Socialism and Obote’s Common Man’s Charter

Author: Yoga Adhola. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • ‘‘The Common Man’s Charter was a statement of the present phase of the struggle i.e. national-democratic liberation” 

I was recently involved in a debate about The Common Man’s Charter on the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) party forum “UPC Since 1960 Official” run by an official of the party called Andrew Omara. The debate began when a discussant made a call for members to read The Common Man’s Charter.

In response, I advised the discussant with a rhetorical question whether he was aware the author of the charter had expressed regret to have gone that route. I made this comment to indicate that since the author had regretted or withdrawn the ideas, there was no need for us to study it. 

Several members of the forum sought to know the reason for him to back track.  I told them that he never gave any reason. Then Jimmy Akena – Obote’s son – gave the following response:
“He regretted the consequences but never the intent of seeking better returns for the people of Uganda. The recovery programme and the revised recovery programme displayed the moderation of policies while remaining focused on the interests of the common man in Uganda.”

At one point Omara argued: “Our own prejudices/bias/ego makes it hard for us to appreciate Milton Obote and The Common Man’s Charter. Sometimes we think we are authority about him and his actions and tend to want to represent him whether erroneously or otherwise.”
I should point out that from the mid-70s when I began close interaction with Obote, I did a close study of him. He also availed himself to me to study. At times he would assist me by directing me to those who would avail me information about him. I believe I know him well. I actually had intentions of writing a biography, but Prof Kenneth Ingham beat me to it with his Obote: A Political Biography.

With that much about my knowledge of Obote, I would also like to say I have done a fairly extensive study of Marxism, enough to enable me to understand what socialism is.
In the course of the debate, I argued that socialism never comes through declarations. I argued that it comes through protracted class struggles. It comes at that point in social development when the working class (the proletariat in Marxist terminology) grabs state power.

Uganda is far from that point. At this stage of social development, the economic base is not yet sufficiently developed to give rise to class struggles. That being the case, any claim to socialism is terribly premature. 
I called upon members to read the article Retarded Capitalism in Tanzania. The article is about the Arusha Declaration which also promulgated socialism in Tanzania. I told them the article is free online.

Just like The Common Man’s Charter which declared socialism in Uganda in 1969, The Arusha Declaration too claimed to have introduced socialism in Tanzania in 1967. The above article points out that far from introducing socialism, the Arusha Declaration objectively constituted an attempt at unconsciously retarding capitalist development in Tanzania.
There is an explanation why a number of leaders from former colonies such as Julius Nyerere and our own Obote made claims to bring about socialism. They had seen the speed with which the socialist countries then were developing and so thought they could also develop their countries fast by going socialist.

That said, I would like to argue that The Common Man’s Charter still had value. It was a statement of the present phase of the struggle i.e. national-democratic liberation. National-democratic liberation, as we stated in an earlier article, in this paper seeks to do two things. One, to discard pre capitalist institutions. Two, prepare ground for socialism.

At one point when I suggested to Andrew Omara that he did not know what socialism is, he exercised his prerogative as the founder and administrator of the forum to deregister me. This was very unfortunate. I have spent considerable resources educating myself and thought I could share whatever I have learnt with other UPC members through the forum.

Yoga Adhola is a leading ideologue of UPC. 
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