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Uganda: Yes, Uganda Has Lessons to Draw From Kenya

New Vision (Kampala)

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Anthony Juma Okuku

On may 2, The New Vision published a story entitled, “MUK dons clash over tribalism”. The story was a total distortion of my presentation at the workshop. The discussion was about the recent Kenyan experience and the lessons Uganda could draw from it.

In the aftermath of the disputed presidential elections in Kenya that took on violent ethnic dimensions, the question arose whether similar post-election violence could occur in Uganda. Those who rule out the possibility of ethnic explosion in Uganda are living in denial.

I argued that it could occur in Uganda for a number of reasons. First, for both countries, ethnicity has exercised profound influence on politics. Second, the conditions that produced ethnic violence in Kenya exist in abundance in Uganda.

Third, so long as an ethnically organised state exists in Uganda, the struggle to access or capture it shall have take on ethic dimension. Fourth, the increasingly inequitable distribution of resources along ethnic lines can only create ethnic resentment. Fifth, the tendency by the incumbents, the ‘hunters’, to monopolise power and are tempted to cause a situation where they become life presidents, can easily lead to violent ethnicity.

This is because the ethnic identity of the governor determines who gets what, when and how much. Sixth, the Kenya crisis, like the case of Uganda, was driven by the struggle for resource access as a result of failure to institute reforms which would address political, economic and social inequity and imbalances in power.

Finally, more critical in Uganda than was the case in Kenya, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) has presided over the sale of all the national assets to foreign ‘investors’ and selected ethno-political elite clients of the regime.

I also observed that those who argue that it cannot happen in Uganda are partly correct. But not for reasons they advance- the capacity to raise Kiboko squads and lobby tear gas canisters amongst demonstrators as President Museveni states, (The New Vision, March, 23). The major reason is that Uganda does not possess a well-organised and coordinated opposition to galvanise protests on Kenyan scale. All the political, economic and social ingredients for such an ethnic explosion exist in Uganda. Historically, from colonialism to the present, Uganda has been organised along ethnic and regional lines.

The persistence of ethnicity in our politics is because of the failure to dismantle and reform the colonial state. Instead, all the post-colonial leaders introduced militarism, stifled civil society, particularly political parties and enhanced an ethnically organised state. These practices run through all the post-colonial regimes in Uganda.

These practices, however, have been perfected by the NRM regime. First, the NRM has not transcended the distinctly regional, ethnic and religious political foundations inherited from the post-colonial dispensation. The NRM has reproduced itself on the basis of these alliances.

Second, through militarism, constitutional manipulation, ethnicity, regionalism and sheer arrogance of power, a one-party state was imposed on Uganda. That one-party state was disguised as a “movement” based on “no-party” democracy in a “broad-based” government! Third, regional splits have deepened since the NRM came to power. Most of the top leadership of the NRM comes from western Uganda. It is almost criminal to vote non-NRM candidates in western Uganda. Northern Uganda has been alienated. This explains why the north has consistently voted against the NRM in the last 18 years of electoral games in Uganda since 1989.

Fourth, the NRM has unleashed the most vicious ethnic orientation and corruption that Uganda has ever witnessed. Fifth, there is ethnicity in the recruitment for state jobs and offer of scholarships. The Uganda civil service has been split into the official and unofficial.

A parallel bureaucracy has been set up as corresponding departments have been established at State House. For both the parallel bureaucracy and scholarships, it would be interesting to look at their ethnic composition. Sixth, there has been informalisation of the state and the unleashing of ‘safe house’ culture on the country. I argued that a combination of these and other political, economic and social inequities are a recipe for a possible ethnic explosion in Uganda. The last part of my presentation drew lessons from the Kenyan experience.

First, the ethnic violence was as a result of failure to reform the ethnically organised state. What is needed is democratic reconstitution of the state and annihilation of its ethnic bases. Second, any meaningful resistance to election fraud or any form of injustice needs a well organised and coordinated civil society. Third, in case of political conflict, we must seek civil solutions and avoid military intervention as President Paul Kagame of Rwanda was suggesting during the Kenya crisis. Fourth, power sharing is a must in an ethnically organised state.

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Power-sharing goes beyond sharing cabinet posts. It involves ensuring equitable access to national institutions, jobs and public collective goods such as education and health. Fifth, the need to resolve the land question in the country. One of the ingredients of the conflict in Kenya was the unresolved land question. What is needed is a comprehensive land reform beyond the current narrow focus on evictions.

Finally, I observed that nationalists, who see Uganda as one and composed of one people, must struggle to ensure that the NRM regime is the last ethnically organised state in Uganda.

Let us make ethnicity history. The presentation was not about the clash about tribalism by the Makerere dons.


About SG

Secretary general of Chama Cha Mwananchi. This blog www.chamachamwananchi.wordpress.com, is based in Sweden.


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