The Observer (Kampala)

24 January 2013

Uganda: Coup Talk - Gun-Powder Can Oppress or Liberate

In the last few days, there has been continuous talk and sabre-rattling about the possibility of a coup by the army in case the politicians continue to create "confusion" or "misbehave".

First, it was Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga who said this to a parliamentary committee. These same sentiments were reportedly echoed by President Yoweri Museveni while addressing the NRM caucus. On Wednesday, army chief Aronda Nyakairima repeated the same sentiments.

Ideally, any civilian constitutional government should be worried about talk of a coup and would have appealed to good sense to prevail and even arrested the coup talkers for contemplating unconstitutional means of capturing state power. That the establishment is gloating over it and dangling it around to ward off criticism about its failures should confirm this is actually a military regime that merely changed form to suit the circumstances.

It is now contemplating changing form again to revert to its original nature so as to cope with pressures from a restless population. Of course this has worked for the regime in the past. In 1996 when Museveni faced an electoral challenge from Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere, who was backed by the Inter-Political Forces Cooperation (IPFC), the army came out to say it would not accept anyone else other than President Museveni to lead the country regardless of the results of the presidential election.

Ironically, the current leader of the largest opposition party, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, was the army commander!

Five years later in 2001, the army took the same position and when losing presidential candidate Col Kizza Besigye went to court to challenge the results that gave Museveni a win, the Supreme court gave a very lopsided ruling upholding the results presumably to prevent the army taking over power if Museveni was not president.

The same scenario was repeated five years later, in 2006, with the Supreme court agreeing that the election broke several laws but, leaving Museveni to be president.

Speaker Rebecca Kadaga's decision not to recall Parliament, based on the argument that some MPs had withdrawn their signatures should also be seen in this light; an attempt to "save" the country from the generals waiting for an excuse to overthrow the constitution and reinvent themselves in power.

But for how long should the country continue to be held hostage by military boots and gun butts simply because we fear that "hell will break loose" when we uphold the Constitution and tell off the political charlatans that their time is up?

What is there to save anyway, with thousands dying in hospitals of simple ailments just because there are no basic medicines as the generals and their hangers-on are flown abroad for treatment on public money?

What is there to save when corruption has become a religion and the chief priests are the same people Ugandans have "entrusted" (through deception and outright vote stealing/buying) with leadership? What is there to save when the social sector - education, health, etc - have collapsed, leaving majority of Ugandans illiterate and sick?

What is there to save when the economy's agricultural and industrial base has been uprooted and replaced by an economy based on trade in toys and cheap electronics from Asia, speculation, 10% commissions, and plain corruption? What is there to save when tribalism, sectarianism and patronage determine one's opportunities to succeed or fail in life?

So, rather than be cowed, it is time for Ugandans to call the army's bluff and continue to push for necessary buttons to rescue the country from this cabal of leaders that is driving it to hell, anyway! Yes, let Museveni, Kiyonga, Nyakairima and group go ahead and carry out a coup against the Constitution and the people of Uganda and we see how long they can hold it.

Yes, the times have changed; this is not the 1970s! The longest they will hold out as a military junta is possibly six months as the people of Uganda, regional community and the international community move to put them where they belong - in the Hague like Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo because some of their crimes against humanity straddle Uganda's boundaries, and others in Luzira, Kigo and Morukatipe prisons doing hard labour, or rotting in the fields and forests.

Yes, there will be some chaos, a lot of gun-powder and many lives lost but they will not get away with it! Nobody has got away with it in recent times in Africa and besides, Museveni and his lieutenants should know, more than anyone else, that gun-powder has both an oppressive and liberating effect.

Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein - both well-known to these sabre-rattling guys - perhaps best exemplify this double side of gun-powder!

Ultimately, we must sooner or later draw the line as a country and start to build our nation again. But for that to happen, we must first liberate ourselves from the current system, no matter the threats being dangled against the population.

The author is a political and social critic. He is a former editor of Sunday Monitor and The Independent.

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