I recently found myself engaged in a stormy debate with a member of Gen Mugisha Muntu’s party, The Alliance for National Transformation (ANT), over a clause of their constitution on the organisational values. The section of the clause states: “To promote the culture of institutionalising politics rather than the personalisation of politics as the only guarantee for sustainable political progress.”
He told me Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) party and Milton Obote are perhaps the best examples of a case of personalising politics. He told me how Obote had personalised the UPC and turned it into a personal instrument. This, he concluded, is something ANT is determined to stamp out.
Just like Prof Nelson Kasfir once said of President Museveni that he operated on the basis of dubious political theory, ANT too is operating on dubious political theory.
Obote’s dominance of UPC is not his making. It is something which arises from the level of social development of Uganda today.
The level of development attained by society’s economic base is what determines the forms of political organisation that will arise. Our people are still operating in largely pre-capitalist circumstances and spheres. They cannot evolve nor respond to organisational forms that societies based on higher mode of productions do.
Arising from that stage of the development of the economic base, our people have a limited range of similar experiences which would give rise to theories or analysis. In such circumstances abstract thought and analysis is not just unnecessary but it is unattainable.
In societies in which men have a limited range of often rather similar experiences, abstract categories of thought are unnecessary for everyday explanations, and are in any case unattainable.
In such circumstances, Brian Wilson has theorised is his book, Noble Savage as follows: “What is involved is a more simplistic apprehension of how things work—the idea that if things are happening, then there must be identifiable persons who are causing them to happen.
“A simple model of interpersonal relations, with which men are acquainted in their everyday affairs, is projected on to all social events, processes, and structures, and often also on to all natural phenomena too. If all sections and events proceed from volitions, then nature, demographic facts, social organisation, custom, economic procedures all appear to be subject to the effective control of particular superordinate beings.
To drive his point home, Wilson compared our situation to that of a child in a developed capitalist society thus: “The child in our own society may refuse to believe that its father cannot repair a defective television set, and may see his failure to do so as a wilful, spiteful act.”
“The individual living unreflectively in a society in which the powers of generalisation and abstraction are low—and such might still be the case in some of the less-developed subcultures of our own society—may naively believe in the near omnipotence of politicians and potentates, believe that they are above the law, do as they like, wield far more extensive power than is in fact the case.”
It is from this perspective that arises charismatic individuals. By charisma, I mean, the belief that particular individuals have virtually supernatural powers. And because of that belief, people allow them to lead them. This is the situation where Obote ended up dominating UPC.
The elevation of Obote to a charismatic individual is not peculiar to UPC. We know this to have happened with Nasser of Egypt, Fidel Castro of Cuba, Gaddafi of Libya, Nyerere of Tanzania and a host of many others.
The problem goes even further. As the article, “Tropical Africa: its parties and problems of democracy” published in The World Marxist Review volume 13 number 10 states: “As by reason of cultural backwardness and only embryonic civic awareness, the mass often backs the person of the leader rather than his political platform” (pages 1970: 62-63).
In conclusion, I am tempted to think that ANT might need to quickly discard this objective. Given the cultural level of our people, at times you may need a towering personality on whom you tag your messages. Without such a figure, ANT may find it very difficult to get its message across.
Yoga Adhola is a leading ideologue of UPC.