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DEMOCRACY IN EAC

Humans progressively hate rulers who impose themselves

In Summary

• Democracy is always a work in progress. It involves political and economic  institution building that must be continuously renewed

• Human beings, even in Biblical times, tend to progressively hate rulers who impose themselves on the people no matter how this imposition is rationalised

 

Uganda president Yoweri Museveni
Uganda president Yoweri Museveni

Development rarely takes place in a straight line. It can be zigzag. In fact, there have been cases where whole societies are pushed back at certain historical moments.

A society that looks prosperous today can be the laughing stalk among other nations tomorrow.

In January 1971, there was a coup d'etat in Uganda. General Idi Amin Dada overthrew the civilian government of Dr. Apollo Milton Obote under the guise of "saving Uganda from a dictator." Some Ugandans who were Obote' s political rivals celebrated and embraced Amin and his soldiers with open arms. 

 

Within a matter of months, nay weeks, the same people who celebrated started to regret the advent of military rule as they witnessed wanton killings, self serving political witchhunt and the rapid breakdown of law and order. The expulsion of the Asians expressed Amin' s most outrageous weapon against Uganda' s socioeconomic progress.

 By 1973, it was quite clear that those leaving Uganda for safer pastures within the region or abroad were from the educated elite, who had run both the economy and the state reasonably since independence. The soldiers, preoccupied with brute looting and crude use of political power, perfected both political disorder and economic ruin in an economy that prospered healthily under Obote.

Even when Obote assumed power for the second time in the early eighties, he inherited a shell of an economy and a political community significant for its lack of national cohesion. Within four years, having failed to create the sinews of national identity to hold Ugandans together, Obote found himself easily at the mercy of political opportunists who overthrew his regime with no notion of what to put in its place. 

This is the vacuum that Yoweri Museveni and his NRA soldiers exploited to topple a bereft military razzmatazz which had only the monopoly of guns as their strength and zero hegemony — economic, social or political — in society as a whole! Armed with enough guns to face this band of pretentious rulers and enjoying discipline learnt in their bush war against the Obote regime, Museveni and his men easily ran the Tito Okellos and Basilio Okellos out of town and pronounced themselves "a new revolutionary government in Uganda."

There was really no revolution in Uganda.

The truth of the matter was that Museveni, the NRA and NRM triumvirate understood very well what was ailing Uganda and set out to undo the effects of Amin's misrule, which Obote  in his second coming, had failed to address. One of the effects of this misrule was the ruining of the economy. Nobody can deny the fact that Museveni/NRM/NRA triumvirate has done very well to restore economic progress after Amin' s misrule and the uneventful Obote' s second coming.

But, and this is a big "but", what political development has Uganda undergone with this triumvirate in power for over 30 years? My answer is very simple: Very little progress. And this could be Uganda's undoing sooner rather than later.

 

For all intents and purposes Uganda is still a military regime that periodically seeks to legitimise itself as a "democratic state" by organising regimented elections. The idea of free and fair elections is alien to the political psyche of the triumvirate, or at least the presidential part of it. Thus parliament, for all intents and purposes, is dictated to when it comes to making important political decisions that have profound effects on the country's political development.

Kwa mfano, there was a time when Ugandans hoped they would elect a new president because of the "two terms" limit rule. When the time came for this constitutional  provision to affect Museveni it was easily amended by a Parliament which was "bought", intimidated and rendered hopelessly divided.

There was also the issue of the age limit for the President set at 75 years. Again, when time matured so that 75 years old Museveni could have vacated office, this rule was abolished opening the door for Museveni, following the footsteps of political Neanderthals like Cameroon's Paul Biya, could rule until death do Ugandans part with him!

My guess is as good as yours. Human beings, even in Biblical times, tend to progressively hate rulers who impose themselves on the people no matter how this imposition is rationalised. Sooner or later "men must rebel". If in doubt read Ted Robert Gurr' s book Why Men Rebel. Men here of course include women.

Gurr makes a very persuasive point. Rulers that do not play the political game by the rules tend to frustrate the ruled.  Frustration does not necessarily lead to violence. But when it is sufficiently prolonged and sharply felt, it often does result in anger and eventually violence. 

People often feel they deserve better from their governments while what they actually get is way below their expectations. They are thereby "relatively deprived." A constituency of discontent begins to simmer among such people, very soon it swells and finally it bursts asunder like recently happened in Sudan.

 The bursting asunder may be spontaneous, organised or simply chaotic. How it happens may create room for political Development, political chaos or even institionalsed political violence. The unpredictability of the demise of oppressive or  "exclusivist" regimes is what distinguishes them as harbingers of political chaos or political decay. Democratic government, on the other hand, creates more certainty for political development as it very often creates hope that relative deprivation can be reversed regularly at regular opportunities to change regimes or political leadership by the power of the vote.

Mwalimu Julius Nyerere was not a fool. Though loved to the man by Tanzanians, he defied the results of a Referendum that showed that the majority of Tanzanians were content with the one party system.  He advised for the change to multipartyism. When pleaded with to continue presiding over political affairs in Tanzania he, as a good student of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar", turned the request by the people down, and offered to bow out of the Presidency. 

It is this genuine concern to nurture democratic institutions so as to limit the disruptive effects of relative deprivation in a regimented political system that marks Tanzania as a more developed  political system compared to Uganda's brittle military regime.

Democracy is always a work in progress. It involves political and economic  institution building that must be continuously renewed. Kenyans made a huge step in political development when we adopted a new constitution in 2010. But this Constitution was established on an economic edifice that felt it as a foreign body.

 This body economic, full of corrupt potentates, opportunistic get rich quick young and old, smooth preachermen that must live off the sweat of others by merchandising the so called word of God and peddlers of local and foreign contracts, has no time for democratic political development. Whatever progress we have made politically could easily be reversed by this class and economic bandwagon of the corrupt, the looters and materialistic scavengers.

Our history of making progress under Vision Twenty Thirty and Agenda Four is therefore not insured. We can either move forward or backward depending on how much we allow this conglomerate of self-serving seekers of money and wealth to capture state power and use it for their own good. They will for sure undermine the 2010 constitution using the power of the people, easily bought, to realize their objectives.

Like Ugandans, but in a rather different context and moment, we are faced with the possible reversal of our political gains due to a ruling elite whose economic interests may not necessarily be supportive of the democratic gains the people cherish. Our challenge at this moment in time is clear. We must understand that the people can lose the democratic gains if they lose the power to defend these gains through the politics of divide and rule that this opportunistic elite is so good at in ethnically diverse nations like ours.