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The Ugandan dreams deferred: From Aminism to Musevenism

Idi Amin Dada

Idi Amin Dada

The African-American writer and activist, Langston Hughes, wrote a famous poem ‘Harlem’ in 1951, which I can do no better than reproduce here:

What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over— like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Although primarily a reflection on the experience of black people in the United States of America (written thirteen years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and following the Harlem riots of 1935 and 1943) the poem has direct resonance for the dreams of Ugandans from the colonial to the post-colonial moments.

The news last week of ministerial and army appointments and reshuffles clearly aimed at establishing a path to presidential power for the First Son, General Muhoozi Kainerugaba was only the latest reminder of the apparent determination by President Yoweri Museveni to subordinate the aspirations of an entire generation of young Ugandans to his personal and familial ambitions.

It was also the confirmation of the central thesis of a book published in 2017 by myself, together with Dr. Dan Ngabirano and Dr. Timothy Kyepa, titled: ‘Militarism and the dilemma of post-colonial Statehood: The case of Museveni’s Uganda’. The main proposition in that text was that Uganda’s colonial and post-colonial life had been founded in, and shaped by, militarism – at the expense of a genuine democratic order in which various claims could be made, and compromises reached.

The book concluded with the following statement (at pages 159-160): ‘Ultimately, the lesson of the NRM period since 1986 is that the military cannot be trusted to deliver and sustain a truly democratic and genuine constitutional order.

The challenge, therefore, remains for the constituent peoples in this contrived State to find a way – beyond the coercion and violence that has attended our shared historical journey – to configure a future in which our various identities and aspirations can be respected and realized.’ Unfortunately, events since 2017 have only confirmed both that book’s thesis – and its conclusion.

The main tragedy is that, for all the talk of ‘development’, ‘patriotism’, ‘Pan Africanism’ and the other high-sounding platitudes we have been treated to since 1986, the NRM/A’s trajectory over these nearly four decades has been one in which the Museveni name now almost shares the notoriety of that of the so-called ‘Butcher of Uganda’: Idi Amin Dada. A comparison which at one point would have been dismissed as hyperbole is now increasingly one which is almost inescapable.

In hindsight, it seems that fate itself seems to have warned Ugandans of the similarity between Museveni and Amin, given the close proximity of their respective ‘liberation days’. Idi Amin ‘liberated’ Ugandans on 25th January 1971, while Museveni’s ‘liberation’ was undertaken on 26th January 1986.

Indeed, by some accounts, the NRA had actually overrun Kampala by 25th January 1986, but the coincidence of dates – and the inevitable comparisons it would invite – informed the choice to ‘declare’ 26th January as the official date of the capture (see, for instance, Pontian Godfrey Okoth, ‘History of military intervention in Ugandan politics’ (1993) TransAfrican Journal of History and Kavuma Kaggwa ‘Has Museveni fundamentally changed Uganda’, The Independent, 24th January 2014).

The two men are also unique in having provided the country with ‘point programmes’ justifying their militarism against the governments of Apollo Milton Obote (Obote I in Amin’s case, and Obote II, in the case of Museveni). Again, the ‘programmes’ were eerily similar in their material parts. Amin listed 18 reasons for his takeover (contained in the Uganda Army General and Administrative Order No.2 of 1971).

I note them here especially for the benefit of younger Ugandans (including those serving in the NRM government or harbouring thoughts of doing so), especially to demonstrate that even dictators employ the language of law, legality, good governance and so on. Amin’s points against Obote were:

(i) the ‘unwarranted detention without trial for long periods of a large number of people’; (ii) the prolonged state of emergency over the entire country;

(iii) the ‘lack of freedom in the airing of different views on political and social matters’;

(iv) the ‘frequent loss of life and property arising from almost daily cases of robbery with violence’;

(v) proposals for national service;

(vi) ‘widespread corruption in high places, especially among Ministers and top civil servants’;

(vii) failure to hold elections over the previous eight years;

viii) economic policies which had left many people unemployed, insecure ‘and lacking in the basic needs of life – like food, clothing, medicine and shelter’;

(ix) high taxes which had impoverished ordinary people;

(x) low prices obtained by farmers for crops like cotton and coffee, combined with increased cost of living;

(xi) the tendency to isolate the country from East African unity;

xii) the ‘creation of a wealthy class of leaders who [we]re always talking of socialism while they [grew] richer and the common man poorer’;

xiii) the failure of the Defence Committee to meet, which had complicated administration of the armed forces and resulted in a lack of critical logistics for the army;

xiv) the training of large numbers of people from Obote’s home area in armed warfare, which had essentially created a ‘second army’;

xv) moves to reserve key positions in Uganda’s ‘political, commercial, army and industrial life’ for people from Obote’s home area; xvi) the positioning of Obote’s ‘tribesmen’ in key positions in the army and elsewhere;

xvii) moves to ‘divide and downgrade the Army by turning the Cabinet Office into another army’; and

xviii) the threat of bloodshed posed by all the aforementioned issues. For his part, Museveni’s 10 point programme, first published in 1984, highlighted the following as the basis of the NRM’s anti- Obote military campaign:

i) restoration of democracy;

ii) restoration of security of all persons in Uganda and their property;

iii) consolidation of national unity and elimination of all forms of sectarianism;

iv) defence and consolidation of national independence;

v) building an independent, integrated and self- sustaining national economy;

vi) restoration and improvement of social services and the rehabilitation of the war-ravaged areas;

vii) elimination of corruption and misuse of power;

viii) redressing errors of past governments, including through resettling landless peasants and ensuring that workers receive living wages; ix) cooperation with other African countries to create larger markets and more rational use of resources, while also defending human and democratic rights of African people against oppressive dictators; and

x) maintaining a mixed economy (which employed the best insights of both capitalism and socialist approaches).

