By Ofwono Opondo
Thursday next week President Yoweri Museveni and the NRM government mark thirty-seven years since being sworn in on 29 January 1986, amidst a political euphoria as the defeated military junta led by Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa and Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) retreated into hiding and eventually exile.
At that inaugural address President Museveni on the steps of parliament, surrounded by his ragtag army pledged without the feeling of a burden a “Fundamental Change” in the management of Uganda which he was inheriting as a failed state.
Uganda had been parceled into fiefdoms controlled by at least nine different military factions including groups allied to Idi Amin Dada ousted in April 1979 by a combination of the Tanzanian army and Ugandan exiles. The mainstay of the military factions except NRA/M in their respective fiefdoms was extortion, violent robberies, rape, and murder.
Politicians elected in the 1980 general elections had been reduced to spectators as events unfolded before their helpless eyes and hapless political parties. Paul Ssemogerere who died recently, as president general of the Democratic Party chose to cut his losses entering alliances with Lutwa, and later NRM serving both as Internal Affairs Minister.
Apollo Milton Obote and many Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) stalwarts deposed earlier in the 27 July 1985 coup had settled in exile in Lusaka, Zambia, Kenya, Europe, while others hid within Uganda. The unlucky Security Minister, Chris Rwakasisi was squatting in Luzira Maximum Prison having been intercepted by UNLA at the Owen Falls dam, Jinja, trying to flee the coup into Kenya.
After two decades in prison sentenced to hang, Rwakasisi who was a high profile, if not comic minister boasting that the UNLA were giving the ‘bandits’ bloody nose in Luwero, is today a senior presidential advisor to Museveni. So, this year’s commemoration is being held in Kakumiro district under the theme “Our resolute effort to transform Uganda is a promise we shall fulfill,” we present bouquets and barbs to the NRM.
For establishing and consolidating countrywide peace, security, stability, and reconciliation, the NRM gets very bright bouquets. Political reconciliation, amnesty, inclusion, and economic rejuvenation berthed stability and peaceful continuity for which NRM gets a bouquet.
NRM gets another bouquet for ending extrajudicial killings by state agents. But for permitting the recent return of highhanded arrests and sometimes illegal detentions in ungazzetted places, and isolated cases of torture in by security agencies, NRM gets a barb. The Ten-Point program promised to establish popular and participatory democracy and rule of law, constitutionalism, free, fair and regular elections which have all been done since 1987 starting with Resistance Councils and expanded NRC, enacting the Constituent Assembly which debated and promulgated a new constitution.
Since 1996 Uganda has held five presidential, parliamentary and local elections where leadership changed. NRM receives another big bouquet. However, for failing to stamp out election bribery, intimidation and violence, NRM should get a barb. NRM also promised to revamp, expand and transform Uganda’s economy which had collapsed with black market reigning supreme.
Today Uganda’s economy is very vibrant, getting industrialised, spreading opportunities, improving import substitution, getting integrated and self-sustaining. Another bouquet is in order. The success scored on the political, governance, socioeconomic transform grid, are many to enumerate here. The pillars of the NRM success have been many, the most critical one being a correct ideology of unity, inclusive, broad-based, mass liberation political movement, which harnessed national goodwill and collective effort towards one purposeful direction. Inclusivity, dialogue and consensus building has made the NRM lead Uganda for this long. A big bouquet.
The NRM leadership, particularly President Museveni has been steadfast, consistent, focused, and flexible when conditions demand in order to remain on the critical priorities enabling Uganda to achieve these successes even with very limited resources, and in a hostile environment.
The NRM has been able to balance the means available to the critical tasks at hand without causing a crush. NRM has ensured continuous recruitment, mobilization, and the training of cross generational membership, cadreship and leadership able to propagate and defend its gains. In just a space of three decades, Uganda has registered unrivaled progress in major sectors of the economy, despite political disturbances by some anarchists. As responsible citizens, Ugandans are called upon by the 1995 constitution to participate in the development of their country and also, to reject violent and self seekers who may want to drab us backwards.
Young men and women sacrificed their lives during the years of resistance for the development and good governance of Uganda. They endured humiliation, lost limbs, eyes, while others died and remain in unmarked graves. Many abandoned their studies, lost their names whereas others deserted their families to bring an end to tyranny and turmoil. These courageous men and women trekked long distances often without water, food and shelter. In leading the resistance and liberation, and now the successful completion of the recovery, Museveni has been joined by many equally courageous people who should build a prosperous and inclusive Uganda. The fundamental change is unfolding before our own eyes.
The writer is the executive director of Uganda Media Centre