Stop This Political Abuse of the Youth [opinion]

In 1980, I had just finished my senior two when Uganda went to the polls to elect a president under a multi-party dispensation.

As a teenager, it was a time of great excitement since many of us youths had never experienced the hysteria that comes with multi-party politics.

Unlike today where social media is rife with political debates, parents of those days dreaded to discuss politics because of their past experiences of the 60s and 70s.

Given my Catholic family background and upbringing, we were active cheerleaders of the Democratic Party (DP).

Supporting the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) was definitely out of the question, while Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) and Conservative Party (CP) were nonentities.

Out of curiosity and at times coercion, I attended almost all the political rallies. For the UPM rally held at St Stephen’s Church of Uganda in Luzira, I specifically wanted to see the famous Tooro princess, Elizabeth Bagaya, who walked gracefully donning a huge brimmed hat. She added a lot of colour to the UPM entourage that comprised, among others, President Yoweri Museveni.

For the UPC rally, addressed by the late President Apollo Milton Obote, we were simply coerced to attend, but we enjoyed the singing and dancing. To be honest, at that time UPC had the most energetic mobilisers and morale boosters.

In Luzira, Port Bell, a DP territory, in the Kampala East constituency, we overwhelmingly voted for the late Isaac Ojok Mulozi. It is then that our problems with the ruling UPC government began. Soon after the election results were announced, terror was unleashed on the population.

For the next five years, December 1980 to January 1986, the residents of Luzira collectively paid a heavy price for their sins of voting against UPC. As the NRM rebels struggled for their survival in the bushes of Luweero, we in Luzira were locked up in a military enclave with military detaches and garrisons surrounding the DP dissidents who were presumed to be potentially dangerous.

Gangs of idle opportunistic youths joined the UPC youth wingers under the guise of helping the UPC government to get rid of DP enemies. These youths took it upon themselves to identify and report to security agencies all families that had supported DP, had dissenting voices or were from the wrong tribes.

People from the central, south and west were collectively branded as Banyarwanda working for foreign interests. Such victimisation viciously spread across the country. Everybody was an enemy to the state and the state was an enemy to the people.

One might wonder why I am telling this story now. My memory has been jolted by the recent skirmishes in the NRM party, where the young Turks are taking on the old guard. Those in the ‘Museveni camp’ are hurling insults and hunting down those suspected to be ‘pro-Mbabazi’.

Some youths previously associated with Mbabazi have been arrested and charged. According to the police chief, Kale Kayihura, their crime is not supporting Mbabazi but collecting signatures for his presidential bid and bribery. But this sounds all too hollow.

What is also amusing is the way the balance of power has been tilted. Just two years ago, the NRM youths now on the run, with their bank accounts allegedly frozen by the state, were going after their fellow youths, persecuting them for being pro-Kizza Besigye, FDC, UPC and Young Democrats.

Just like in the 1980s, instead of the youths coming together to seek solutions to their livelihood problems, the majority are looking for ways to get themselves into political camps as a means of surviving the biting economic hardships.

Many of them will not only lose the opportunity to lay a g foundation for their future, but some could even lose their lives in the ongoing political skirmishes. I would not be surprised if the present-day youths, out of frustration behaved exactly like the opportunistic UPC youth wingers and started witch-hunting their colleagues or families they believe are in the “other” camp.

Having lived under the terror of the military and the anarchy of the youth wingers, it is my humble appeal to all political protagonists not to abuse our youths by pitting them against each other or even against the people. Being a youth is the best thing that can happen to anybody because that is when you have all the energy, enthusiasm and even the charisma to do anything.

This is supposed to be a time of joy, laughter and love, and not anxiety, misery and hatred. It is, therefore, not fair for political opportunists to take aantage of the youths’ political naivety and precarious situation and enlist them to fight their personal selfish political battles.

As a parent, I believe that we all have a responsibility to groom our youths into responsible adults that will take on leadership when our time is done. Ugandans should all live freely and peacefully and enjoy the right to life and freedom of association.

The writer, a former member of EALA, is now a human rights activist.

Source : The Observer

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