I have been tuned in with bemusement, to the debate on Kyandondo North, and which faction (or is it ‘party’) stabbed the other(s) in the back during the petty struggle to position one of their own for sharing the spoils.. The acronyms that keep coming up include the following: UPC, DP, PPP, NRMO, CP, JEEMA, FDC, JF, UGP, NDF (plus Vicks Kingo!) and on and on…probably heading for the 623 of the evening of Mobutu’s Zaire , when that country was the most vibrant multiparty democracy in the world.
But the question is, where does factionalism end and where does pluralism begin? When one looks at the random harvest of Uganda’s political elite, all one sees are individuals that are exactly the same, but struggling to be different. They struggle to differ because of the narrowness of the ‘panya’ that leads to the coveted throne where some ruling clique of the day dishes out patronage, lubricated mostly unearned income that is tossed at us in form of aid.
Let us take a closer look at Uganda ’s demographics. We are just over 30 million. Of that, about 27 million, i.e., 90% are peasants. Let us take another country like France in the past. In 1789 on the eve of that country’s revolution, the French were 25 million and of that, 23 million i.e., 90% were peasants. Yes, one could argue that, that was France , and the year was 1789.. In other words: different locales, different epochs. But in socio-historical terms, Uganda 2008 = France 1789: 90% peasants and that tells a huge story about our capabilities across the board.
But of course you know that when France had the same proportion of peasants like we do now, they did not have political parties. Is it because the French were blind to the virtues of pluralism, and we, Uganda are cleverer? Is it a historical accident that when the earlier modernisers had similar demographics like Uganda ’s now they were ruled by monarchs (Mono: single person; archs: rulers)? And I am not a monarchist please….but, with our 90% peasants, the rest being – let us be honest – a lumpen bourgeoisie, a functional liberal democracy seems to be a negative dream in Uganda, as the purposeless jostling between and within our factions clearly demonstrates.
Attempting to cheat social development will not take us anywhere, because the gravity of our social reality seems to always push us towards our historical station: mediaevalism: 20, 30, 40 yrs in power like the Hapsburgs, Hohenzollerns, Shoguns and Tudors did in their days!
Historically, political parties have always emerged as structures for forming and conveying group interests in VERTICALLY DIFFERENTIATED SOCIETIES whose structure is the outcome of the transformation engendered by the industrial and agricultural revolutions. In societies where political parties emerge, wage labourers at the base, bureaucratic elites in the middle and merchants, owners of capital, financiers, industrialists and land at the top (I am reminded here that, 70% of the land in Britain is owned by 0.7% of the population). In that kind of set up, a labourer in a factory will not give a damn about the ethnicity of a factory manager. What the wage labourer wants is a decent minimum wage, low income tax and acceptable working conditions. The head of his trade union can be any religion or lineage, as long as he is vocal enough to squeeze maximum benefits from the factory owner.
In those societies, political parties are nothing but the committees that manage the interests of those classes.. For example in Britain which colonised us, the interests of the top third are taken care of by the Conservatives, those of the middle third by the Liberal Democrats (the fence sitters) and those of the bottom third are managed by the Labour Party. Tell us: whose class interests do UPC or DP or PPP or NRM or CP or JEEMA or FDC or JF or UGP or NDF etc manage? Whose interests does Nzaana, Semuwemba, Ochieno, Wambuga, Nsubuga part I, Nsubuga Part II, Nsubuga, Adhola and…..er, L/Cpl Otto represent? Do we speak for wage labourers, landlords, financiers or what? Which class do we speak for?
Uganda now is a society that is HORIZONTALLY DIFFERENTIATED. The only groups known to the predominant ‘class’ (the 90% peasants) in Uganda are ethnicities, clans, sub clans, lineages, families, castes etc. The consciousness of the 10% (or even less) pseudo elite (one of whom you and I are) is false consciousness arising from what we see across the fence in the global north.
Now; people, when you impose the structures of interest aggregation and articulation of vertically differentiated polities onto horizontally differentiated countries like Uganda, IT IS AS IF YOU ARE FORCING A PAWPAW TREE TO GROW LIKE A PUMPKIN. That tree will either die off outright, or become a disastrous weed as it struggles to conform to alien territory: the undulating contours of that horizontal plane of pre-industrialism. The fact is that, political parties are not merely creatures of, but are an upshot of industrialism. We are not there. What political dispensation propelled the industrial, vertically differentiated polities to liberalism? It was not multipartyism!
Just like a pawpaw tree cannot grow like a pumpkin, or kalitusi can not grow like lumonde, liberal democracy cannot thrive in our mediaeval-like conditions. We may need to go back to the drawing board!…..Look at what other preindustrial countries had to do to create the infrastructure for liberal democracy.