Uganda: Gen. Museveni’s and NRM’s 30 Years of Failure And Why Opposition Must Boycott the Vote


Gen. Museveni — after failing to produce needles for Uganda in 30 years he wants to extend his rule

The campaign began full swing on November 9, 2015, to elect the next president of Uganda. The incumbent, Gen. Yoweri Museveni, the National Resistance Movement’s (NRM) candidate is participating; let’s refresh our memories about the unfulfilled promises and manipulations made by the NRM after the 1980 controversial elections that Museveni and his Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) lost, sending only one candidate to Parliament.

Museveni himself lost the parliamentary seat he contested for to Democratic Party (DP) candidate Sam Kutesa, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs in his administration.

The subsequent waging of a very destructive guerrilla war by Gen. Museveni, with a base in Buganda where 50 percent of the population in the Luwero Triangle alone lost their lives besides other areas, originally had three principal purposes: to unseat the UPC government that is believed to have cheated in the 1980 election and install a DP government that is believed to have won the election; to restore the glory of Baganda that had lost their kingdom, their king and many of their people during the state of emergency; and, to end the suffering of the people of Uganda.

These high-sounding promises enabled Museveni, little known at the time, to recruit heavily among Baganda, Catholics, poor people and refugees. The selection of Yusuf Lule, a Muganda and DP supporter or sympathizer was designed to assure Baganda and Catholics that the next president after Milton Obote’s second administration –the first one being from independence in 1962 until he was deposed by Idi Amin in 1971–would be a Muganda and a DP supporter.

During the course of the war, Museveni convinced Acholi soldiers in the national army to work together and share power under an Acholi president leading to Obote’s second ouster in 1985 and the installation of Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa.

So what happened to Museveni’s promises?

After capturing power in January 1986, driving out Gen. Okello with whom he had signed a peace and power-sharing deal, it was Museveni, a Protestant from western Uganda who became president; not a Muganda and DP supporter as originally planned.

To hoodwink Baganda and Catholics, Museveni appointed them to high profile positions in the government –prime minister, minister of foreign affairs, minister of internal affairs, minister of finance, attorney general and minister of education– without authority which was exercised by ministers of state that fought in the war.

Baganda now have one senior person in the cabinet who, the vice president; his functions are undefined. A Muganda was made deputy chairman of the ruling NRM party but the power resides in the secretary-general post.

The kingdom of Buganda was not restored until 1993 when Museveni realized he would not win Baganda vote. The Kabaka, as the hereditary monarch is referred to, was installed as a cultural head; he can’t even travel freely within his own kingdom. The return of full powers of the Kabaka was denied.

The famously announced 10-point program for recovery that had been designed to end the suffering of the people of Uganda was abandoned before its implementation began.

It was replaced by a Western-advocated structural adjustment program that has destroyed the livelihoods of many Ugandans.

The Nairobi Peace Accord and earlier plans between Gen. Okello and Museveni to govern together following Obote’s ouster was abandoned immediately after the Accord was signed. The sentiments of some Acholi people is captured in the following paragraph: “After decades of subordination to Lango elements in the armed forces, the Acholi had achieved government power just six months earlier and had finally begun to enjoy some of the power and privileges of more senior rank, political and civil service appointments – and homes and vehicles which attain to them. They were deprived of all this by the NRA military victory. Although they themselves had come to power through a military coup, they felt cheated by Museveni when he betrayed the Nairobi agreement. ‘We paved the way for the NRA by overthrowing Obote’, several Acholi explained, ‘and Museveni paid us back by betraying us’” (see Robert Gersony 1997).

As if that was not enough Gen. Museveni waged a war in the Northern and Eastern parts of Uganda that lasted over 20 years with massive destruction in human and animal lives and properties. If the international community had not applied pressure on Museveni to end the war, the fighting would probably have continued much longer.

Then came land grabbing. Using the pretext that “his people” had been deprived of their land during colonial and post-colonial governments, Gen. Museveni decided to compensate them by grabbing other people’s land in virtually all parts of the country particularly in Buganda because of its strategic location; many people had also perished during the guerrilla war leaving vacant lands.

Museveni justifies land grabbing for “his people” or ethnic kinsmen. “As a herdboy, in his youth Museveni witnessed the injustices of both colonial and post-colonial state with regard to issues of land tenure and land ownership. His people were often evicted from their grazing lands by the government, without being given compensation, and for a cattle-rearing community, grazing land was central to life” (see Joshua B. Rubogoya 2007).

Even if this were true, it does not justify grabbing land in all parts of Uganda and rendering many people homeless and severely impoverished.    

Gen. Museveni confidently promised that Uganda would become an industrial and a middle income country within 15 years of his administration. He was contemptuous towards other African leaders: “The present generation of African leaders [is] the strangest species of human beings in the history of man. Even in the most backward societies, all communities manufactured their own tools, they manufactured their own weapons, they produced their own food. It is only the present generation of Africans that don’t produce their weapons and occasionally don’t produce their food. It has never happened in the history of man. This shows the artificiality and the vulnerability of this colonial and this neo-colonial setting”. Museveni added “Uganda will be an industrial power in 15 years. I have no doubt about it. There’s no doubt because nothing can stop us” (see Africa Forum Volume 1. No, 2. 1991).

Sadly, what we are witnessing in Uganda is de-industrialization, not industrialization.

Gen. Museveni had declared that he was not interested in power for a long time. He would step down as soon as security returned to the country which occurred shortly afterwards. Later on he changed his mind reasoning that he did not kill a beast to then leave the carcass for another person to enjoy the meat; he personalizes the entire Uganda into wild game that he has conquered in a hunt.

He emphasized this point when he stressed that: “You don’t just tell the freedom fighter to go like you are chasing a chicken thief out of the house” (see Human Rights Watch 3/14/2006).

So what has he done to ensure he stays in power for life? He engineered the amendment of the 1995 constitution and eliminated presidential term limits. 

Earlier he had crippled opposition political parties beginning with Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) and then Democratic Party (DP). However, under international pressure Museveni allowed multiparty politics; but he has made sure NRM doesn’t lose by refusing to establish an independent electoral commission and he deploys security forces to intimidate opposition voters before, during and after elections.

This strategy has enabled him to steal the results since 1996. Furthermore Museveni believes that if anyone is generally “weak,” as he thinks Ugandans are as well, then the individuals deserve to be exploited. This implicitly came out in an interview with Bill Berkeley when he said: “I have never blamed the whites for colonizing Africa. I have never blamed these whites for taking slaves. If you are stupid, you should be taken a slave” (see The Atlantic Monthly September 1994).

This is the mentality of a man who, after 30 years, is seeking to extend his regime in next year’s election.

Unless there are tangible improvements in the electoral process that allow free and fair elections, the opposition should boycott them at a time they deem appropriate. This will send a message to the international community that the democratic process under Gen. Museveni’s regime isn’t working and call for the establishment of a transitional government to clean the house and prepare the country for genuine free and fair multiparty elections.

Kashambuzi is an international economist whose work focuses on development.


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