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55 Years of Independence: Is Uganda Ready for a Political Transition of Power?

posted onOctober 11, 2017
Col Shaban Bantariza. Courtesy Photo.

By Col Shaban Bantariza

To stand does not mean that you can’t or won’t fall, but to fall, rise, stand and move forward is what makes an undisputable achievement. Indeed, since 9th October1962 to date, Uganda has stumbled and even fallen, but we have taken it in our strides, risen, stood firmly and made fundamental steps forward. This is the reason why today many Ugandans especially the young generation is more concerned and interested in opportunity and benefit coming out of the convincingly strong foundation for our future prosperity as individuals, families and a country.

Similarly, I believe when we see the political class jostling for political power it is because being in power is no longer an invitation to death as it was in yesteryears. And all this is good, and so the political class today is more in debate of what they would like to see happen, “peaceful transfer of power” from President Museveni to another elected president, without any political or military coup as happened since 1961-1985, or another war-like 1981-1986. And they have good legitimate reasons only if these reasons could be shared and anchored in the knowledge of the primary and secondary causes of why right from 1961-1985, we stumbled more than we moved forward. Without going into the political maneuvers by colonial Britain that had to lead to a second election of the 25thApril 1962, after the 23rd March 1961 elections that had brought in Uganda’s Chief Minister Ben Kiwanuka, right after independence, our socio-economic and political stumbles and falls started.

Timelines:

  • 1964- The Uganda military at Jinja garrison, mutinied, arrested and detained Uganda’s Minister of Defence, Hon. Felix Onama at the military Guard Room in Jinja. Political action/response by government? their salaries were raised more than 200%
  • 1966- The Executive Prime Minister, Dr Milton Obote sent the Army to the President’s Palace, overthrew him, sent him to exile and declared himself Executive President- leading to the well-known 1966 crisis. The independence constitution ended its “term limits” here, and in 1967, a new Constitution, written by the government’s Attorney General was promulgated.
  • 1967- The Baganda people in central region who felt short-changed by Dr Obote with whom the Buganda kingdom had made a political alliance in the April 1962 pre-independence second election, to get rid of the “unwanted, unfavored” Chief Minister Ben Kiwanuka who had won the 23rd March 1961 Pre-independence elections got agitated and the President declared a State of Emergency on Buganda from 1967.
  • 1971- The state of emergency was “lifted” by a military coup by Col. Iddi Amin who had been used to overthrow Uganda’s first independence president, Sir Edward Muteesa II.
  • 1971-79- the ‘stumble and fall’ by Uganda  of this time is already well documented, needing no reportage on this page. But suffice it to mention that from 11th April 1979- December 10th 1980, one and a half years only, Uganda was “blessed” with three presidencies.

Professor Yusuf Lule, from 11thApril- 18th June 1979- president for only 68 days. Then president Lukongwa Binaisa QC was installed by the National Consultative Council then (transitional legislature) then he was also politically overthrown by 13th May 1980, then Uganda got a presidency under the Paul Muwanga-led Military Commission. This commission’s political intent was to return Dr Obote to power. It brought Dr Obote back on 27th May 1985 as a hero and landed in Bushenyi hence the 2nd UPC government Heroes Day of 27th May, every year till the 25th July  military coup of 1985 when the military, the UNLA, (UGANDA NATIONAL LIBERATION ARMY) overthrew him again.

This coup gave Uganda General Tito Okello Lutwa, who had been the Army Commander of the UNLA as president. Thereafter, the Uganda political elite got into Peace Talks, mediated by President Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya, but the talks gave Uganda no politically agreed headway, while the security situation within the Kampala government controlled areas got from bad to worse, with Kampala city divided into enclaves for government forces, rebel forces like UFM (Uganda Freedom Movement)West and north of Kampala , FEDEMU –East of Kampala, government forces roaming without any Command and Control central and south of the City, while the  NRA Halted at Katonga river, Masaka. In effect, there was no state control over the country not even over its capital city.

