There is no doubt Uganda urgently needs a candid and comprehensive national conversation. We needed it yesterday.
The politics of regime survival have spawned blatant nepotism and cronyism. The national spirit has plummeted. Favoritism and unfairness in access to opportunities have taken centre-stage.
The rulers are so committed to clinging to power that they have no qualms bastardizing political processes with bribery and coercion. The ostensible supreme law of the land, the constitution, has been ripped apart and tossed around so carelessly and casually.
The greed for power has trumped fidelity to all-binding rules. Institutions supposed to serve all Ugandans fairly and justly have been twisted to tend to narrow personal and partisan interests. Take the Director of Public Prosecutions who is now more a ‘Director of Political Persecution’ than the nation’s chief prosecutorial office.
A once high-performing national legislature has been greatly adulterated, is irreparably supine, lacks independent existence and is now no more than an extension of State House when it comes to critical legislative matters.
The balkanizing of the country through crazily created small and unviable districts has utterly undermined the spirit of power devolution. Recently, a chairman of the newest district in the Bugisu sub-region instructively lamented on Facebook how his district is in such dire straits that he has to use his personal money to repair the office vehicles. He also revealed that close to fifty per cent of his district budget goes to paying salaries and wages!
Somehow, agitation for new districts is seen as the path to creating localized and tribalized employment. But it is a most pathetic way of dealing with the huge unemployment problem staring at us. Genuine and meaningful employment is better created through expansion in economic productivity and social investment, not by political clientelism and widening the patronage machinery.
Things have gone awry in this our dear country. There is thus a need for deep introspection and soul-searching, for statesmanship and comradeship. Uganda is presently a socially fragile country with little that unites us as a nation.
The very idea of a national identity has been severely imperiled by politics of convenience and the deleterious rule of a life-president who dons a messianic garb. We have a mounting political crisis on our hands. Our economic situation is dire, and we have a tense social atmosphere.
We need to discuss these problems and generate some consensus on how best to forge ahead. But there is a problem. We have a grouping called the Elders Forum. Then the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU).
I suspect that not many Ugandans know anything about the former. I don’t. And I might be one among many. Perhaps one way to hazard a guess is to know the membership of that group that goes by a rather presumptuous name – the ‘Elders.’
Uganda needs wise counsel and sober-minded intervention. And we know that senior citizens are repositories of wisdom and moderation. But the elders who would step forward given the crises we face also need to carry with them impeccable credibility, independent-mindedness, and who don’t have the political baggage of previous or current association with the status quo. Does the membership of the Elders Forum measure up to this normative standard?
If we know little about the Elders Forum, we know a bit about the IRCU. In late July, I had a long meeting with an ambassador of a key European country that has for long funded the Ugandan government and development projects. He wanted to know my perspective but also give me his about Ugandan politics.
I listened attentively and intently. I was stunned. He believed that the IRCU was the organization with the capacity to engineer change in Uganda because the individuals there are open and courageous when they have met Mr Museveni. After being stunned I almost wanted to laugh hard. I didn’t.
But I went away fully convinced that foreigners even when having the best of intentions just don’t get it when it comes to the political dynamics in a country like Uganda.
Can the IRCU look up to Mr Museveni and tell him pointedly that he is an illegitimate ruler whose source of power is not the will of the majority of Ugandans but the control of force and finance? Highly unlikely.
Was it not a key member of the IRCU and head of one of the major religious denominations who led the way in congratulating Mr Museveni upon ‘winning’ the 2016 election, an election that was as fraudulent as they get?
I will be happy to eat humble pie in this column, yet again, but this national dialogue project with the current set of drivers is a big nonstarter.
Mr Museveni is unlikely to participate in any dialogue whose terms and agenda he has not singularly authored. He believes he is on a mission to deliver Uganda to the ‘Promised Land’ and has no time for unserious and undisciplined people, by which he means his opponents and those speaking out against his abuse of power and the wrong direction the country is taking.
If he is to engage in any dialogue, he will be compelled, and not cajoled.
The author is an assistant professor of political science at North Carolina State University.