Uganda Needs to First End Military Rule

I want to begin my submission in response to Hon Augustine Ruzindana: “Electoral Systems and their Implications on Election Results” and Hon Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere: “Political Party Financing in Uganda” by saying that I agree with both of them on the matter. We need change and reforms – very urgently.

I, however, disagree with them on the form. In Ugandan circumstances, the form should not be reforms through the Parliament or Cabinet. First, reforms or no reforms, electoral systems and processes organised by an ex-rebel-led government yield the same thing: the ex-rebels will always win. Secondly, thinking about electoral reforms must be looked at from the regional context.

The context is that our countriesare divided into two groups – one ruled by civilians and another led by ex-rebels. My department (Governance and Peace Studies) is doing a study on the governance of African countries. Preliminary results reveal that colonial policies of divide-and-rule, use of military in plundering resources, and subjugating the civilian population resulted in formalized hatred and discrimination between ethnic communities.

Conflict trends have created a g history in some countries, with the best option of accessing state power being military rebellions. But once in power, the military begins mimicking the colonial forces, plundering resources and subduing civilians, even dividing communities.

Thus, the post-independence era reflects a power struggle in Africa, where people’s involvement in political and public space becomes inevitable, while military power is highly praised. We see Uganda governed by military and ex-rebel fighters often reminding civilians of their role in the bush and in the struggle.

A glance at the political situation in Uganda shows no sign of stabilising any time soon. Like most countries in Africa, Uganda’s political parties and political leadership can be grouped into two: The first group comprised of older parties Democratic Party, Uganda People’s Congress and Kabaka Yekka. UPC, which ushered Uganda into independence, later nurtured an idea of creating one party, broken by the military takeover of Idi Amin.

Although the 1980s saw multiparty again coming around, the former one-party UPC had gained military prominence as some of its generals had taken part in the struggle against Amin. Elections organised under this dispensation had to leave a party with a ‘general’ in power.

It could not live long until NRM took over power in 1986 and a no-party system was brought in. Uganda’s no-party Movement organised electoral reforms and held a number of elections. The no-partymembers, some with coined titles of historicals, would win the elections, with the top in government remaining intact.

Second, like the rest of Africa, the no-party Movement was to end in 2000 with the introduction of multiparty democracy, through a referendum. Since then, the former no-party government has won all major national elections. Different as the 1980s UPC and [today’s] NRM-O may be, here we see that they share several common features.

They both have weak bureaucratic and organizational structures. They are all parties built on one g man. They lack organised membership rosters and regular mechanisms for collecting membership contributions. They hardly rely on membership dues as there are no party volunteers, they depend on state funds.

And so, patronage is deeply rooted in these two parties, most party activities and grassroots supporters expect upfront monetary payments either in kind or future material rewards for what they have done for the party. Any talk about electoral reforms, therefore, is just rhetoric. What ought to be done is to have a civil action that will lead to civilian rule. It is after this that we can start speaking of sensible electoral reforms and good governance.

For my second statement, allow me to divide the countries of Eastern Africa into two differing groups. On one side, we have Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia. They are all under civilian rule they have built security and they have military institutions built and separate from a party. They are currently developing steadily. They have presidents handing over power to other presidents after elections.

On the other side, we have South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. They are all led by former rebels, who have remained rebels in State House. Their leaders are a security threat to the region as their armies are frequently involved in wars, they claim a revolutionary spirit.

Some, even after decades in power, still speak of bush war experiences, struggles and liberations. Police treads the line of the ruling party or is being forced to, their armies are linked to the party, and development is mostly slow. It is on this basis that I say that what Ugandans should think about is not electoral reforms. The discussion should be on how to expel rebels from state power.

This discussion should involve civilians and civil societies’ work on this before anything else. ‘Bushism’ philosophy, revolutionary leaders, military presence in all areas of civic and political life will not deliver any tangible reforms. Let us use the Zambia example. Zambia has lost two sitting presidents. Suppose this happened in Uganda.

I am sure the streets of Kampala would be in chaos, and I am afraid, Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi, our current vice president, would not be on the list of those to take over interim presidency. And if he was, he would be acting in the name of another force.

I want to remind everyone here of two important statements by a former rebel head of state. In 2008, he asked Mwai Kibaki during the electoral violence in Kenya, how the sitting president could lose an election.

Secondly, on his return recently from New York, he told his cheering supporters: “The movement got its power through blood. It is not a party you just play with and those who want to play, let them go elsewhere.”

The debate, therefore, must shift to: How do we bring in civilian rule in Uganda?

The author is a lecturer at Uganda Martyrs University.

This is a slightly edited version of his speech at a recent conference on electoral systems and politics at Imperial Royale hotel.

Source : The Observer

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