The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: Coup Talk Is Regressive

editorial

President Museveni and Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga are reported to have warned the politicians that if they do not behave properly, the army might shoot its way into power.

The two leaders have now been joined by the Chief of Defence Forces, General Aronda Nyakairima, who confirmed, at a press conference, that a return to military rule was not impossible. Given Uganda's history and the kind of future we aspire to, these statements are as unfortunate as they are unhelpful.

The president and his minister are right to assert that Ugandans expect their political leaders to perform their duties with diligence, dignity and devotion to the common good. It is out of a quest for that kind of leadership that thousands of Ugandans went into exile and others into the jungles of Luweero, where many paid the ultimate price.

But Museveni and Dr Kiyonga are wrong in their prescription - for various reasons. According to our Constitution, power belongs to the people, who exercise it through their elected leadership, which takes precedence over armed forces. For political leaders to, literally, tell soldiers that they are free to intervene if the politicians wrangle too loudly is to suggest that we have learnt nothing from our turbulent history.

The democracy we aspire to is not a simply set of commands and orders bellowed by the Constitution and its enforcers. It is also a culture, with the rule by force and fear sustainably replaced by a fusion of a clear, shared vision and shared democratic values. That culture, like all others, would have constitutional mechanisms for resolving disagreements and discouraging and, ultimately, sanctioning disagreeable behaviour.

It is not the nature of the challenges we face that will shape our destiny; it is how we respond to the challenges. To plant armoured vehicles outside Parliament could scare politicians into "appropriate" behaviour, but it would take us 28 years back in our quest for a democratic culture. It is that culture, not the guns, that will secure our democratic gains.

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