We have heard, many times in the past, and I am sure we will hear, many times tonight, that Uganda is secure. It was, I think, Martin Luther King, who said, ‘Peace is more than just not having conflict. It is also the presence of justice, of the rule of law. The presence of order.”
What security do the Karimojongs feel when they starve to death for lack of food? What security do our youth, 83 per cent of them [wrong stat], that are unemployed feel? In Uganda, 16 women die everyday, while giving birth. This deprives every childbearing woman of a sense of security for herself or her child. We have witnessed a large number of our people that sacrificed their lives and served their country either in the military or civil service, stay for 10 or 20 years without pension. What security do they feel when they can no longer make ends meet? Uganda may not be at war, but certainly, we are not secure!”
It is telling that if you picked a random presidential candidate today – bar he whose submission that statement was meant to foreclose – they could still make the same argument, and they would not be wrong, five years later. And that is before you throw in things like access to healthcare services, quality education, financing and the economy. As it turns out, you could be tarmacking roads, constructing airports and building dams, as a means to securing the future, and not exactly placate the citizenry. The reason is that for most, security is the ability to afford rent, to have something to eat, to afford good education, to pay hospital bills and actually receive quality treatment, to find a job and have some sense of purpose and a fair chance at pursuing their dreams.
It’s not that they don’t see or appreciate the work in protecting state boundaries or keeping them safe from criminals. They do, they pay for it, and even have relatives in active service. It is just that they expect and are entitled to more; and simply want to live a dignified life. And nothing will make them see what they don’t feel or take away that craving. Force and violence might force them to retreat but for how long?
This contradiction in how security is defined, is the root of the tensions and ugly scenes we are witnessing in the current contestation – because to call this an election is madness. When you go into an exercise that you choose to call a democratic election, you must remember that the definition comes with the requirement for that activity to be ‘free, fair and periodic’.
The situation isn’t helped by the generational contrast between the two viewpoints. On the one hand, you have power held by a coterie of mostly gerontocrats and those closest to the trough, and on the other youthful population who are restless for change to come.
So when they face off in this charade we are choosing to call an election, the contrasts show out in their ugliest form. One group trumpets its economic gains as the foundation on which the future will be secured. They are not exactly wrong, because investing in macro projects like hydro-power dams and tarmac roads is indeed a sound economic decision, if you are trying to secure the future. The other group says no, the micro-economy isn’t working. They have no jobs and have been squeezed out of any means of production and trade; and in the face of the daily realities, they feel powerless to intervene – so they see no future to be secured.
And that’s how we arrive at more than 54 people killed within a week, over an electoral contest. If you consider that we still have six weeks before polling day, and a period when the outcome will likely need to be resolutely forced on one side, you worry about where this is headed.
It’s not clear if we shall have a presidential debate under the circumstances, considering how mute the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda – the debate organizers – are on everything going on. But with their future secured, why bother defending the young and poor.
We started with former premier, Amama Mbabazi’s opening statement during the 2016 presidential debate – perhaps, the strongest opening statement. If he was a candidate in the 2021 election, he probably would just say, “Whichever way this goes,‘Omwaavu wakufa’ (the poor will die)” – and he wouldn’t be wrong.
Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds. firstname.lastname@example.org