Last week we stopped at the point of elaborating the intangibles that can redeem the future of Uganda and which are far more important than the infrastructure projects on whose basis President Museveni is demanding votes from areas recovering from conflict.
Why of all places did Museveni go to Acholiland to claim that he be rewarded with votes for the infrastructure development? Did he go to the bush because Uganda needed better roads, bridges and dams? Top on Museveni’s agenda was democratisation. In short, he promised fundamental change. That would require the restructuring of the State to entrench the sovereignty of the people as opposed to the sovereignty of the gun. It would also require the emancipation of our economy from neo-colonial bondage. When judged by these two parameters, Museveni has no right to demand additional time at the helm in Uganda. These are the intangibles, the key performance indicators, he has neglected and that gave many Ugandans hope.
Let’s look at the balance sheet in Acholiland. Museveni said in a 1985 interview with Drum Magazine quoted in Dr Tanga Odoi’s PhD thesis titled Politics, Ethnicity and Conflict in Post Independent Acholiland, Uganda 1962-2006, that “The Acholi are everywhere, in the army, big offices, etc. The southerners have played a peripheral role since independence.”
Museveni said this during the Nairobi Peace Talks. In those talks, Gen Tito Okello, bent over backwards and accepted very hard conditions demanded by Museveni for the sake of peace. But soon after signing the agreement, Museveni wrote to then Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi, the mediator, telling him that his commanders had rejected the terms of the agreement.
Soon Museveni marched on Kampala and overthrew Tito Okello’s government. In the south, Museveni was seen as a liberator who rid the country of the Acholi whose domination he resented, but in the north, particularly in Acholiland, he was seen as a conqueror bent on punishing and humiliating his vanquished foes.
The extreme atrocities meted on the Acholi have a history. This mindset was expressed clearly by former prime minister Kintu Musoke who in a 1996 Monitor interview said “the Acholi have to pay for what they did in Luweero”. Yet amidst all this suffering, the victims were being blamed for their own suffering. In a 1997 Human Rights Watch report, then army commander James Kazini said, “If anything, it is local Acholi soldiers causing problems. It’s the cultural background of the people here, they are violent, it’s genetic!”
That same mindset informed the scorched earth military offensives, the dispossession of the people of their livestock and the forcible concentration of the people in camps. With that mentality, all calls for peace talks fell on deaf ears. No wonder, in his 1997 study titled the Anguish of Northern Uganda, Robert Gersony argued that the conflict in the north was, in fact, a continuation of the war in Luweero Triangle. The conflict now manifests itself as conflict over land and other natural resources. Indeed, even after Juba, the guns may be silent but the war is not over!
At his swearing in ceremony in 1986, Museveni said, “The people of Uganda should die only from natural causes which are beyond our control, but not from fellow human beings who continue to walk the length and breadth of our land.” That pledge was not honoured as his troops marched north.
Furthermore, what will Museveni do to roll back the toxic effect on our body politic of his propaganda, hate campaign, ethnic stereotyping and stigmatisation of the Acholi? Due to the heaping of the collective guilt for whatever went wrong with Uganda before 1986 on northerners, they are now what Frank Van Acker calls “internal outsiders”. I call them citizen aliens.
Finally, by failing to assure Ugandans that he can break the cycle of violent changes of government Museveni’s rule may end the way the previous ones ended. Worse still, Museveni’s misdeeds will (unfortunately) be Nyankolenised, the way Obote’s and Okello’s misdeeds were Acholinised and Amin’s misdeeds were West Nilised!