupted by the hard, commanding voice of Warrant Officer Class Two Sam Wilfred Aswa thus: “Will you stand for a special announcement! I have a message for you from my fellow soldiers. The message reads: It has been necessary to take action to save a bad situation from getting worse…” Aswa proceeded to read eighteen reasons why the military had decided to take power from Dr Milton Obote and “hand it to our fellow soldier, Major General Idi Amin Dada”.
Although Inspector General of Police Erinayo Wilson Oryema and new Head of State Idi Amin proceeded to make their statements, hardly anybody was paying attention. The air was full of screams of wild jubilation. The celebrations continued for months, as musicians released hit song after hit song praising Idi Amin. As for coup leader Idi Amin, he immediately but quietly embarked on exterminating any remaining Langi and Acholi in the army, with hardly anybody elsewhere paying attention.
Though the subsequent five changes of power have been by military force, none was as dramatic as Amin’s, because they were executed in slow motion and sometimes the public was largely involved. But is the coup now being discussed by the top defence officials a real possibility?
It is easy for elements in the Executive to fake a bogus coup so as to do away with constitutional restrictions to their power, but like anything fake, such a coup would not be popular. A genuine coup is harder to imagine and can only be sustainable if it enjoys public support. Idi Amin’s wildly popular coup was staged just as Dr Obote was busy assuring the Commonwealth meeting in Singapore that he was the only African leader not afraid of a military coup.
Amin managed to rule for eight-and-a-quarter years because the public initially poured massive goodwill at him. Can today’s conspirators manage to woo public support the way Amin did? No amount of political agitation, can make Ugandans support a coup. The other day Dr Besigye and Mayor Lukwago were arrested and nobody raised even a whimper.
People don’t care that much about politics anymore. But corruption can move them. Corruption enables a man to ‘make’ Shs160 billion from questionable compensation for markets in one day, which is twice what James Mulwana managed to make in a lifetime of smart and careful investment (Shs80 billion). Corruption makes the donor community withdraw $300 million in aid in one year, deepening the pain of the suffering masses. Corruption can therefore send crowds dancing in the streets of Kampala if a radical solution was found to it.
But is the army competent to fight corruption and restore public accountability? There are two ways to end mass corruption whether by the sitting government or by coup makers: Either prosecute all the practitioners of corruption or forgive them and move the country forward on a clean slate with zero tolerance to new corruption cases.
Prosecuting all the corrupt without being accused of ‘selective prosecution’ (or persecution) would create a problem of space in the prisons because people who have stolen public money are in their hundreds of thousands .
Declaring a general amnesty would be a safer way out and start on a clean slate. The question that remains is whether a coup is the best way to solve Uganda’s problems, the most urgent of them being corruption.