Why Uganda needs opposition with a long-term common vision

I supported NRM’s ten-point program which was well written, inclusive and put Ugandans at the center of development. Sadly, the program was suddenly and unceremoniously abandoned in mid-1987 before implementation started. It was replaced by a ‘shock therapy’ structural adjustment program (SAP) that the NRM had vehemently opposed during the Obote II regime and vowed to scrap it once in power.

Museveni rejected advice from Ugandans and some foreigners that urged a gradual and sequenced approach to minimize the adverse impact on poor and vulnerable people. The minister of finance who was an economist was dismissed and replaced by a medical doctor. Museveni then relied on foreigners who tutored him about the merits of market forces (S. Mallaby 2004).

The design and implementation of the program were placed under the care of the IMF and World Bank apparently for lack of domestic capacity (P. Langseth et al., 1995) when in fact there were many qualified and experienced Ugandans eager to come home but Museveni was not keen to receive them (The Courier Sept-Oct. 1993).

When my efforts to persuade the government to have a cushion like school feeding program against the pains of structural adjustment were rejected, I shifted from advising to opposing the government. Since then, some groups and individuals have urged me to join them for the sole purpose of unseating the NRM regime. I have been reluctant until there is a clear common development vision acceptable to all groups to minimize conflicts.

Experience shows that when groups or individuals with different ideas come together as in the French, 1848, Mexican, Russian, Ethiopian and Iranian Revolutions etc for the sole purpose of removing an oppressive regime without agreeing on what to do next, there have been problems including civil wars that should be avoided after NRM has exited. Let us examine the three cases of Ethiopia, Iran and Uganda by way of illustration.

The Ethiopian revolution was initiated by civilian mass protests in urban and rural areas. They were triggered by the 1973/74 increase in oil prices and the famine that began in 1973. As the civilians were within sight of removing the imperial regime and capturing state power by peaceful means, the soldiers stepped in, toppled the regime and formed a military government (Dergue) without consulting civilian organizers. The latter, in turn, demanded removal of the military government and the establishment of a people’s government consisting of representatives of workers, peasants, teachers, students, public servants, traders, soldiers and women. The military government rejected the demand and warned that resistance would be crushed. The rank and file soldiers also made some demands. The failure to reach a compromise on power-sharing resulted in a bloody civil war.

Within the Dergue itself differences emerged as well and fighting erupted. General Aman Michael Andom the first head of the Dergue was killed in November 1974. Andom’s successor General Tafari Bante was killed in February 1977. The second vice-chairman of the Dergue Atnafu Abate was killed in November 1978, leaving the first vice-chairman Mengistu Haile Mariam in charge of a country that descended into a political, economic and social crisis.

In Iran, the Shah’s authoritarian and corrupt regime resulted in a political, economic and social crisis. The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini from his exile in France called for a mass protest to end the Shah’s regime. The response was enormous and brought together groups from all walks of life and differences: leftists and rightists; liberals and conservatives; intellectuals and bazaar merchants; radical and moderate clergy; and impoverished slum dwellers with the sole purpose of ending the Shah regime.

Following the departure of the Shah into exile, the clergy under Khomeini seized power, a decision that was rejected by other groups. There were fights and those opposed to the clergy were dealt a heavy blow. The clergy then proceeded to Islamize Iran’s culture (Monika Gronke 2009).

Regarding Uganda, the imminent fall of Amin regime in 1979 brought together groups with diametrically opposed ideas to form a transitional government at a hurriedly organized conference in the Moshi town of Tanzania. The only thing delegates had in common was to replace the Amin government and govern apparently on the basis of the Moshi Spirit that was not clearly defined, much less understood, leading to different interpretations. Differences surfaced as soon as they took office. The Consultative Council or Legislative Assembly disagreed with the National Executive Committee or the cabinet especially on the powers to make public service appointments. The two branches of government could not compromise. Within 68 days the president was gone replaced by Godfrey Binaisa who had been locked out of the Moshi conference. His presidency lasted less than a year and was succeeded by a Military Commission made up of members that disagreed on virtually everything. The seeds of instability planted at that time germinated into oppressive regimes, deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people especially women and children and a militarized administration that has employed many instruments such as safe houses, anti-sectarian and anti-terrorism laws to deny Ugandans the exercise of their inalienable human rights and fundamental freedoms.

These three cases demonstrate unambiguously that efforts to change a repressive government, must be combined with an agreed common blue print that promotes inclusive societies and institutions that guarantee peace, security and development for all.

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