MBALE – President Yoweri Museveni came to power in 1986 after leading the National Resistance Army’s armed struggle for control of the country.
It was in January, 29, 1986, when the curtain was torn down and the wind of change blew all across Uganda, there was a promise of democracy.
Why? This was the first time in history of Uganda, autocracy had attacked democracy but autocracy failed, while democracy prevailed.
Every Ugandan at that time, whether in this very country, outside this country, all people with a promise of democracy welcomed president Museveni and NRA as new members to the Uganda family.
True, our country started marching incessantly towards democracy and many of us started to believe that Uganda under NRA/NRM and all humanity would keep advancing naturally towards freedom and peaceful cooperation.
And in the words of historians, Ugandans ‘tore the yoke apart’ because they had been ‘under autocracy for long’, but 37 years down the road under NRM, Ugandans are realising that the NRA were fighting for the greed of a single man, and their own freedom.
Although President Museveni passionately expressed commitment to the achievement of democracy on attaining state power, his actions today have for the most part proved that he had appropriated this popular concept mainly for its instrumental value; namely, in order to mobilise mass support in the contest for power with the aid of an ideological slogan.
To Ugandans, President Museveni argued that the resistance-movement system was democracy enough for at a local level it worked well but at national level Mr Museveni and his guerrilla fighters-turned-ministers were unaccountable.
Today the political landscape in Uganda is characterized by contradictions like diversity contestations, repression, misrule, conflicts, and wars and under competitive politics, specific contradictions include changes in the rules of the game, un-leveled ground, election rigging, and monetization of elections.
And such could be attributed to the inappropriateness and inapplicability of lack of a conducive framework for democracy proper operation, today Ugandans are still waiting for democracy that has eluded them for 37 years.
Thirty-seven years down the road, President Museveni initially hailed as one of Africa’s new, progressive, and capable heads of state, is seeing his favorable reputation tarnished by his unwillingness to leave office.
It is a tragic irony of African nationalism that the potent weapon of democracy, which indigenous politicians wielded so effectively to dislodge colonialism from the continent, has been misused and perverted in the independence era despite its continuing historical and moral appeal.
The deviation that characterises President Museveni today is a regrettable act that may be attributed either to opportunism and cynicism or to a genuine incomprehension of the principles of democracy, because the implementation ought to enhance the human dignity and quality of life of all concerned.
When we voted in 1995, we started to take democracy for granted, we thought that democracy was about voting/taking part in elections, I want to admit that we were wrong, someone had deceived us.
I want to agree with historians that most Ugandans today realise that history does not always move in a straight line, there are setbacks and comebacks and that it is every generation’s task to fight for democracy.
My grandmother [RIP] used tell us at a fire place while cooking in the evenings this popular Lugishu proverb that, “If you want to know the end, look at the beginning.” Maybe Ugandans can get some lessons here.
When you look at President Museveni today, you will surely notice the transformation of a dictator who came to power through the barrel of a gun, legitimised himself through tolerance and democratic institutions but, when faced with an election he might lose, reasserted his military might.
Politics, as the Church sees it, is about answering the question of how we order our lives together and the Church presumes that for this conversation to work appropriately there must be a sense of solidarity among the people and a shared pursuit of the common good – what is also called “civic friendship.”
In debates, we must have a sense of humility about our own perspective and see those with whom we disagree as friends, or at least potential friends, and not enemies.
Our MPs who are NRM leaning should know that it is not be a matter of simply imposing your will and being angry when it does not prevail, but instead it ought to be one of constructive and rational engagement.
Mr President another proverb which my late grandmother left me with is that “If you close your eyes to facts, you will learn through accidents.” I hope there is something to learn from this proverb.
Today, when you see opposition and suspected opposition supporters gathering for a meeting to discuss issues pertaining to Uganda, they are tear gassed, beaten, sent into disarray and regarded as terrorists; uncertainty looms with regard to where the country is heading, there is wide spread rampant corruption in virtually all government institutions that goes on unabated.
Look, the judiciary has also lost its sanctity and police brutality on opponents is at its peak and more often, police and the army are unleashing terror on peaceful demonstrations, but take their time showing up in case of emergencies.
Tear gas has been imported in large quantities, while hospitals still lack beds and necessary drugs while in public life, most questions are “bread and butter” issues: roads, schools, natural resources, energy, law, enforcement.
The President Museveni as the nation’s chief executive has no real vision for the future of this country, nor does he seem interested in articulating one apart from parroting out policies that go unimplemented, suggesting that his is still a pre-modern presidency.
My dear president, almost all the countries around us especially those that constitute the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have undergone political transition away from mono-party authoritarian governance regimes and embraced a multiparty democratic dispensation, you need to pursue this line.
And the SADC countries have undergone successful democratic transition, their party systems and representative democracy are on the way to institutionalisation, are nurtured and consolidated, you need to wake up, establish and enhance the requisite capacity of key democratic institutions, including political parties and parliament.
Our challenge as a country should go beyond ensuring that multiparty elections are held every so often and that such elections are free and fair – in other words, democracy cannot be reduced to mere electioneering perse.
Another challenge lies in how political institutions are able to constitute critical anchors for democratic culture and practice, and in particular how political parties and parliaments provide a solid institutional foundation for a working democracy.
This country has witnessed other parties joining NRM with suspects that they are given colossal sums of “dirty money”, UPC, DP, FDC etc, yes this is credit to you but does democracy lie in here?
Whereas I may appreciate that members crossing from opposition to NRM may have sincere issues of conscience, the unfortunate part is that this has further ingrained negative public perceptions of politicians as self-seeking opportunists who do not display backbone, consistency and discipline that voters value and expect from public representatives.
Please note that not every political issue is a battle between good and evil, in fact, most are not, but more and more issues at NRM are being framed that way because they continue to lose a sense of the dignity of our political opponents. Opposition
We have not achieved democracy for the last 37 years, we are still waiting but how do we get there? MPs in NRM should not be beholden to ideologies that make them conform to a party line, nor be a stooge of a manipulative leader who stirs up animosity against opposition.
Politicians ought to disagree without being disagreeable. In fact, ideas are often refined in the crucible of debate, the checks and balances in our political system are meant to encourage a long deliberative process.
And we are expected to engage that process and work for something better if we are dissatisfied, especially in our parliament.
Unlike so many hyper-moralizing militants who poison the conversation, our MPs ought to be offering a bold and fresh model and perspective rooted in respect for the dignity of each human person – someone with his or her own unique and valued perspective, and someone we wish to persuade, not someone who is an enemy to defeat.
The author, David Mafabi is a veteran journalist and PML Daily senior writer