Uganda is on a steady march

Saturday November 21 2020
By Moses Khisa

Our politics have deteriorated over time, actually quite precipitously in the last few years. We have moved decidedly from principled political engagement to cheap transactional manoeuvres. 

Many sober-minded, honest and patriotic Ugandans got tossed out of the political playing field. 

In the ruling NRM behemoth, the calibre of men and women with the courage and candour to speak candidly to our now president-for-life have either passed on to the other side of the world, retired into private life or have simply taken a backseat. There was a time when certain individuals would face Museveni firmly. Not any more.

In the place of the old class of NRMs, we now have crude wannabes, shameless sycophants and fortune hunters out to extract rents from the ruler-in-chief and the regime as a whole. After close to four decades in power, the ruler has become paranoid, but also vulnerable to the machinations of individuals whose sole mission is material self-aggrandisement. 

In the Opposition, voices of moderation and sobriety have either retreated or they have been silenced by a new genre of actors who are fired up for change even when lacking in clarity of purposes and betray a dearth of a compelling alternative agenda. 

Whichever way one looks at it, we are on a slippery slope, on a downward escalator. There appears to be little chance of reversing course. It is a steady match that might well end in disaster. 


I have recently written here that it is difficult to predict the future given the uncertain nature of our socio-political world, but it is fair to say for any keen observer of Uganda’s political landscape, the steady decline and the seeming rush to a possible armageddon has been coming. 

The events of this week, and indeed the gathering storm of the last few years, would ordinarily signal to the rulers that it is time to slow down, take stock, to soul-search and introspect. This thinking though is anathema to a group so sure of their hold on power.

As night follows day, and as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, it is untenable, if perilous, to continue on a path of repressing citizens. There are grave limits to the exercise of raw power and blatant abuse of the instruments of State coercion. 

There is only so much that brute coercion and guns can do in the face of popular discontent particularly when you have masses of young people who see no hope of  a better tomorrow. 

But power has a way of dousing its holders. It sloshes. It fosters arrogance and deepens aloofness. Our current rulers are persuaded they can rule us with the might of force as they have done for more than three decades.

 They believe they can intimidate some citizens into submission while compromising others with small material handouts. 

Because these very tactics have worked for a long, the rulers are sure they can keep up with the same and press on for a longer time to come. Only that the times have changed quite fundamentally and the stakes are now defined by imperatives of a completely different era and urgency.

Let me say this, for the umpteenth time: Uganda is at a dangerous political crossroads. Our politics is in the sewers. Our social fabric is in the air. We are a fragile nation and with the potential for implosion, which has become more glaring with time and rendered susceptible to a simple spark. The economic fortunes of majority of our compatriots are precarious and a great source of anger, trepidation, desperation and despondence. 

In the face of the enormous socioeconomic and political difficulties currently staring at us, and given the hopeless state of affairs all so palpable, it is startling that we have to be in the usual showpiece and cheap performance of trying to conduct campaigns for a General Election next year. 

As I have argued here countless times, this is the last thing that we as Ugandans should be talking about; having a General Election, especially to elect a president.

 Instead, we should be deliberating how to reconfigure and remake a new Uganda in which all political actors are subjected to the same rules, where access to opportunity is mediated by principles of fairness, justice and horizontal comradeship borne of our common belonging to a shared community.

Mr Khisa is assistant professor at North Carolina State University (USA).