We have seen this movie before. Multiple episodes since 1962. Different actors. Same producers. Same script. Just a variation on a theme.
The movie: Uganda Against Itself. The actors: various rulers and their courtiers. The latest episode – The Age Limit – released in 2017, now playing in a theatre near you. Produced by: Ugandan citizens.
A large percentage of citizens have ably ensured that the actors, really cowboys of western movies, oppress them, exploit them and abuse them. The oppressed ululate, celebrate, egg on and defend their oppressors. The Stockholm Syndrome.
It started before independence. Political formations characterised by conspiracies, removal of leaders, intraparty splits and changing alliances, less informed by ideological considerations than personality, ethnicity and religious affiliations. The 1961 pre-independence talks at Lancaster House in London were a conversation, agreement and disagreement that had very little input from the common citizens. A lot focused on the interests of the kings and other elite politicians, not the needs of the peasants of Kahondo, Kalongo or Kayunga.
That was a brief preview of the movie that was about to start with the pre-independence elections. It was a war of religions – not fought by the chief priests, but by the church goers, the citizens of the land. Brother against brother. Sister against sister. Anglicans against Romans – of the native kind. Nobody forced them to fight.
If the 1962 episode featured a dark start to the series, 1966 marked the beginning of presidential monarchism, with the citizens as enablers. The story is well known, with various claims and counterclaims of whose fault it was. Suffice to say that Prime Minister Milton Obote, having defeated his opponents in the ruling alliance, abrogated the 1962 constitution. The 1966 version was passed by parliament without debate. Not even read by the MPs. Their copies were still in their pigeon holes.
These MPs were very bright individuals, no less gifted and no less able than Obote. They passed it. Nobody forced them to. They could have chosen to say no. They could have chosen to walk out. But they passed it. The pigeon hole constitution. Whether they even bothered to read it, we shall never know. What we know is that that action deepened the crisis, resulting in the battle of Mengo, the flight of the Kabaka of Buganda and a deep and wide schism in the body of a very fragile patchwork of communities.
From then on, the use of the military to control state power became the standard mode of operation. Gen. Idi Amin’s military coup of 1971, the Tanzanian invasion of 1979 and the post-Amin descent into the abyss were natural consequences of the previous episodes.
The changing actors in the militarized state were always enabled and cheered on by citizens who were not at the receiving end of the rulers’ wrath.
All that was supposed to change with the triumphant arrival of Yoweri Museveni in January 1986. We celebrated the great liberator who would have the country ready for democracy within four years.
A constitution, drafted by commissioners, with input by a cross section of citizens, was passed in 1995 by a constituent assembly composed of some of the brightest men and women in the country.
That constitution gave the president enormous power, basically to run the country on his own. It was not Museveni who wrote that constitution.
Yes, he pushed and manipulated from behind the scenes, but he did not have the means to force people to vote for what they did not believe in.
To blame Museveni for the decisions that people made in that constituent assembly is to absolve them of personal responsibility for their actions.
Likewise, Museveni is not solely responsible for the state violence and rigging and all manner of harassment that have been the hallmark of the presidential elections since 1996.
Not once, as far as one can tell, has Museveni personally caned, teargassed, arrested or otherwise harassed an opponent. Not once has he stuffed ballot boxes or changed voting tallies to subvert the people’s will.
These criminal acts have always been committed by Ugandan citizens of sound mind, some in uniforms of armed services that have sworn to defend a constitution that confers broad freedoms on citizens.
That they have chosen to sell their souls in exchange for cash or jobs and other patronage offerings is not Museveni’s fault. It is their fault.
Who lifted the term limits in 2005? It was not Museveni. He was not an MP. It was a group of people who were willing to take five million miserable shillings to betray themselves, their children and posterity.
Now we have the latest episode, with Museveni still determined to remain on his throne until death, as is the right of all kings. Without doubt he wants it and he has been working on it for a long time.
But have you heard him threaten or otherwise harass anyone who is opposed to the age limit scam? Was he not in New York when so-called honourable men and women were falling over each other to demonstrate their total disregard for our dark history?
No! Do not blame Museveni for the scam, for he cannot force anyone to do anything. He is a man who chose to be king, but he did not make himself king. He has chosen to remain king, but that will only be possible if men and women in and outside parliament choose to endorse his plan through their actions or inaction. That includes you Tingasiga.
The president must carry his own moral cross and the guilt of betrayal of numerous comrades who gave their lives believing that theirs was a struggle for freedom for all Ugandans. However, he must not be held responsible for the actions of citizens who have continued to make his dream of a life presidency possible.
We all must choose where we stand on the critical question before us. And live with our choice.