UGANDA is rife with statements that have great potential to inflame ethnic hatred. It is unfortunate that Ugandans have not drawn lessons from the post-election developments in Kenya. Ethnic tensions in Uganda have roots in colonialism, which ascribed certain roles to certain ethnic communities and
UGANDA is rife with statements that have great potential to inflame ethnic hatred. It is unfortunate that Ugandans have not drawn lessons from the post-election developments in Kenya. Ethnic tensions in Uganda have roots in colonialism, which ascribed certain roles to certain ethnic communities and did little to build nationalism.
The post-independence regimes thrived on ethnic tensions as people from the same ethnic group as the deposed were harassed by the next government.
Todayâ€™s media is not helping the situation either. Radio talk shows have become a favourable platform for those peddling hate campaigns.
Ethnic tensions have been apparent in Kibaale between Bakiga and Banyoro; in Bulisa between Bahima pastoralists and Bagungu cultivators; between the Karimojong and their neighbours; and between Baganda and immigrant communities. In all these instances, there is no fundamental action to address the root cause of the problem and resolve it. As a result, the tension only subsides only to resurface at a future date. Every time such tensions are high, politicians jump into the fray. The emotional outbursts of our political leaders are largely to blame for the escalating ethnic tensions because the population depends on the manipulative leaders for guidance.
We have not yet reached the levels of ethnic hatred that prevailed in Rwanda shortly before the 1994 genocide. However, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch, in his paper titled, â€œThe Eight Stages of Genocide,â€ says that genocide develops in the following eight stages th at are â€œpredictable but not inexorable.â€
It is easy to recognise aspects of first and second stages in the inflammatory statement by our leaders today. Stanton showed that the eight stages are avoidable. The responsibility lies with the national leaders, who are expected to develop institutions that transcend ethnic divisions, combat hate symbolisation, legally forbid hate speech, condemn its use and make it culturally unacceptable. Leaders who incite genocide should face sanctions.
Some leaders hide behind human rights to abuse the same rights. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) provides for â€œthe right to freedom of freedom of opinion and expression which includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.â€ Other international instruments as well as the Constitution (Article 29) re-affirm freedom of speech and expression including press freedom.
However, these freedoms are accompanied with responsibilities. The UDHR in Article 29 provides that:
(1) â€œEveryone has duties to the community in which the free and full development of his personality is possible.â€
(2) â€œIn the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations...... for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic societyâ€.
Therefore, the UDHR and the Constitution emphasise the enjoyment of human rights responsibly. The Constitution bars discrimination on grounds of ethnic origin, among others, implores all organs of the state and the people of Uganda to work towards the promotion of national unity, peace and stability and confers on the citizens a duty to foster national unity, to live in harmony with others and to respect the rights and freedoms of others.
The Constitution provides for limitations on human rights which must be acceptable and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society. Only four freedoms are absolute in Uganda, namely: freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment; freedom from slavery or servitude; the right to a fair hearing; and the right to habeas corpus. Freedom of speech and expression can and should be limited to prevent incitement of genocide.
The writer is a member of the Uganda Human Rights Commission
Leaders should not fuel ethnic hatred