As is now well known, by the time of his overthrow on 11th April 1979, Amin had violated all 18 of his points against Obote I, and shown Ugandans a level of brutality and depravity that is still spoken of in hushed tones today.

For his part, despite initially evident strides especially in the areas of economic development and respect for human rights, 38 years after his takeover of power, all indications point towards significant regression in these and all of the other ‘points’ in Museveni’s 10-point programme.

Then rebel leader Museveni in the bush with his fighters
Then rebel leader Museveni in the bush with his fighters

Thus, while they both justified their extra-constitutional changes of government by reference to extra-constitutional factors, both Amin and his successor-in-arms, Museveni, ultimately failed by the standards they had set themselves. Moreover, having relied on the army - rather than democratic means – to obtain power, both men found themselves relying heavily on the same armies, rather than democratic institutions, to sustain their hold on power.

Amin went as far as suspending Parliament; suspending political parties; limiting freedom of the press; killing the Chief Justice and weakening the judiciary; and ultimately ruling by decree.

Museveni has chosen the path of ensuring an ineffective and corrupt Parliament which bends to his slightest whims; undermining and sabotaging political parties; directly and indirectly threatening any form of independent media forms; packing the courts with ‘trusted’ persons – and further undermining their independence through ‘probationary’ appointments; and has lately even regressed to an attempt to rule by ‘Executive Orders’.

Amin and Museveni thus share the experience of having, in separate years on the same date – 25th January – usurped Obote’s 1967 Constitution, and having gone on to intentionally undermine constitutionalism during their regimes. In this respect, not only is Museveni as culpable as Amin, he actually has the distinction of having usurped not one but two Constitutions (the 1967 one and the 1995 one).

Indeed, while past Ugandan leaders undermined Constitutions made by others, Museveni has the additional notoriety of having murdered his ‘own’ 1995 Constitution by destroying two of its most basic pillars (Article 105 (2) on term limits, and Article 102 on the age limit). While murder is a terrible crime, and infanticide (the killing of a very young child) arguably worse, filicide (the killing of one’s own child) is perhaps the crime of crimes.

Incidentally, even as they both killed Constitutions – and constitutionalism – both Amin and Museveni pursued life presidencies for themselves. Amin prevailed upon the Defence Council to declare him ‘president-for-life’ which it did at a meeting on 22nd June 1976, at Republic House, chaired by Maj Gen Mustafa Adrisi, the then Minister of Defence.

The Defence Council official statement, read to the nation on 25th June 1976 by Lt Col Godwin Sule, provided three reasons for the declaration: i) Amin had ‘dedicated his life [to] the nation; ii) he had ‘done more for Uganda since independence than any ruler’; and iii) ‘[t]he job he ha[d] done in a few years [was] incomparable to a job done in 100 years’.

It was presumably on the same bases that the then Youth MP for Northern Uganda, knelt down as she moved a motion, in February 2014 at NRM Parliamentary Caucus retreat at Kyankwanzi, for Museveni to be the NRM’s sole presidential candidate in the 2016 elections.

The ‘sole candidacy’ seems now to have morphed into the ‘life candidacy’, especially following the age-limit amendment to the Constitution in 2017. Hon. Anite was 30 years old at the time she knelt down in Kyankwanzi. For her part in betraying the democratic dreams of her fellow youth, she was appointed – a year later, on 1st March 2015 – as Minister of State ‘for Youth Affairs and Children’.

Unfortunately, the pursuit of life presidency through the instrumentality of the army also involved both men setting up – and condemning – their sons to military life and ethos, apparently with a view to imposing them on Ugandans as political leaders. Amin seems to have harboured such aspirations for his sons Moses Amin and Nasser Alemi Mwanga Amin, whom he periodically had dressed up in military fatigues.

Museveni has also done this to, and taken it much further with, his son Muhoozi Kainerugaba, whom he appointed last week to the position of Chief of Defence Forces of what is ostensibly Uganda’s national army. It was sad, and tragicomic, when Amin did this with Moses and Nasser in the 1970s. It is no less sad now.

It is an injustice both to the country (including several better qualified UPDF officers) and Muhoozi himself whose very name, we were recently informed, was forged in the need for military vengeance for any harm (real or perceived) exacted on his father. The children of militarists – real human beings – are also directly affected, and harmed, by militarism.

