There is understandable cynicism among the educated elite about party politics in Uganda. Many people, having long lost confidence in President Yoweri K Museveni and his regime, desire change of government and direction. However, they dismiss the political Opposition as not being worthy of their support.
Their argument? The Opposition does not offer viable alternative policies and programmes. Asked whether or not they have read the various parties’ visions and goals, they answer in the negative.
Others do not see any Opposition leader worthy of their support. First, they say, all politicians are liars. They have been lied to by the current ruler, so they do not wish to endure a repeat by someone else. They would rather continue to be deceived and manipulated by the one they know.
Second, they tell me, Museveni is a military man who believes in violence. He can only be dislodged with the means he used to remove his predecessors.
Only military people can take him on. When reminded that three ex-military men are well prepared to peacefully take him on without firing a single bullet, many declare them unacceptable. “Tubakooye!” (We are tired of them!), the people say.
The three men – Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde, Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu and Col Kizza Besigye – carry the wrong ethnic label. Like Museveni, they are Banyankore/Bahororo.
Uganda is more ethnically divided than it was before Museveni took charge 35 years ago.
Many people put ethnicity above merit and integrity. It is very understandable, of course. Examination of the distribution of real power since 1986 shows that the Banyankore and Banyakigyezi have had a disproportionate hold on the State, especially its financial and coercive security control. It does not help that the ruler, his wife, his son, his brother, his sister, his brother-in-law and his nephews hold very high positions at the core of the government. Bad optics. Bad reality.
Talking about this severe power imbalance triggers discomfort in the ruler’s court. Which suggests guilt. Charges of sectarianism against one who points out the overt sectarianism are used to silence the citizens.
The State did this two weeks ago when Bizonto, a comedy group, touched the very sensitive matter in their skit.
It is akin to beating up a child who points out a drunken old man walking naked in the market.
The naked man is the problem, not the observant boy. Uganda’s top appointing authority is the problem, not those who point out obvious facts of sectarian State control.
The regime’s head-in-the-sand approach only worsens the perceptions of sectarianism. It intensifies the anti-Banyankore-Banyakigyezi feelings that are obvious to those with eyes to see and ears to hear.
However, this bias plays into the hands of Museveni. Ugandans who are tired of south-western rulers, reject Opposition presidential candidates from that region. In the absence of a viable candidate from other regions, the elite either support Museveni or stay on the sidelines, giving the incumbent ruler an easy ride to “victory.”
No, I am not fooled by the rigging. However, a passive Opposition gives the ruler great cover for his Pyrrhic victory. Ironically, because they do not want another Munyankore or Munyakigyezi in power, they legitimise the incumbent Munyankore’s ambition to remain in power, at the helm of one of the most corrupt regimes on the continent.
Asked why they do not support Robert Kyagulanyi, a parliamentarian, who has captured the imagination of a large section of the country, the elite act uneasy. “He is not ready,” they say. Reminded that Kyagulanyi is more ready to govern than Obote and Museveni were when they took power in 1962 and 1986, respectively, they shift gears to charges that the People Power leader has no clear agenda and team.
My response to all who express such cynicism is to invite them to join a party of their choice and become active participants in the struggle for the change they desire. This invitation is frequently met with a disdainful silence or outright contempt.
I have no doubt that the cynics want positive change in Uganda. However, to want change without getting actively engaged is akin to desiring material wealth without taking investment risks. It is akin to wanting a university degree without burning the midnight oil.
It warrants repeating that there are honest politicians in Uganda. They are overshadowed by crowds of self-seekers and careerists to whom politics is a commercial commodity. Generalisations about politicians as liars do an injustice to people who make huge personal sacrifices for the sake of our country’s future.
Our goal should be to elect a leader, not a ruler, one who will expunge sectarian considerations from the country’s governance. Uganda needs a meritocratic leader who will choose the best men and women to steer the transformative change that our country deserves.
In my view, choosing this leader should be based on the individual’s track record in their private and public lives, not their Museveni-like militancy; on their leadership abilities and experience, not their ability to excite crowds; on their values, moral health and character, not ethnicity.
A leader’s character has not been emphasised enough in Uganda. Yet it should matter more than his or her ability to excite crowds with slogans, or the ability to issue threats against the incumbent. To me, leadership is not entertainment. It is not a wrestling match. It is about serving all citizens with justice and maintaining their security. People who want positive change should step up and offer their services to parties of their choice. The quality of the opposition parties will not be transformed without the active participation of the upright citizens, including the educated elite.
A new political party like the Alliance for National Transformation (ANT), with an excellent vision and interim leadership team, is too financially challenged to launch a sustainable grassroots campaign for change. Yet the party must position itself to successfully compete with a ruling party that owns the State and has access to many wealthy businesspeople who are ready to “invest wisely.”
Political organisation and mobilisation, campaigns and protecting the votes require billions of shillings. That money must come from you and me. It is not enough to see a political party struggling to breathe while the military regime has a knee on its neck, and you blame its leaders for their ineffectiveness.
The apathy of the educated elite is a sure guarantee of continued misrule and grand corruption by the Museveni regime. It need not be so.