On May 12, Monitor carried an interesting piece titled ‘Liberalisation policy reversal: Is Govt finally giving in?’
It raised very important but very complex issues that need a deeper understanding of Uganda’s history. I must correct the completely false presentation of my position by the writers in relation to Museveni.
What it misses is a historical dimension. History is a contested site, but we must try to get it right. Otherwise our younger generation will never know where they came from and where they are going.
I have four objectives in responding to them:
1. To correct a total misrepresentation of my position on President Museveni.
2. To initiate a debate among “progressives” in Uganda - including academics, university students, the government, and the media.
3. To make distinction between “primary and second contradictions”, and argue that our primary contradiction is with the imperial system. Differences amongst us – on say regional, ethnic, regional or other grounds – are secondary.
4. To set the context for a symposium sometime in September/October to discuss these complex issues.
Summary of piece in Monitor
This is what Othman Semakula and Dorothy Nakaweesi wrote: “The Museveni of 1986 up to somewhere in 1987 was a hard line Marxist, at least according to those who were close to him, who believed in socioeconomic analysis to transform a country that had been ravaged by war.
“Well, some historians and politicians, including Prof Yash Tandon, have argued differently. In his book - Common People’s Uganda - Prof Tandon argues that President Museveni only used Marxism as an excuse to rally a power grab but never understood its workings and was quick to abandon his idealism at the slightest challenge by capitalist frontiers.
“However, unlike Prof Tandon, Ramathan Ggoobi, an economist and lecturer at Makerere University Business School, insists that the post-1986 Museveni up to until 1989, believed in the concept of Marxism but was only forced out of it by the push for capitalism that had been fronted by powerful capitalist frontiers such as the International Momentary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.”
Let me provide a historical context.
The first chapter of my book on Uganda goes back to “Imperial Conquest and Resistance”; the second includes a section on “I.K. Musazi, Baba bi Kintu and the Bataka Movement; and in my last chapter (Epilogue) I address the so-called “Buganda Question” in a brief review of Apollo Makubuya’s Protection, Patronage or Plunder? Imperial Machinations and (B)uganda’s Struggle for Independence.
We need to go back to a bit of our history. If a nation doesn’t know its past history, it does not know its present and how to move into the future. History is, of course, a contested site – all the more reason that we must try to get it right.
In this essay, I won’t go that far back into our history as I.K Musazi. I go back to 1964 – to the ideological debate that started at the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) Gulu Conference in 1964. That was some 57 years ago. Today, we still cannot resolve the deep divisions in our political parties, unless we go back to that conference.
Briefly, what started the controversy was the conflict between former prime minister and UPC leader Milton Obote and John Kakonge. Kakonge was the founder of the Communist Party of Uganda (CPU). He criticised Obote who threw him out of the UPC. Kakonge took refuge in Tanzania, and was not heard of since then.
Dani Nabudere had attended the Gulu conference as a young man. Later he went to London to study Law. After he came back from the UK, he took the leadership of the CPU working from his base in Mbale. He became a subject of debate in Parliament where some MPs made unfounded accusation against him that he was training guerrillas to overthrow the government.
In 1969, Obote put him in jail. He was released in 1971 by Idi Amin. He worked for the East African Community (EAC), travelling between Kampala and Arusha. Nabudere had never declared that he had taken over the leadership of CPU. It was underground, with may be 20-25 hardcore members. In other words, nobody knew of CPU’s existence.
In 1972, he came to Dar es salaam University to teach. I joined the university in 1973. I knew Nabudere during our student days in the 1950s and 60s in England. We were student activists working with forces back home fighting for our independence. As Dani and I reminisced our student days, he disclosed to me the existence of CPU. I was sworn in as member.
Because of former Tanzania’s president Julius Nyerere’s reputation, and the inauguration of “Ujamaa Socialism”, the university had attracted a number of radical thinkers from Europe, America and the Caribbean - including Walter Rodney, the author of the famous book - How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.
At the time, Yoweri Museveni was a student. He and other students were influenced by the Rodney. But even more radical than Rodney was a group of Tanzanians led by Issa Shivji. His “Tanzania, The Class Struggle Continues” made a critique of Nyerere’s “Ujamaa Socialism”. This is what provoked a debate among the radicals at the university.
Later, I collected the papers (31 of them) and produced a book titled The University of Dar es Salaam: Debate on Class, State, & Imperialism, with an Introduction by the radical Tanzanian Marxist, Abdulrahman Mohamed Babu. It was published by the Tanzania Publishing House in 1976.