The Ugandans of my generation (Anite is two years younger than I am) have been reduced to kneeling to gerontocrats, deferring their own dreams – out of fear or greed (or both). It seems everyone these days is kneeling before one person or the other. Most – including lately the Speaker of Parliament – gleefully kneel before the President.

Others before his son. Others before his wife. Uganda is not a country of proud citizens. It has been reduced to a land of kneeling, subservient, sycophantic, servile and obsequious subjects. It is not a land in which expertise, or merit, appear to have any place – especially in politics.

Amin had his Mustafa Adrisis, Isaac Maliyamungus and Abdullah Nasurs. Museveni has increasingly moved from the era of the Eriya Kategayas and James Wapakhabulos to the new age of such colourful persons as ‘Butcherman’, ‘Full Figure’ and most recently – the music and events promoter, Balaam Barugahara.

Like Anite, Balaam is only three years older than me. Like me, he is a very recent ‘former youth’. He shares with Anite the highly developed art of kneeling, as necessary, before Museveni and Muhoozi – and has taken the lead in promoting the idea of the latter replacing the former at the end of the current life presidency.

And, like the kneeling Anite – who in 2014 sacrificed the democratic dreams of an entire generation of Ugandan youth – Balaam was last week gifted the now apparently ill-omened Ministry of State ‘for Youth Affairs and Children’.

As we move from Aminism to Musevenism – that malevolent spirit of life presidency through militarism – we must ask: what happens to the constantly deferred dreams of Ugandans, young and old alike. Will they dry up, like raisins in the sun? Or fester, like sores? Or will they, tragically – as we have seen in many other parts of the world – explode?

Even as our collective dreams are deferred, we must continue to tell our children of the possibility of another Uganda – one in which we are bound together not by force of arms – or the fear of armed men (because militarism is in many ways itself an aspect of a broader malaise - patriarchy) but by bonds of genuine solidarity.

It is on this basis, and in this spirit, that I take note of Dr. Moses Khisa’s thoughtful piece, published in the Saturday Monitor of 23rd March 2024 entitled ‘Case against ethnic federalism: A response to Dr Kabumba’. In it, he makes a number of fair observations, to which I promise a full and considered response in the not-too-distant future.

The writer is senior lecturer and acting director of the Human Rights and Peace Centre (HURIPEC) at the School of Law, Makerere University, where he teaches Constitutional Law and Legal Philosophy.


+5 #1 Immaculate Nambi 2024-03-27 09:08
Dreams and aspirations, and indeed, the future of two generations, have been killed by Museveni.

What's worse is that even when he is gone, it will take at least two more generations to undo the damage ( and only by some divine intervention).

This is a vey well articulated article.
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+3 #2 Bumuk dexter 2024-03-28 07:05
Ugandan politics is like a soap opera for the people that only operate in their paleocortex.

The politicians in such governments always have fake personas to be maintained and no information that contradicts that persona can be accepted.
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+1 #3 Akot 2024-03-28 16:12
Quoting Immaculate Nambi:

Dreams and aspirations, and indeed, the future of two generations, have been killed by Museveni.

What's worse is that even when he is gone, it will take at least two more generations to undo the damage ( and only by some divine intervention).


NO to the divisive tribalistic system Museveni so so cleaverly put in place, then UNITY, are all Ugandans need, if they want to have chance to "dream" for a different Uganda they will decide!
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0 #4 Akot 2024-03-28 16:17
Quoting Bumuk dexter:

Ugandan politics is like a soap opera for the people...

The politicians in such governments always have fake personas... and no information that contradicts that persona can be accepted.

Thanks, so,

Why do Ugandans legalise the useless government with fake presidential, parliamentary, local elections every 5 years?

Why are tribal leaders still in posts & Ugandans still tribally divided powerless ruled, thus ensure their land belongs t Museveni & family & they are slaves in the zone formed by their tribal lands?

Which tribal land in Uganda belongs to Museveni?
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0 #5 Akot 2024-03-28 16:30
[The Ugandan dreams deferred: From Aminism to Musevenism]

If Sudanese Idi Amin had tribally divided Ugandans as Rwandese Museveni has, Uganda would still belong to Sudan/S. Sudan!

But NO to the tribalistic system & UNITY of Ugandans will block & force Museveni out!

Then & only then will Ugandans have the POWER to form the kind of governance they want, without war, just UNITY to ensure they are secure, but have the POWER to decide how to govern!

Why are tribal leaders still in posts & the tribalistic system ensuring Rwandese Museveni's ownership of every tribal land?

38 years, but Ugandans have +1 opposition leaders who further divide an already powerless tribally divided, fight for posts, fight one another for Museveni to ensure they are his slaves, WHY?
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0 #6 Akot 2024-04-02 17:30

Time Uganda educated help UNITE Ugandans to give chance to formation of the kind of governance they want!

Why just help Rwandese Museveni rule for life then leave the post to his son already prepared,waiting to replace the dad?

It's Ugandans to whom tribal lands belong who have the power, but in UNITY, to stop their land being Rwandese Museveni's family business, right?

Even so called opposition mps in the fake parliament fight one another, instead of helping Ugandans UNITE to stop Mueveni & family!
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