Thursday, September 10, 2009

Democracy; Uganda's unfinished political struggle

By Ouma Alex Okello

The news around the emerging rebel groups in Uganda, the return of Olara Otunnu and the involvement of “some Acholi” members of Parliament including Gulu’s Chairman Norbert Mao in rebel activities has raised the political stakes much higher ahead of the 2011 elections in Uganda.

It’s nearly 47 years since Uganda gained its independence from the British but to date, numerous questions continue to be asked in relation to whether the country’s current leadership structure manifests the true principles of democracy.

In a democracy, Abraham Lincoln once noted, “dissent is an act of faith. Like medicine, the test of its value is not in its taste, but its effects.” To sum this all, Uganda’s Supreme Court Justice George Wilson Kanyeihamba was quoted in a local daily describing the country’s democratic journey as taking “reverse strides for the worse.” The experienced judge’s comments came in the wake of the recent release of a watchdog report that assesses the overall performance of the country’s legislators, on individual basis. Note that Uganda’s ruling party members boast of majority numbers in the House.

But a quick look at Uganda’s political history gives interesting but contradictory scenarios. For instance, less than 10 years after colonial independence, former president Idi Amin overthrew the former president Milton Obote’s government in 1971 with claims to restore democracy.

However, with the firm support of Tanzania, Mr Obote restored himself back in 1979. Not long after then, Mr Yoweri Museveni fled to the bush after losing the election to Uganda People’s Congress and consequently took over power in 1986. Part of the claim was that the election was won by the Democratic Party.
Mr Museveni also preached the gospel of restoring democracy and instituting a broad-based government under the National Resistance Movement. In Northern Uganda, Alice Lakwena and Joseph Kony were all proclaiming the struggle against marginalisation and the dictatorial regime of President Museveni.
The consequences of all these struggles have had far-reaching impact especially that our past leaders and the current regime have stuck in power, using cheap rhetorical gimmicks about bringing democracy.

Hitherto, analysts predict that poor governance will continue to oppress Ugandans, even for the next 50 years, unless the country’s political leaders demonstrate the will and commitment to create positive change. On the other hand, many have argued that the real enemies of the country’s democracy may well not be far from the very people who currently manage Uganda’s state of political and economic affairs, citing in this case those who intimidate, torture and accuse members and supporters of the opposition parties wrongly.
More worrying is the misconception that at the base of the colonial philosophy was the myth that European culture was superior to African culture; that the white man was more ‘civilized’ and ‘moral’ while the black man was ‘backward’ and ‘savage’.

Another part of this myth, perhaps less cruel but no less insidious, was the idea that ‘black people’ were children and needed guidance.
It thus became the white man’s burden to help these poor unfortunate people grow up, under the guise of “civilization”. But nothing was more inferior to the Africans, than this patronising attitude.

However, did Uganda require such freedom 47 years ago? If it did, what could have happened in the past years after independence, where our leaders (both the deposed ones and the ones in power) deliberately failed to exercise the true principles of freedom and democracy?

What will happen to all the years that the opposition political parties have been confined to one corner of the house? What will happen to all the years when we cannot express our opinions freely in our own country? Your guess is as good as mine.

Over the years, it has been noted that to destroy Africans’ beliefs in the white man’s myth was one thing, but to change the politics of a country like Uganda is another.
It has become obvious that a more powerful force is needed to bring real change in Ugandan leadership. This new force is democracy and we must finally come to it.

Unfortunately, however, democracy in Uganda has never been about more than organizing elections or in words; the people in themselves have a lot of doubts on the meaning of democracy.

The Western world has got tired and embarrassed at the sound of the word democracy in Africa and particularly sub-Saharan.
Unless Ugandans are willing to get rid of these antagonists, the concept of democracy in the country will fall short of realities.

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