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UGANDA: THE FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE THAT WAS!

Perhaps in the whole of Africa Uganda has experienced the greatest number of changes of Government since the end of orthodox colonialism. Most of the changes have come through the barrel of the gun. In countries such as Ghana and Nigeria, where the barrel of the gun used to mediate government changes, the political and military elite seem to have learnt a big lesson. They nowadays change governments through the power of the ballot paper.

In Uganda, although since 1996 government changes have been experienced through elections every five years, the elections have not been organized to change leadership from President Tibuhaburwa Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM), more correctly from himself, to other alternatives.

This explains why elections have been heavily mediated by gunpower, with increasing violence.  Every five years elections have to produce the results that power desires at ever rising cost in terms of money and human life. Researchers may want to provide us with concrete data to generate knowledge on how much cost in money and human life we have had to endure since President Tibuhaburwa Museveni decided to seek legitimacy in elections.

We have to accept that elections have been organized not only to ensure that NRM hegemony persists well in the future, but also for President Tibuhaburwa Museveni to entrench his personal sovereignty and that of the group he commanded since the 1970s towards capturing the instruments of power from the indigenous Ugandans.

Thus, the ultimate aim of President Tibuhaburwa Museveni and his group was not just to capture the instruments of power but to hold onto them militarily and perpetually whether Ugandans endorsed it or not. The choices of Ugandans in elections have never mattered in the long-term arrangement in which NRM and President Tibuhaburwa Museveni have to retain power at all costs. Elections are only used to impart some legitimacy where illegitimacy is the right description of the status quo.

Elections will continue to be used to conceal the real reasons why President Museveni and his group decided to seek power through the barrel of the gun. Securing acceptability externally as a vehicle of democracy in our small and diminishing global village very much explains the persistent elections in the absence of genuine democracy, equity and justice.

On 26th January 1986 – the day President Tibuhaburwa Museveni swore in as President of Uganda after expelling the forces of President Tito Okello out of Kampala – he promised fundamental change. He said, ‚ÄúThis is not just a change of guards but a fundamental change”.

Later, the President said he had brought sleep from the bushes of Luwero. After more than 37 years of Uganda being under Movement rule, it is important to ask whether President Tibuhaburwa Museveni has kept the promise of fundamental change he made to the people.

We should remember the new President never clarified what kind of fundamental change he had in mind. However, if we are to go by President Museveni’s Ten Point Programme, which was used to prepare the collective mind of Ugandans for the imminent political military change, many expected the President to turn Uganda into a country where life was no longer cheap, society was free of extrajudicial killings, human rights were at the centre of leadership and governance and corruption was no longer a menace. However, we should remember that Rwandese refugees were also a party to the Ten Point Programme. They too expected the President to assist them, like they did for him, to capture power in Kigali, Rwanda. He did.

Mainly because of the operations of President Tibuhaburwa Museveni’s armed group, which transited from Front for National Salvation (FRONASA) to Uganda Patriotic Army (UPA) and finally to National Resistance Army (NRA) with the help of former President Yusuf Kironde Lule and some Baganda neotraditionalists, Ugandans were tired of the chaos, insecurity, instability and extrajudicial killings that reigned through the 1960s, 1970s and first half of the 1980s. Hundreds of thousands of mainly innocent people, especially in the then Luwero Triangle, which covered 22 Districts, lost their lives.

The regimes of Obote I, Idi Amin, Lule, Binaisa, Obote II and Tito Okello had their own failings, especially in the areas of security and human rights, which, on the face of it, served as sources of reasons for the operations of FRONASA, UPA and NRM/A. The people, of mainly Buganda, welcomed combatant Museveni and his men without asking many questions. We now know that the reasons for taking up arms were beyond Uganda. They included removing Juvenal Habyarimana from power in Rwanda through violence, spreading Tutsi hegemony in the DRC and dishonestly accessing that country’s natural resources, and changing the power dynamics in the whole of the Great Lakes region with  two countries РRwanda and Uganda Рdetermining the political trends not only in themselves but also in the whole of the region.

Therefore, when President Tibuhaburwa Museveni, on the day he swore in as President for the first time, said his was a fundamental change, not just a change of guards, his mind was not only focusing on Uganda. However, the people who were focusing their minds narrowly, celebrated the arrival of the combatants in Kampala. They never gave the phrase ‚Äúfundamental change‚ÄĚ much thought regarding its meaning and spread. It is only today that they are coming to terms with the reality that capturing Uganda was only the beginning.

President Museveni’s hegemony has now spread to all of East Africa, Great Lakes region and even Somalia. We now know that rather than build state-of-the-art schools and hospitals in uganda, he has done so in Tanzania and Rwanda. we also know he has been building a tarmac road from Uganda through Eastern DRC to Goma using Uganda public funds, ostensibly to spur trade and business. Researchers may want to delve into this statement even more deeply to show how much Tanzania, Rwanda and DRC have benefitted from the capture of the instruments of power in Kampala and why that has been the case.

