The Observer (Kampala)

19 February 2013

Uganda: It Isn't Just Coups That Undermine Democracy

Photo: New Vision
Parliament (file photo).

opinion

A section of Uganda's public has been fretting over the much-publicized "coup talk".

One DP legislator has characteristically filed a complaint in court charging Gen Aronda Nyakairima with treasonable intent. We are now promised legal fireworks in an appeal to the High court, following a preliminary dismissal of the case by the Nakawa Chief Magistrate's court.

The said "coup-talk" popped into the limelight from a presentation by Dr Crispus Kiyonga to a parliamentary committee where he intimated that the UPDF was closely monitoring events in Parliament. He warned of a possible risk of military intervention if MPs strayed out of step into causing public confusion.

President Museveni was also quoted in media reports to have echoed similar hints during the retreat of the NRM parliamentary caucus at Kyankwanzi. Gen Aronda was said to have demurred to the same.

The pedantic interpretation of the alleged "coup-talk" is that there was a suggestion for the unconstitutional and treasonable grabbing of power by the military. The alarm is then sounded to goad Ugandans into averting the feared military rule in defence of the present supposedly multiparty constitutional governance.

The snag with Uganda's shadowy 'bicupuli' politicians is that the significance of truly sobering occurrences is always read upside-down. Political reality is then grossly misplaced as to keep its clear and concise message unrecognizable by the populace.

President Museveni has been repeatedly on record vowing that no internal or external force could destabilize this country. He has been admonishing that anyone attempting to do so faces going six feet deep.

Moreover, Museveni has not been speaking out of idleness. He is known to have made clenched-fist measures to consolidate a tight grip on the UPDF through a number of open and covert stratagems. He is aware that his control is total. Therefore, Museveni would be the last to fear a military coup. Any mention of a coup can only be done under his authorization which, in any case, cannot be aimed at dislodging himself!

This is why the coup-talk should be understood for what it really is. It is simply a direct notice to the obstinate critics within the NRM to "shut up or else...."

So far, Museveni does not require a military showdown with the handful of noisy malcontents in Parliament. He is aware that the MPs do not constitute a formidable, organized political force or a military threat, since they have always been brow-beaten from unapproved ranks by the simple technique of glowering at them.

It is now open that that President Museveni desires a constitutional amendment to possess the power to declare Parliament dissolved. This will no doubt be faithfully granted. With this power, the wings of parliamentary resistance would be clipped by a mere 10am radio announcement instead of the deployment of arms, secretly and nocturnally.

In any case, even if Museveni was to declare the current Parliament dissolved outside any constitutional framework, there are enough politically dishevelled Ugandans who would cheer him up for doing so. The MPs have not distinguished themselves over any public concerns to attract widespread loyal following.

In 1966, Dr Obote disbanded Parliament. It was later recalled and allowed to renew its tenure of office upon condition of stamping a seal of approval of a new constitution the assembled MPs had not read. Our NRM struggle came to power in 1986 under the banner of its 10-point programme. We now have top people exercising power in the name of the NRM whose cozy minds cannot even pronounce the programme.

This is because the NRM did not succeed to institutionalize its ideals in practical organization. It became easy prey to brutal shifting of political stands that became a floodgate for 'harems', 'concubines' and misdeeds to take the stage in dishonouring its name as is prevalent today.

There has been no known coup attempt in Uganda since 1986. But major reverses of things have been effected with little whispers of protest from those who are agitating against the coup-talk.

Therefore, it is not military coups alone that undermine politics and democracy. It is the level of disorganization and powerlessness of our society. Instead of believing that judicial injunctions can outplay brandished military muscles, we should be examining how to raise the political strength of the people.

The solution lies in creating new types of leadership at all levels to guide the country's politics along a new course for salvage and renaissance.

The author is a member of NEC (NRM) representing historicals.

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