Uganda: As the Political Ground Shifts From Under NRM, Isn't It Time for Dialogue?


There is already a ground shift from under the ruling NRM following the by-election in Arua and its aftermath and it is time for the party to wake up and smell the coffee.

On the surface, it may appear that this is just another headline grabbing event, and that the uproar regarding the detention of the Arua 33, including the horrific torture of the Kyadondo East MP, Robert Kyagulanyi and the Mityana Municipality MP Francis Zaake, would soon fizzle out after a few weeks.

But actually the ground has irretrievably shifted from under the NRM government, both regionally, and especially internationally. Things will never be the same again. Nationally though, there is still room to salvage whatever is left, if any, and that is that the government should quickly begin the long overdue national dialogue.

The answer is not in more repressive acts, as they seem to be doing, which will only further alienate government from the people of Uganda and the wider peoples of the world.

In reality, the self-inflicted woes of the NRM government started many years ago with the breakdown of institutions, massive corruption, inequality between the haves and havenots, land grabbing, massive public expenditure by a bloated government, creation of districts for political expediency, violence by security operatives on any political dissent, the unexplained deaths of citizens, the high rate of crime, the high unemployment, culminating in the lifting of Article 102(b) from the Constitution. This last act, ultimately, sealed the fate of the government. Therefore, what happened in the Arua by-election and its outcome, was the straw that broke the camel's back. The population, it seemed, has had enough.

My last article immediately after the removal of Article 102(b), was titled 'Reliving Amin's life presidency, Article 102(b) and the land question'. Then, I said by removing the last checks that have at least guaranteed some semblance of peace for the last 30 years, the proponents of the removal of this Article had instead triggered the wheel of fortune.

This wheel of fortune, I am afraid, has now come full circle. There is also a saying that "the proponents of bad laws are almost always their own first casualty". The article further said the repression of dissenting voices would get worse, and it has, and may well continue.

Consequently, the defining moment of this ground-shift can be said to be the violent arrest and detention of the Arua 33, the death of Yasin Kawuma, the torture of MP Kyagulanyi and MP Zaake, which sent shockwaves throughout the country, the region and internationally.

Will the NRM be able to come back from this? That remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, Arua will forever be eked in the history books as a watershed in the 32-year rule of President Museveni.

The person who would be remembered as the voice that encapsulated a people's hopes and aspirations in that moment in time, where there was only despair and hopelessness, will be MP Kyagulanyi - and his music.

Before the torture and incarceration of Bobi Wine, I for one had not listened to his music as I have done these last few days. I believe the international community had not even heard of the legislator, either.

According to The Economist, a UK political magazineAugust 23, 2018, "the State risks turning the popular singer into a populist icon". Therefore, through the government's own actions, they have done exactly for Bobi Wine what the singer had not yet succeeded in doing for himself, and that is to open up to the world, what is actually happening in Uganda.

For that reason, the longer the government keeps the spotlight on the legislator by continuing to impose unrealistic charges against him, the more they are scoring an own goal.

To still be relevant to the Ugandan society, the government should begin to open up political space, for fair competition, to start a complete overhaul of the economy, by reviving institutions, like hospitals, schools, the civil service and to reverse some of the draconian laws that it is practising, today.

It should also cease creating more districts and instead amalgamate the many districts that have already been created to reduce the number of MPs, and a cutback in the size of government.

Most importantly, the government should drop the charges against the Arua 33, including MP Kyagulanyi, MP Wadri and the others unconditionally, as the charge the way we understand it, may not even stand up in the courts of law. As it has been said, it always seems impossible until it is done.

To quote Nelson Mandela, "To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity."

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