This is how and why then the NRA advanced, swept the Kampala warlords aside, advanced and took charge of the whole country by April 1986. The liberation war of 1981-1986, however, was different from the previous phase of 1978-79 in that this was a protracted struggle which gave the liberation forces opportunity to mobilize the citizens into political participation and decision making, that calumniated into a two-level democracy. Participatory democracy at the Local Council level and Representative Democracy at the National level.

As the political questions were  being dealt with at those levels, including a new constitution making process that gave us our current 1995 constitution that included majority Ugandan’s views, government was rebuilding the foundation infrastructure necessary to sustain the political infrastructure, through the three phases of REHABILITATION, RECONSTRUCTION,  and now the DEVELOPMENT phase, where Uganda is. What point am I making with the above presentation of time, events and statistics? Just one: that Uganda has stood, stumbled even fallen, but when we learnt our lesson, we have risen, stood, and moved forward. And now, all and sundry can refer to our constitution, and I hear citizens swearing to die in its defense, which is a politically good commitment. Just like all strong Nations, the currently clamor for “peaceful transition” or “peaceful handover of power” can be assured by ensuring that the socio-economic foundation built and being consolidated is the real guarantor of peaceful transition, and indeed, the real transition itself.

Transitions which were debated, even agreed upon right from the Lancaster Constitutional conference in London of 1959 through to the 1985 Nairobi peace Talks, all of which were essentially “Transition, and power handover” debates, gave Uganda no peaceful governance, peace and stability, social harmony and cohesion that should have been definite outcomes of those “Transition Debates”

So, am I against “transition” debates in the NRM or National Dialogue as others prefer to call the same concept? Certainly not! But I just think that we need to look at fundamentals that guarantee safe and sustainable outcomes of even a “peaceful handover” of political power!

Allow me to be a dare devil and ask this? Why haven’t we witnessed any political or military coup since 1986, with one of the currently highly educated, and politically conscious militaries in the region, the UPDF? Are there no politically ambitious Colonels and Generals in the UPDF, that would wish to take a shot at Presidency using unconstitutional means? I am starting from Colonel and above because, the British taught us and correctly so, that from Colonel and above, you are dealing with the strategic spectrum of National Defence and Security, hence the Power of State! I am sure someone may not like to hear that! But if you miss out on strategic means of acquisition and retention of state power, ability to transform that power from being individual, institutional to the people, then you risk taking Uganda, or any other country through the circles and circuses of our 1961-1986 political turbulences, making no headway!

Therefore, the current heated debate about some of the constitutional amendments, including the Land, Electoral Reforms, removal of Age-limit, etc., which some politicians are swearing to “die” in protection of, is nothing to die for, because the necessity to die for unresolved socio-economic and political questions has already been sorted. We don’t have to fight, and don’t have to die, again!

President Museveni can peacefully hand over political power tomorrow, but if an indestructible economic infrastructure on which the cultural, social, religious and political superstructure is built and stably depends for survival and development as a country, a nation and nation-state is not guaranteed, what eluded us for the first 25 years of independence would return to haunt us, for decades of our unpredictable future.

Transition therefore, to me, is the foundation which this country and its government have been building in economic terms, and is therefore a process, from 1986 to date, and if anyone thinks that this economic base is strong enough for anyone to take charge of and only take Uganda forward, then the question of who does , who “benefits” from the age limit removal, becomes a question not to  “die for” or against, but to debate and resolve, just for purposes of continuity and sustainability of  Uganda’s development path.

It’s just like President Dos Santos has left Angola in safe hands, down south, with a safe and sound economic base built in the last 15 years or so after successfully beating off foreign aggression and proxy wars against Angola.

And that was, after 38 years in power, a non-regrettable dividend for his country. So, unless and until we learn to separate form from essence, the primary from the secondary, doing first things first, we may swear to “die” for constitutional clause amendments that actually cause no danger to our forward movement of our country, though they can certainly delay our individual and or group political ambitions, which should be put after, not before National aspirations.

Let the debate continue, in courtesy and civility, as a civilized Nation. The Pearl of Africa.

Happy 55th Independence Day Celebrations Compatriots, Allies and Friends.

The Writer is the Deputy Executive Director of the Uganda Media Centre

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