Change is coming to Uganda. The Greek Philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus predicted this truth 2,500 years ago, for it is he who said: “The only constant in life is change.”
It may be hard for many to believe this, even to imagine it in a country so totally dominated by one man that nothing moves without his implied or overt consent. Yet a post-Museveni Uganda is on the horizon, and not just on account of human mortality.
Whether the Ugandan ruler likes it or not, the countdown to his exit is a reality born of the natural decay of a personalised, institutionally neutered regime.
No doubt, the process of stealing the 2016 election is already in full swing. The recent purge of Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) was not only designed to remove perceived pro-Amama Mbabazi folk in that group. It was also a strategic placement of cadres who will ensure that the Museveni re-election machine is well-oiled and ready to deliver the landslide result.
We fully understand the skeptics who dismiss the possibility of politically defeating Mr Museveni and his favoured courtiers. Yet there is enough opportunity for upsetting the President’s plan that it would be foolish to surrender without a political fight for the hearts and minds of the citizens.
We learnt from Kenya in 2002 that all it took to destroy a seemingly invincible political machine was a resolute determination by a united front to take the bull by the horn, propelled by a desire for change.
Granted, the Kenyan political milieu was more conducive to a successful opposition alliance than in the militarised Ugandan state that does not hesitate to use violence against the incumbent’s opponents.
However, unlike North Korea and Cuba, for example, where the ruling families have maintained a hereditary grip on realms through old-fashioned dictatorship, Uganda under Museveni has gained enough political breathing space to deny the ruler his wish for an unshakeable formal feudal arrangement. That space, albeit restricted, has offered citizens an opportunity to attempt to reclaim their country from those who hold it hostage.
In the 13 years since Dr Kizza Besigye launched his historic challenge to Mr Museveni, many members and supporters of the ruling party have been emboldened to abandon the President and join the opposition.
Notwithstanding the efforts of the ruling regime to intimidate, harass and buy off opposition voices, the number of those who overtly express their desire for change continues to grow.
However, change cannot bring itself about. Certainly change cannot come from within the fossilised ruling party that is held hostage by a President who is eager to dismantle its wobbly institutions.
The spectacle at Kyankwanzi last week when the President midwifed a coup of self-endorsement as the NRM’s candidate for 2016 elections is one example of bypassing the party’s legitimate institutions.
That 222 MPs participated in the scam reflects the morbid state of the ruling party, a club of anti-democrats who are not ashamed to humiliate their party secretary general simply because he is rumoured to be interested in becoming president of his country.
Yet the coup at Kyankwanzi also served a useful purpose. By erasing the hopes of those who still thought that change could be effected from with the NRM, the Kyankwanzi coup invites the historical founders of that party to seize the moment and openly join the forces for peaceful change.
The NRM historicals – if they truly desire a legacy that honours and redeems the blood of comrades who died in battles for freedom – should gather the courage to walk out en masse, putting Uganda’s interests ahead of their personal needs for groceries and borrowed security.
Change will take place in Uganda if the majority of citizens – whether in uniforms of the security organisations or in civilian attire - choose to claim their full rights of citizenship.
Change will take place when Ugandans discard the socio-cultural traditions that make them subjects beholden to the ruler, not citizens with an equal claim and right to being Ugandan like the ruler. Change will come when we clearly understand to whom we owe allegiance – to individuals or to the state?
Change will come when we free ourselves from the slave mentality that tells us that our survival depends on demonstrated loyalty to the ruler. We are encouraged by the news that Maj Gen Benoni Biraaro, a veteran of the NRA rebellion in Luweero who enjoys a reputation for independent thought and integrity in his long military career, is in the process of forming an opposition party. We hope Biraaro will unite with like-minded leaders in a coalition, for small multiple parties guarantee Mr Museveni’s re-election. However, we believe Biraaro’s move will encourage fence sitters to jump on board the train for change.
Whether or not this will happen is hard to say. NRM leaders, however senior in rank, are prisoners in an organisation that is dominated by one man who uses his power of incumbency and his control of the national treasury and institutions of violence to stay on the throne.
However, there is a window of opportunity for these leaders to gather the courage to claim their freedom and join the groups that seek peaceful change. It is now or never.