Babu was a Zanzibar-born Marxist and pan-Africanist nationalist who played an important role in the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution and served as a minister under Nyerere after the island was merged with mainland Tanganyika to form Tanzania. He was jailed by Nyerere from 1972 and, after his release following an international campaign, remained a vocal critic of imperialism, authoritarian states and excessively statist (as well as private capitalist) development models.
Shivji in his book argued that it is not scientific socialism, and hence the working classes are still struggling. This is what provoked the so-called Dar es Salaam debate on class, state and imperialism. The debate was joined by, among others, Mahmood Mamdani. Nabudere made a critique of Shivji’s book in his Imperialism, State, Class and Race. Omwony Ojwok also wrote a piece titled In Refutation of Issa Shivji’s Petty-bourgeois Neo-Marxist Line. I wrote a piece titled ‘Whose Capital and Whose State.’
Mamdani, Shivji and others did not know about our existence as a Communist Party. The Dar es Salaam debate was a parallel debate – the open debate between academics at the university, and an alternative debate between us (led by Nabudere) on the concrete struggle on the ground. For us it was not an academic issue.
Matters came to a head when Amin attacked Tanzania and Nyerere fought back.
Nyerere tried to get Obote and Museveni to form an interim government before he took over Kampala, but the two could not agree on the how to share power. Meantime, Nabudere and our group (Ad Hoc Committee for the Unification of Uganda) - along with Tarsis Kabwegyere - invited all Amin-opposed movements to come to Moshi.
Mamdani was opposed to inviting “feudal” Buganda. Our difference with Mamdani on the very important distinction we make between “primary and secondary contradictions”. Our primary contradiction was against the Empire; our internal differences – tribal, regional, religious – are “secondary”. So Mamdani could not be invited to the Moshi Conference.
Museveni also didn’t come because he was in the bush. For him the gun was more important than the debate. So he was not in UNLF’s leadership. He appealed to Nyerere who asked him to go to UNLF leaders. Nyerere asked him to go to UNLF’s Military Commission led by Paulo Muwanga, but he wouldn’t have Museveni until Nabudere persuaded him. So Museveni became Muwanga’s deputy.
After three days, we came to an agreement to create the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) to create an interim government under Yusuf Lule. The UNLF lasted for only a year (April 1979 to March 1980) and Obote/Museveni alliance staged a military coup. The Obote/Museveni alliance lasted only seven months. The December 1980 elections were a fraud and Museveni went back to the bush to launch a guerrilla war against Obote.
Let me recall the difference between Mamdani and his group on the issue of the difference between “primary and secondary contradictions”. It still rips us apart as we witnessed during the January 2021 election.
Why do I raise this issue?
Back to the piece Monitor
Let us go back to the beginning of this paper. The Monitor argued that, “In his book - Common People’s Uganda - Prof Tandon argues that President Museveni only used Marxism as an excuse to rally a power grab but never understood its workings and was quick to abandon his idealism at the slightest challenge by capitalist frontiers.”
I never made that statement in my book. It is a total misrepresentation of my position on President Museveni. I have differences with Museveni, for sure, but these are “secondary”, and we must unite forces to face our “primary” contradiction with the Empire. Let me be clear: I am still hopeful that we can join forces to fight the imperial hegemony over our political economy pushed – among other forces – by the conditionalities imposed on us by the IMF and the World Bank.
We come back to Ggoobi’s argument that Museveni was a Marxist but was forced by reality on ground to compromise to IMF/WB. I partly agree with this. Museveni is a nationalist, but he has no control over Uganda’s neo-colonial economy.
Fifty years after Lenin’s book, Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana, wrote a book (while still president) entitled Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism. This is what he wrote in the introduction: “The neo-colonialism of today represents imperialism in its final and perhaps its most dangerous stage... The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty.
In reality, its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.”
Fifty years since Nkrumah’s book, neo-colonialism-as defined by Nkrumah-is still with us. If anything, imperialism has become even more aggressive. Why? Because it is now under serious challenge from younger generations of Third World people and social activists, even in the West.
At the bottom of the article in the Monitor there is a reference to Jane Nalunga, the executive director of the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI).
She argues that privatisation has robbed Uganda of the control in key areas of the economy such as banking. However, government has attempted to revive Uganda Development Bank. Whereas it is good, it will not address the problem of micro, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that are largely starved of capital to expand.
She notes that in the last 35 years, there has been a lot of revenue leakages, some of which have been witnessed through double taxation agreement signed with tax havens, which has deprived Uganda of revenues.
Siragi Magara, also a policy analyst, believes the 35 years have been commendable in many ways but created a serious challenge in human capital development.
