The revolution that never was?

Author: Moses Khisa. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • On the steps of the national parliament, a one Mr. Yoweri Museveni took the oath of president of Uganda. He was a relatively young man, officially 42 and spoke with a sense of mission, urgency and great promise. Ostensibly, he had just embarked on a revolution for Uganda.

It is 37 long years. This time in 1986, a group of guerrillas fired their way into Kampala and captured state power.

On the steps of the national parliament, a one Mr Yoweri Museveni took the oath of president of Uganda. He was a relatively young man, officially 42 and spoke with a sense of mission, urgency and great promise. Ostensibly, he had just embarked on a revolution for Uganda.

Five years earlier, before taking to the bushes of Luweero to fight his way to power, Museveni was actually Uganda’s defacto vice president in 1980, with Paulo Muwanga as the main man. He was a candidate in elections held that year, and the outcome, allegedly rigged, was the primary reason he elected to take up arms to fight the government of the day.

In January 1986, I was barely out of my diapers and only starting kindergarten. Now I am an old man with ‘big’ children. But Mr Museveni is still ruling us! This is extraordinary and simply incredible. The time Museveni has been in power is almost double that of all seven previous governments combined. And a kindergartener at the time he captured power is your columnist who considers himself an old man.

There are Ugandans who perhaps wouldn’t care that much that Museveni has been president this long. The question and concern is what he has done or whether he has delivered on his promises.

The fundamental promise of 1986 was revolution and liberation, to bring about a new system and state that departed significantly from the preceding two decades of independent Uganda.

Now, there are areas and issues where Museveni and his government can validly claim credit and victory, no doubt. But the overall picture is one of false promise and failed revolution.

Unfortunately, we are not a society of credible and accurate opinion polling, but it would be interesting to poll Ugandans today on what they think about the promises of 1986. In popular speak and street talk, there is growing nostalgia about the very past governments previously deemed venal and anti-people, the basis of Museveni’s successful guerrilla campaign that led him to state power.

With all that has gone wrong under Museveni’s rulership, some Ugandans now engage in revisionist introspection and have no choice but come to the conclusion that the much maligned governments of the past were bad, granted, but Museveni’s is worse! Why?

No way, for example, in the 21st century should a Ugandan citizen be arbitrarily arrested, tortured and his or her rights flagrantly violated in the most brazen way and with unlimited impunity.

Some Ugandans not too long ago always thought that the macabre conduct of state agents and agencies was the business of past, archaic and unaccountable regimes, not the enlightened and liberation rulers of 1986. Wrong. The Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) has always been a place of torture and dehumanising Ugandans. The records are there. It is just that some Ugandans are only waking up to the realities that have been all over the place for long.

Uganda’s current political system and environment is simply untenable. Other than the grim and gripping human rights situation, which cannot be glossed over, the promise of a substantively progressive Uganda where citizens are liberated from the shackles of poverty and deprivation has been a far cry.

Supporters and apologists of the system are quick to cite growth figures, doing so rather selectively and not placing them in proper context, but the reality is that we are a poor country where majority of our compatriots are hostage to gross material deprivation.

The official, World Bank, poverty head count could be something like 20 percent, which might appear impressive since absolute poverty was estimated at more than 60 percent in the early 1990s.

The problem is that the measure and threshold used to count who is poor is not very helpful, it is misleading. So what if someone lived on $2 versus $1.5 a day? Both are living a poor and hopeless life. The difference is negligible.

If our rulers have failed to deliver a truly democratic and free society where individual and group freedoms are respect, then at a minimum they ought to have delivered are economic prosperity and social wellbeing. As it is, the report card on both fronts is poor.

Authoritarian rulers elsewhere justify their rule by pointing to the socioeconomic prosperity that society enjoys. It is a convenient way of deflecting questions about freedom, accountability and democratic rights. For Museveni, after close to four decades of uninterrupted rule, he can neither point to a truly democratic and accountable governance regime nor can he evoke sound and impressive economic performance.

The promise of 1986, the revolution and liberation, has for the most part been a huge disappointment. A mirage. That is not all though: the future does not appear to promise much good either.