Sunday, April 20, 2014

Political Tolerance in Uganda is Still a Pipe Dream

When you feel that your voice cannot be heard because you have a different sexual orientation, belong to a certain religion, are from a certain tribe, or support a certain political party, what president Yoweri Museveni said about intolerant leaders of the past may not make sense to you. I refer to the article titled “Intolerant leaders are bad, says Museveni” that appeared in the Daily Monitor of Thursday April 10th 2014. While speaking at the burial of former Transport minister Stanislaus Okurut in Ngoro district, Mr. Museveni reportedly blamed Uganda’s post-independence political turmoil on the intolerance of past leaders. His remark received mixed reaction from some politicians, mainly those in the opposition, as well as from the academia, many of who consider some of our present leaders just as intolerant as those in the past. The English dictionary describes tolerance as “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude towards those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality differ from one’s own”. The United Nations Declaration of Principles on Tolerance affirms that tolerance is respect and appreciation of the rich variety of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. Uganda has been a member of the UN General Assembly since 1962. In 1996, the UN General Assembly resolution 51/95 established November 16 as an International Day of Tolerance. And in 2005, a World Summit document came into place to further the commitment of Heads of State and Government to advance human welfare, freedom and progress everywhere, as well as to encourage tolerance, respect, dialogue, and cooperation among different cultures, civilizations and peoples. Uganda has been a part of this global commitment but the realities on the ground suggests some but little progress. Some political commentators argue that the current government has retreated in many ways on its commitment to tolerance. The lack of commitment to political tolerance in particular continues to undermine the basic constitutional rights such as freedom of expression (and after expression), the right to political association, and the right to fair trial among others. In many parts of Uganda today, there has been real decline in political tolerance especially where the government perceives activities of those in the opposition as a political threat. In the capital Kampala and other major towns, the police is always responding with unjustified hostility and violence to any public protest or political mobilization. Some political commentators also argue that political intolerance could be worse in the ruling NRM party, citing in this case the expulsion of the ‘rebel MPs’ and the fallout between Museveni and his former vice president Mathew Bukenya as examples. NRM party members who oppose president Museveni or do not agree with party positions have accordingly been politically marginalized, harassed or threatened with expulsion from the party. According to the UN Declaration of Principles on Tolerance, this kind of intolerance breeds intolerance. Further, there is a link between the behaviors of those in government and the vicious cycle of mistrust, hate towards government, and violence in the country. While it is the duty of every citizen to promote tolerance, leaders should live the first examples. As advised by the UN declaration, we should start to ask ourselves: Am I tolerant? Do I disagree with someone but still live in harmony with them? Do I blame my failure on others? It is not until we reflect on these questions and mirror the humanity of others against ours that we shall become tolerant as a nation. Written by Alex Okello Ouma

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