One of the grandest things done by the NRM was to fling the doors open for decentralised and participatory democracy
By Henry Mayega
Some people have accused President Yoweri Museveni’s administration of being a dictatorship; but where are we coming from?
The colonial times, the Idi Amin era of pogroms of the 1970s as well as the ensuing insecurities of the 1980s disallowed any meaningful degree of democracy in Uganda because instability is always diametrically opposed to peoples’ freedoms.
In a chorus, Uganda’s esteemed opposition cabal that includes Kizza Besigye has nefariously called this administration a dictatorship – a furor that is a parochial aberration spawned by a tendency to erupt into periodic fits of self-righteous-morality. That criticism has neither any scientific basis nor any freshness in it.
First, this is not some naively contrived view; circumstantial evidence shows that this administration has guaranteed regular and predictable elections since 2001 in which Besigye has been an active player. Such elections have been a good measuring rod of democratic practice as opposed to the 1962 – 1980 period, a space of 18 years when Uganda had no iota of elections at all.
In place of elections, we had anarchy, coups and take-overs. In fact, between 1979 and 1980, the country changed heads of state five times. These are Idi Amin, Yusufu Kironde Lule, Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa, Paul Muwanga and Apollo Milton Obote. The Museveni administration repudiated that impermanence and now constancy holds sway.
Secondly, multiparty democracy replete with caucusing and whipping was restored after the 2005 referendum. A law, the Political Parties and Organisations Act to regulate not only party activities, but the parameters of behaviour during elections, was enacted. So, why does it feel to the Opposition that Uganda’s democratic space is in decline?
It is normal political posturing; the Democratic Party (DP), Forum for Democratic Change and other uncharitable and shambolic parties without a presence in parliament save for the UPC that is arguably co-habiting with the indomitable NRM after ousting Olara Otunu, won’t do PR for the NRM. And if it fell, the void, so they brood in delusion, would be filled by them. One of the big footed brooders told me of how he procured the services of a medicine man from Kyaggwe to use fetishes against the NRM. The DP is largely tribal and several other coteries are transactional, while Kizza Besigye who holds no position in his party is taller than the entity he founded, his is an elections grouping.
Thirdly, the presence of a bustling free press is a sine qua none of democracy. This column must, however, add that the press must be free and responsible because it does not operate in a vacuum. In neighbouring Rwanda, the irresponsible press was, partly, to blame for the early 1990s genocide and pogroms that consumed up to a million people. In its unwavering sense of duty and exigencies of state, this administration cannot permit space to a harum-scarum press because the consequences of doing so are dire.
Fourthly, few things are more important in a home grown democracy than the confidence that the law is applied as and when required; a cobweb of pieces of legislation are in place to guide democratic electoral processes for all elective public positions. Politicians of all stripes vie for them in droves in this great theatre of action. Uganda’s democratic space has no room for dictatorial decrees.
In Uganda’s post-independence history, the three arms of government (executive, legislature and judiciary) have never been as immutable and enduring as they are today. Some will not agree because of their impetuous nature. In a string of general elections, Kizza Besigye and others have, legitimately recoursed to court in a show of confidence in the judicial system. The diminutive and infrequent pulling of strings between the arms is merely the expected labour pains of a nascent democracy; this pluralism is, after all, 12 years old.
Lastly, one of the grandest things done by the NRM was to fling the doors open for decentralised and participatory democracy. Women, youth, workers and people with disabilities were admitted into the expanded democratic space replete with their respective councils. Dictators do not decentralise power; they do not share power. For too long had our patriarchal society positioned men as the perpetrating over-lords and placed women in subservient roles. Women, have currently, a 35% representation in Parliament and this reverberates down to the councils. Given our chaotic and obstreperous past occasioned on us by civilians, the army MPs act as a listening post in Parliament.
The writer is the deputy head of mission of the Uganda Embassy in Beijing, China