Letter to a Kampala Friend
By Muniini K. Mulera
It has been a while since I wrote. My friends and I have been working on a website that we trust will broaden our dialogue and give voice to many who are unable to be heard through the traditional news media.
The website, which is called Mulera’s Fireplace, is inspired by our elders’ tradition where a fireplace was a forum for story telling, sharing news, discussing family plans and challenges, and enjoying live entertainment.
Many contentious issues were amicably settled, with all voices heard and consensus sought. No doubt some conflicts were too complex to be resolved through a fireplace chat. In those cases, bows, arrows, shields and spears were mobilized for a bloody showdown.
However, the carnage and casualties were rarely worth the effort. Human lives were, and still are, too precious to be destroyed over temporal interests. At least everything should always be done to prevent bloodshed.
This is a subject that is exercising my mind, as I am sure it is yours, Tingasiga. A tragedy has befallen the global Ugandan family and there is a dark and mournful mood in our collective hearts. Our country is torn apart.
It is easy to blame one person or other for what happened in recent months. It is easy to be mad at the ruler and his armed enforcers. It is easy to castigate the hopelessly inept and mischievous Electoral Commission because of the disastrous conduct of the pseudo-electoral exercise.
It is easy to blame the bishops and other collared folk for their collusion with the ruler in exchange for cars and other worldly comforts.
It is very tempting to throw proverbial mud at the Supreme Court for treating a case of electoral fraud as though it was one of petty theft of a chicken.
However, none of this serves any purpose. Blaming these and others who are propping up the regime is a pointless exercise in self-therapy. Why, they too are hostages to the diseases of selfishness, fear, and short-termism.
In any case, continued finger pointing at the obvious does not erase the fact that that the country is in deep muck, and we are going to sink or swim together.
There are three options. First is the violent option that Yoweri Museveni pursued after the December 1980 elections. It is an option that those considering it should abandon very fast. To be sure, it is an option that Ugandan citizens should reject and expunge from our way of settling political disputes.
Had violence been a solution, the Museveni-led armed resistance would have brought about justice and sustainable democracy. That some would consider violent rebellion against Museveni is the best argument against that option. Violent rebellion produces a new set of merchants of the arrogant view that “we-fought-therefore-we-are-entitled-to-rule-and-exploit-you-to-our-hearts’-content.”
Furthermore, unlike the 1980s, today’s prevailing internal, regional and international conditions do not favour armed rebellion. However, even if these conditions favored a rebellion, I would still be very strongly opposed to it. Uganda has shed enough blood, with nothing to show for it except talk of shedding more blood.
I urge the youth who may be invited into the bush to join an armed rebellion to think long and hard before they make the foolish move to die so that others may rule. War is not and must never be an option ever again.
The second option is non-violent street protests and other public displays of discontent. This is legal, viable and works, but only in societies where the state hesitates to use lethal force against peaceful citizens.
Furthermore, it works where there is a broad coalition that includes religious leaders and genuinely professional, non-partisan members of the armed forces. This is not the case in Uganda.
There was a time when one knew that in a crisis, one could count on the bishops and deacons to provide the moral guidance and support to a bleeding land.
In 2016, Christians find themselves in a situation where a number of their bishops are standing in solidarity with the hijackers of the state and people’s freedom. Even as people mourn the loss of their latest hope for change, and even as the leading opposition candidate remains under illegal arrest, some bishops are singing praises for the ruler.
The regime’s enforcers have demonstrated the capacity and willingness to employ ruthless measures against any unarmed and peaceful public gathering of defiance. Therefore this is not an option that I would recommend in the current circumstances.
The third option is one that not only recognizes that Uganda is bigger than all of us, but also that we all stare hell in the face and have nobody except ourselves to reverse gears and change course together. The only way to do this is through dialogue. It is more effective and less costly than the other two options.
I recognize that there is a huge trust deficit. I know that many are very angry with the ruler and his courtiers. The thought of sitting down with one who robbed you may sound worse than drinking hemlock. Yet history has shown us that even the most incompatible of people can still find common ground.
Such dialogue should have very broad representation, with a clearly agreed agenda, overseen by a neutral external facilitator and credible external witnesses.
It should be preceded by an independent review of the 2016 electoral exercise in order to have a factual basis for tackling the crucial questions of electoral reforms.
One trick that the opposition must not fall for is the business of a government of “national unity.” It would be a grave error, for such a government would be no less corrupt and dysfunctional than the one the opposition has been trying to dislodge.
Meanwhile, we should not wait for such formal dialogue to engage each other in a quest for a solution to our 55-year affliction of failed democratization. I invite all who wish to engage in positive and solution-focused dialogue, regardless of political party affiliation, to join us at The Fireplace for a respectful and honest conversation.