There are examples from time immemorial which demonstrate that when people can’t take it any more they draw a line beyond which they revolt regardless of consequences. The peasants in feudal Europe had been taught by priests that they should tolerate suffering on earth because their rewards were in heaven. But when the burden of food insecurity and taxation among others became unbearable, they revolted. Since Uganda is basically a rural country of peasants, let us look at some examples of peasant revolts in Europe and one example in Kenya. The examples in Europe are drawn from Historical Facts by Robert Stewart (2002).
The Britons revolted against the Roman rule. The most serious revolt came in A.D. 61. One of the British tribes in East Anglia revolted because it was angered by loss of land to Roman soldiers and heavy tribute imposed on them. Thirteen years earlier, they had revolted because they were deprived of their right to bear arms.
In A.D. 220 there were revolts against China’s Han dynasty. The oppression of peasants by landlords and bureaucracy led to a series of revolts that ended the dynasty and left China with no central government for 350 years.
In A.D. 1358 French peasants revolted against payment of feudal dues and tithes to the clergy which had been rising. Many nobles and peasants were murdered and property destroyed in six weeks of bloody confrontation.
In A.D. 1381 came the English peasant revolt in Essex, Kent and East Anglia of southern England. The plague had reduced population but the surviving peasants did not benefit economically in terms of higher wage as a result of demand exceeding labor supply while the rents they paid to landlords remained high.
Discontent peaked in 1380 by imposing a series of taxes including the harsh poll tax of one shilling a head. The peasants evaded payment and attempts to force them resulted in the revolt of 1381. Led by peasant Wat Tyler and priest John Ball, the revolt in towns including London and counties was very destructive of lives and property. Rural insurrection was not subdued until the end of the year. The authorities were forced to withdraw the unpopular poll tax.
A combination of factors such as bad harvests and rising prices in the early 16th century caused landlords to squeeze peasants in Europe by raising rents and feudal dues as well as cutting them off from common lands. In A.D. 1525 German peasants inspired by Lutheran’s idea of social justice and encouraged by priest Thomas Munzer revolted against their oppressors.
Closer to home, until December 2007, Kenya was considered the most politically stable country in the Horn of Africa and Great Lakes region. Consequently, the brewing anger in the Rift Valley and Coast provinces regarding land grabbing was not factored into Kenya’s political economy. When the revolt erupted, it took everyone by surprise. It was destructive of lives and property and healing isn’t complete yet.
The above lessons should serve as a warning to NRM government and its foreign backers that the situation in Uganda represents calm before the storm. Metaphorically, Ugandans should not be seen as an extinct but a dormant volcano that will erupt when triggered by tectonic movements.
Ugandans are beginning to see and understand why they are in a mess all around. Now they know they are not cursed by God. They are being deliberately dragged down by the NRM regime that is grabbing everything for the enrichment of Tutsi families as described by Sam Njuba during an interview with Observer (Uganda) reporter. It is important to note that Tutsi came into Uganda as refugees starting in 1959 but have now taken over the country and are oppressing indigenous people who are being killed, jailed and pushed into exile where they are being hunted down by NRM spies.
Grabbing land and property, ignoring youth unemployment and school dropout and sprawling urban slums as well as starving Ugandans to export food and earn foreign exchange to cater for the rich etc are being noticed. Foreign experts that praised Uganda as an economic success story have vanished following abandonment of structural adjustment program in 2009 as a socially and environmentally costly experiment that failed.
Museveni’s totalitarian dictatorship including its associated intolerance of any form of dissent including by Members of Parliament is pushing Ugandans against the wall. Museveni needs to remember that dictators end up in a mess: Hitler committed suicide. Mussolini was arrested as he tried to flee the country and was summarily executed. It is reported that Stalin was poisoned. And Diaz of Mexico was thrown out and died in exile.
As Museveni’s Ntare School Old Boy, I have tried to advise him that his method of governing Uganda is setting a stage for confrontation. I have in many ways indicated that no situation is permanent. And when the current situation in Uganda changes and the security forces and religious leaders and development partners and the youth say enough is enough, Museveni may end up like the dictators before him. President Museveni you need to reflect on where you are driving Uganda before it is too late. Two thousand and thirteen should be a watershed year for you and for other Ugandans.
Secretary General & Chief Administrator, UDU