This, he says, remains a challenge that continues to create a pile of resources at home but imports labour to do low grade works such masonry. By the close of the Second National Development Plan, President Museveni had promised that Uganda would have attained a middle income status. However, this remains a pipe dream and unlikely to be achieved soon.
PRINCE OF “SOWING THE MUSTARD SEED” vs PRINCE OF MACHIAVELLI
These two parts are the subheadings of Chapter 8 of my book Common People’s Uganda. I end the chapter with the following question:
“What has gone wrong? Is it the person or the system? Is it up to him, or is it now beyond his grasp? Can Museveni return to the original prince of Sowing the Mustard Seed, or has the system become so embedded in the political culture of the regime - and the dynamics of global politics - that there is no turning back? Is there any hope for the army to return to the principles set out by Museveni during the guerrilla war?”
I’ll leave it to the readers to ponder over this - Is it the person or the system?
Here is my view based on the earlier distinction I made between primary and secondary contradictions. I have argued that our primary contradiction is with the imperial system. Differences amongst us - on say regional, ethnic, regional or other grounds - are secondary. This was the main issue between us - Nabudere and those who joined him - and Omwony Ojwok called the petty-bourgeois Neo-Marxists.
Uganda is presented in the dominant celebratory narrative as a “success story” neoliberalism. This is another complex issue. Uganda cannot be isolated from the regional and global context. We need to carry out an analysis of the national/ international class alliances and global and local neoliberal forces/processes. In the media - both locally and internationally, Museveni’s role as the key to Uganda’s development is exaggerated.
Partly as a consequence of this, the second trend is a disproportionate analytical attention to the role of President Museveni and his agency as the explanation of the key characteristics of post-1986 developments in the country. Arguably, the celebratory tone of academic and consultancy accounts provided support to the granting of billions of aid.
Earlier, we analysed the neo-colonial phase that Uganda is going through. We quoted Nkrumah. Let me repeat his key sentence “…The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality, its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.”
So, essentially, we are not independent yet. We have seized the “Political Kingdom” (to use Nkrumah’s phrase), but 60-70 years down the road we still remain a neo-colony. We do not control the economy. Our “development” policies are dictated by the IMF, the World Bank and global corporations. We have a long way to go. We need to learn from countries such as China and Cuba.
Let me get back to the four objectives of writing this piece:
With an eye to the fourth objective, which is to set the context for a symposium sometime in September/October to discuss these complex issues, I give below a bit of my own background. I am working in the Office of the Prime Minister under a project called the Prime Ministers Delivery UNIT (PMDU).
PMDU is based on two concepts which provide its Ideological tools:
1. Deliverology and
2. The parish concept
Deliverology is more or less what it says – to deliver “development”. This involves mainly data collection for setting targets and trajectories, and looking for “resources” (i.e. money) for the six units of the PMDU. I head the finance unit.
Unlike the unit on, for example, infrastructure which needs to look for resources for things like roads and bridges, the finance unit has to look for resources for all the units. This is a challenging assignment. Finance, arguably, is the key to Uganda’s development. This is not an academic issue; it is hard reality on the ground that explains our policies such as those Nalunga mentions (quoted above).
The parish concept is the more ideological content, which makes it interesting. A working definition of the concept is:
1. The development of parishes of all sizes, locations and conditions into more faithful, healthy and effective communities of faith that: Focus on their unique reason for being/calling to be communities that gather people.
2. Transform people in their baptismal identity and purpose and send them into the world to be God’s presence
3. Connect to and expressive of a unique Anglican tradition, ethos and character
4. Responsive to the opportunities and challenges before them
5. Working toward greater sustainability in terms of the “fit” or congruence between all the elements of their organisational life: mission and ministry, worship, finances, buildings, leaders, etc.
6. Nurture a parish culture that is transparent, honest, open to learning and hopeful.
Hopefully, we could address these challenging issues at the symposium later in the year and come up with some recommendations to the government.
Prof Yash Tandon is a policymaker, political activist, author and public intellectual.
Because of former Tanzania’s president Julius Nyerere’s reputation, and the inauguration of ‘‘Ujamaa Socialism’’, the university had attracted a number of radical thinkers from Europe, America and the Caribbean - including Walter Rodney, the author of the famous book - How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.
At the time Yoweri Museveni was a student. He and other students were influenced by the Rodney. But even more radical than Rodney was a group of Tanzanians led by Issa Shivji. His ‘‘Tanzania, The Class Struggle Continues’’ made a critique of Nyerere’s ‘‘Ujamaa Socialism’’. This is what provoked a debate among the radicals at the university.