Although Uganda‚Äôs first Executive Prime Minister and first Executive President, Apollo Milton Obote, had warned Ugandans that Museveni was “a man who tells the truth only by accident”, and his Vice-President, Paulo Muwanga, had predicted that Uganda would be a more difficult place to live in under Museveni, to a large extent he has implemented his fundamental change the way he wanted it to be.

For most Ugandans, the collective hope was that Uganda would continually be a much fast-growing, fast-developing, safer, securer and life-endowing place, where human rights would be at the centre of leadership and governance, and respected from top to bottom, unlike before.  They had hoped that power and authority would not be concentrated at the centre but dispersed throughout the entities that sacrificed a lot of their own sovereignty and surrendered it to the centre.

When President Tibuhaburwa Museveni captured the instruments of power, many Ugandans hoped that he would reinstate a constitutional order that empowers the constituent entities as was the case with the Uganda Constitution 1963. The Uganda Constitution 1962 recognized the Kingdoms of Ankole, Buganda, Bunyoro and Tooro, and the semi-Kingdom of Busoga. It also gave the Districts of Acholi, Bukedi, Bugisu, Lango, Madi, Karamoja, Kigezi, Teso, Sebei and West Nile some sovereignty over their own affairs. Instead, however, President Tibuhaburwa Museveni retained the authoritarian Constitution 1967, which invested too much power in the institution of President and concentrated all power and authority at the centre.

One fundamental change that President Tibuhaburwa Museveni introduced was the now infamous Uganda Constitution of 1995, which invested even more power in the institution of President, and underlined the supremacy of Presidentialism over anything else. The President of Uganda could do anything under the Sun without consulting anybody or any institution of government.

The President also popularized the Order-Obey practice, which is the only way of doing things in the Army and Police. He now applies it in all sectors of the Uganda economy using soldiers in place of professionals. Over time, he has introduced soldiers in all the sectors of the economy, away from the barracks to perform tasks that are basically civilian. He has innovated institutions, programmes and projects whose leadership he has place under soldiers. This has squeezed professionalism out of such institutions, programmes and projects, leaving the Order-Obey approach in leadership and governance to loom large in the country. He also made sure soldiers represent themselves in the Parliament of Uganda.

Therefore, if dictator Idi Amin militarized the country, Tibuhaburwa Museveni has superseded his craze for militarism and mistrust of civilians, more so professionals.

Accordingly, negotiating loans, investments, war, diplomatic relations, appointments, creation of statutory bodies, and even terminating the presence in Uganda of foreign institutions, as we have seen happen to United Nations Commissioner for Human Right, begin and end with the President. Professionals are just an add-on category that may have no impact as we saw in the Uganda Coffee saga, where in the order-obey fashion, the President insisted that an Arab-Italian woman, Enrica Pinetti, should enjoy sole jurisdiction over the Coffee subsector in Uganda.

Rather than reinstate Kingdoms as most neotraditionalists expected, President Tibuhaburwa Museveni abolished the entire royalty of Ankole Kingdom altogether. He did not want another bull in his backyard.  He then reduced the other former kingdoms to mere cultural institutions with meaningless royalty.  Political power and the power of decision-making, which the Kings once had before Apollo Milton Obote abolished them in 1966, were removed from them.

The conversion of former Kingdoms to mere cultural institutions was a fundamental change. Today a Local Council I Chairman has the political power but a cultural institution leader does not. Indeed, the Kabaka of Buganda reiterated this fact during the recent celebrations of his 30 years on the throne since President Tibuhaburwa Museveni created the cultural institutions in the Uganda Constitution 1995.

What all this meant was that the centre would have no conflict of power with the periphery. For example, the centre would politically have the power to decide what to do with the resources in the backyard of the cultural institutions, and whether or not they would get royalties of what quantity. The centre could also unleash foreign land grabbers to dispossess their people and displace them to the point of turning them into internal refugees and slaves as the cultural leaders looked on powerlessly.

Although President Tibuhaburwa Museveni embraced the idea of decentralization, which was a fundamental change, it turned out to be a process that gave even more power to his Movement cadres in the periphery, not the entities that constituted Uganda at independence. It gave way to the President being the real power and authority in the entities of the cultural leaders. It meant that the cultural leaders would be subordinate not only to the cadres of the Movement in terms of power and authority, but they could not exist without the goodwill of the President.

Consequently, the cultural leaders would be no more than ceremonial beings, just as was the President of Uganda between 1962 and 1966. Even with a stroke of the pen the President could declare the cultural institutions nonexistent, like Apollo Milton Obote did in 1966, or just like did happen to several Nongovernmental Organizations NGOs) not so long ago, and what happened to the UN Human Rights Commissioner recently.

When President Id Amin ordered Indians out of Uganda, he was not to be the last one to take decisions individually that can affect so many people in diverse ways.

