8 February 2013

Uganda: Coup Talk Shows Violence Subculture


The NRM's history and narratives show that its influence over Ugandan society is mediated through violence

After the steamy week of coup talk, Ugandans appear to have accepted that this country is deficient in democratic ideals. First, the talk of coup must have been treated as a case of treason. Nonetheless, we have to be very critical of the way President Mueveni operates; his craft is the generation and use of fear. In fear, Museveni finds a tool to cow all the branches of government and bully just everyone around.

I want to argue and support the simple notion that the leadership of President Museveni is at a crisis level. Museveni knows that he is losing command over Uganda's fragile consciousness because people now fear him less. But this is the price he has to pay for staying in power for way too long.

The degree to which Ugandans simultaneously respected and feared Museveni as a war hero has waned significantly. People now see him not in the light of the revolutionist he was, but a tyrant who presides over an increasingly corrupt regime; a regime whose interests are mutually exclusive to the aspirations of Ugandans.

When you speak to many Ugandans, they feel that they have lost control over everything Ugandan. They no longer have the power ascribed to them by the constitution, nor common control of the means of production or equal status in the economy. They feel that both the military and judiciary have become more or less personalised entities and the police - a predator.

The coup threat therefore is for Museveni to beat in the increasingly free-minded Parliamentarians. But it is also to reinforce the magnitude of the NRM subculture of violence.

If Political science is the study of how political power is attained, used and sustained, then we have to also study violence. Violence studies would enable us to understand the mechanisms through which violence is produced and sustained in Uganda and the purpose for which it is produced and transformed into a culture.

Now, by any means, the NRM is a violent enterprise. Their proximal location to weapons and their monopoly on who joins or gets promoted in the army, including membership in other instruments of coercion, makes them the sole agency of violence in our society.

The renowned American criminologists Dr. Marvin E. Wolfgang and his colleague Franco Ferracuti published a seminal work in 1967 called The subculture of violence. This subculture of violence theory holds that overt use of violence generally is a reflection of basic values that stand apart from the dominant, the central or the parent culture. Although many studies have refuted the general application of this theory due to its racist focus on black youths, it appears very applicable to the NRM mentality. According to Wolfgang and Ferracuti, a subculture is considered to be the normative system of some group or groups, usually smaller than the whole society (1967: 97).

Given that the NRM is not an inclusive party and also given its history and narratives, their influence over the Ugandan society is mediated through violence. This is their basic ideological driver and also the dominant one as such.

This violence manifests and occupies many facets of society; directly by ostracising its own like Kizza Besigye or Brig. Henry Tumukunde whom they considered to have transgressed and deviated from the norms; they assault Ugandans my dismantling the systems of society that mediate the distribution of justice and resources; and they launch always the most vicious forms of assault in our psyche when they threaten coups and return to civil war, even when such a murderous venture is uncalled for.

Over the years, Ugandans have become smarter and more communicative among themselves. Ugandans view themselves less in the mirage of ethnic groupings than oppressed, poor, powerless and dependent people. Relationships between Ugandans of all walks of life are no longer defined solely by tribes, language, and education, or past relations but poverty and uncertainty about the near future.

Museveni and his cahoots have made it obvious that they occupy every private and personal space of all Ugandans by setting on ground military boots and the most vicious and yet pathetically corrupt police whose primary objectives are no longer keeping law and order.

The function of the Uganda Police is blocking peaceful assemblies, which are provided for in the constitution, and conducting political operations.

It is only in Uganda that the Police never actually respond to thieves or criminal activities in the neighbourhoods, but will respond swiftly to motions made by any of the opposition leaders. This wanton act of repression has diminished public space but has also ordained the Uganda Police with a branding that many Ugandans will remember this regime with. It is no surprise because every regime that has desecrated Uganda has left horrifying symbols or memories etched in our subconscious.

Morris Komakech is a Ugandan social critic and political analyst. Can contact via

Copyright © 2013 The Independent. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 2,000 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 200 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.