13 October 2017

Uganda: No Independence Where There Is a Siege of Tyranny


On October 9, 1962, Uganda acquired independence from its British colonial masters and that date has since been celebrated annually.

Since 1962, Uganda has gone through a turbulent history characterised by political instability. What was meant to be independence for all has only happened in form, and not in substance. Some have argued that the days of colonial rule were more peaceful and predictable than the last 55 years of self-rule.

This is because unlike other African countries such as South Africa and Kenya, Uganda did not suffer much oppression during the colonial era. So, for those old enough, nostalgic memories of "the good old days of the White man" are inevitable.

After the departure of colonial masters, "self-colonisation" set in. Uganda's post-independence rulers, just like most of their African counterparts, have been more oppressive and exploitative than the colonial masters.

From Milton Obote to Idi Amin and now to the current regime, Ugandans cannot talk of having ever had a true taste of freedom in a democratic space.

Economically, post-independence rulers have ensured that wealth is concentrated in their hands, their family and aides.

Politically, they have used patronage to manage a country as private property through bribes to procure blind loyalty and guns to silence dissenting voices of reason; they have rigged elections in their favour and manipulated laws to entrench their desire for long rule.

Usually after the departure of a long-lasting ruler, the country is left too fragile to progress, often revolving in a cycle of instability. This year's Independence day came at a very critical moment when we are under another Orwellian siege.

A cloud of tyranny is, indeed, hovering over us. Having experienced the events of a recent assault by the military on parliament, we can no longer deceive ourselves with mere formalities of Independence day celebrations when our hope for a future of sustainable peace, progress, stability is uncertain.

The animosity created by the executive on September 27 against parliament reveals a truth that many fear to point out: state capture.

It was a clear act by the president to demonstrate that he is the Alpha and Omega; that state institutions are his agents and collaborate to advance his wishes.

The police and other regulatory agencies such as Uganda Communications Commission made that position clear a long time ago.

Parliament clarified the position when, in 2005, MPs demonstrated that they could be bought for a paltry sum of Shs 5m to delete term limits from the Constitution. The recent actions of the speaker to surrender the independence of parliament just reaffirmed that position.

Because the focus is not nation-building but, rather, political/office longevity; leaders choose narrow interests that surrender the country to a dark future. Little attention is given to such issues as citizens' fall into further poverty, a sick economy, insecurity and rampant unemployment.

Instead of celebrating independence, we need to utilise the day for discussions on liberation from this capture starting with all Ugandans standing against any further devaluation of the Constitution by removing the presidential age limit.

First, we need to stand with members of parliament who have stood for what is right to reject this proposed trend to absolute tyranny. We should encourage them and stand with them even as they face persecution.

Then we should sit down legislators in support of the bill and help them understand that Uganda is greater than an individual. We should persuade them to look at long-term national gains as opposed to short-term personal gains.

We should help them understand that they are Ugandans with families and relatives who want a future of peace.

Lastly, we need to remind them that besides money, office security and the president's favours, there are such other considerations as decency, rationality, morality, integrity, practical wisdom and, above all, God, that inform right decisions.

The author is a lawyer working at the Law Development Centre.


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