Therefore, President Tibuhaburwa Museveni kept his word when, in the early 1990s, under pressure especially from Buganda neotraditionalists to reinstate kingdoms, he said, ‚ÄúI did not go to the bush to bring back kingdoms‚ÄĚ. Bringing back kingdoms would reintroduce the conflicts that characterized the relationship between the centre and the periphery dominated by Kingdoms in the early 1960s. Empowered kingdoms would not allow people of foreign origin to access and exploit their resources without paying royalties to them, or even paying taxes as is the case today. They would protect their people from land grabbing by foreigners and preserve the sacred cultural features within their areas of jurisdiction.

Over the years, a major fundamental change has been recentralization, with all power and authority returned to the Institution of President, thereby rendering decentralization a white elephant project. White elephant projects tend to be extremely expensive. They consume a lot energy, money and time but never deliver what they were said they would deliver. This is exactly how to describe President Tibuhaburwa Museveni’s decentralization process that failed like his modernization and privatization processes did.

One reason why decentralization failed was the President’s determination to ensure that his hegemony and sovereignty is not challenged at the periphery. He created offices of Resident District Commissioners (RDCs). The role of RDCs is largely to ensure that the political, economic, ecological, environmental, agricultural, social military, development and security choices and wishes of the President are the ones that obtain in the country.

The more the President has bantustanised Uganda, the more the numbers of RDCs have skyrocketed.

Through RDCs, the President enhanced the power and influence of Presidentialism in the periphery. This has meant that there is constant conflict between the Office of President-cum State House and the other instruments of power both at the centre and periphery. In some cases, there have been outright conflict between RDCs and the elected Local District Council Chairmen who lead local administrations in the districts. However, through Order-Obey fashion of governance, always the triumph is on the side of the President-State House dichotomy.  The triumph, for example, is seen in appointments at all levels of society. Increasingly the President-State House dichotomy is at the centre of most appointments. Although Districts have Public Service Commissions, the official appointments process is not allowed to tick. People are appointed from the centre and then sent to the districts for rubberstamping. In this regard institutionalism has collapsed.

Consequently, professionalism is no longer central to appointments, especially in the higher echelons of administration. It is technical-know-who that matters. This might explain the rising centrality of ethnicity, kinship and corruption in many institutions of government. It is a fundamental change. It should be of interest to the Inspector General of Government (IGG) and to researchers.

When President Tibuhaburwa Museveni captured the instruments of power, he very early demonstrated that his government would not hesitate to include refugees in the leadership and governance of Uganda ahead of indigenous Ugandans. Implementation of this was a fundamental change. This explains, for example, his appointment of Rwandese refugee Fred Rwigyema, as Minister of State for Defense and himself, known then to be an immigrant, as Minister of Defense. He also appointed Paul Kagame, now President of Rwanda, Director of Military Intelligence. If this was not a fundamental change then what was it? It was likely to reverberate throughout the whole leadership and governance system ushered in by the Movement. When UPC leaders (Haji Badru Wegulo and Prof. Patrick Rubaihayo) tried to draw public attention to the issue of refugees in government and government institutions in the early 1990s, the President turned up in full military gear and publicly scolded them, simultaneously throwing them behind bars in Luzira Maximum Prison. It was as if the President was telling Ugandans that the issue of refugees in government was a no-go area.

Indeed, the issue of refugees in leadership and governance in Uganda has not attracted serious research to establish to what extent it has penetrated and polluted all the institutions of government and non-government institutions. If we have credible information, we shall be able to know to what extent Uganda has lost its independence, nationality, sovereignty and self-determination to refugees with the capture of power by National Resistance Army (NRA) in 1986. On the contrary we shall know if it is just a myth. However, the fundamental change of constitutionally erecting the category of Banyarwanda as the 20th indigenous group of Uganda and constitutionally establishing by law a category of citizens called Dual Citizens, who can belong to Uganda and another country complicated the matter of refugees in leadership and governance as well as public service in Uganda. Many refugees feel more at home in Uganda than the truly indigenous Ugandans do. They can easily access anything at the expense of indigenous Ugandans. However, all this needs serious research to establish the truth. Otherwise, it remains an assertion. Assertions may be based on wrong premises. However, without them then research is not necessary.

We should continually ask: Is it true that refugees and former refugees are now at the centre of leadership and governance at all levels of society in Uganda?

If is true:

*What does it mean to the destiny of Uganda and Ugandans?

*What has it got to do with the rising levels of corruption and the proliferation of denials that Ugandans are suffering?

*What has it got to do with declining quality of life among the indigenous communities of indigenous Ugandans?

*What does it do with the proliferating vice of land grabbing throughout the country?

*What has it got to do with the rising numbers of refugees in the country far more than anywhere else in Africa?

*What does it have to do with the continuing deunionization, disempowerment, deradicalization, dehumanization, depoliticization, desocialization, deintellectualization of Ugandans and the bantustanisation and militarization of Uganda?

*What has it got to do with disorganization of Ugandans and Uganda in all spheres of life and human activity?

*What should be done to recover the dignity of the indigenous Ugandans?

*What other fundamental changes have you identified since 1986?

For God and My Country.

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Written by Oweyegha Afunaduula (2)

I am a retired lecturer of zoological and environmental sciences at Makerere University. I love writing and sharing information.

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