‘We are gathered here to forge an inclusive partnership that will enable us to agree on a road map for establishing a transitional government of all Ugandans; prevent a possible civil war and lay a foundation for sustainable political, economic, social, democratic and environmental platform.
To achieve that we who are gathered here and other Ugandans not present need to heed what Suzan Rice said in 1989 regarding a new partnership with Africa “listen to one another, learn from one another and compromise with one another”. In a recent interview including about public relations, the president of Chile also underscored the importance of negotiations and compromise.
Ipso facto business as usual in terms of winner takes all need to be abandoned in Uganda and replaced by win-win arrangements. By definition win-win solutions involve genuine negotiations and willingness to give in order to receive. In a negotiated settlement no one gets everything they want. You aim for the second best option.
We also need to remind ourselves that we are gathered here as Ugandans constructed in the image of our one Creator. The 1945 United Nations Charter calls for a society “without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 1 that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.
The Declaration of Human Rights borrowed a lot from the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen which underscored inter alia, that “Men are born and remain free in rights. The aim of every political association is the preservation of the natural … rights of man. These rights are [inter alia] liberty, prosperity, security and resistance to oppression. The source of all sovereignty is essentially in the nation [the people]; no body, no individual can exercise authority that does not proceed from it in plain terms. Liberty consists in the power to do anything that does not injure others; accordingly, the exercise of the natural rights of man has no limits except those that secure to the other members of society the enjoyment of these same rights. These limits can be determined only by law. … Law is the expression of the general will. All citizens have the right to take part personally, or by their representatives, in its formation. It must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. … Society has the right to call for an account of his [her] administration from every public agent. Property being a sacred and inviolable right, no one can be deprived of it, unless a legally established public necessity evidently demands it, under the conditions of a just and prior indemnity”.
Many countries including Uganda have incorporated many of these elements into their constitutions.
The human rights and fundamental freedoms of Ugandans are inalienable (or God-given) and not privileges dished out and withdrawn by leaders. When these rights and freedoms are violated, they must be restored in the shortest possible time. In Uganda the NRM government has violated citizen rights and freedoms.
We also need to stress that people choose leaders to protect their human rights and fundamental freedoms. Ipso facto, leaders govern with the consent of the governed. When leaders fail in their duties, the people who are sovereign have a right to replace those leaders who are the servants of the people, a concept that NRM understood very well at the start of its administration but has conveniently forgotten about it. Removing leaders can be done democratically through the ballot box or through non-violent resistance or by other means including revolutions which are more often than not accompanied by civil wars with deadly outcomes.
We need to debate this issue as Ugandans who have lost faith in elections want to topple the NRM government by non-violent means in the first instance while others are preparing to use force right away. The two groups need to talk to each other and agree on a common position.
History is full of examples of relatively peaceful change of regimes that are immediately followed by bloody civil wars.
This happens, in large part, because groups with different interests come together for the sole purpose of removing a common unpopular regime. Once that is accomplished, there is nothing in common to bind them together. They revert to their ideological camps and turn against one another in their vicious struggle to form the next government as outlined in the following examples.
The revolutions in France of 1789, Mexico of 1910, Russia of 1917 and Ethiopia of 1974 were all followed by bloody civil wars among groups that had worked together to overthrow the dictatorial regimes.
In France the radical Jacobins fought with the moderate Girondins and others for control of France. This lasted ten years. In Mexico a ten year civil war ensued including the fighting between the followers of Emiliano Zapata and Francisco ‘Pincho” Villa that had worked together with Francisco Madero to remove the unpopular government of President Diaz.
In Russia the post-Romanov provisional government was replaced by Kerensky’s which was in turn replaced by Lenin’s. Because there was no agreement about what Lenin was doing a civil war broke out from 1918 to 1921 between the Bolshevik (communist) Red Army and the White Russians.
After the overthrow of the imperial government in 1974, Ethiopia experienced a bloody white and red terror civil war.
Civil war or disturbance occurred following the overthrow of the Tokugawa regime in Japan and the Manchu dynasty in China.
The collapse of the Tokugawa regime in 1867 was followed by disagreements within the new administration. Problems in dismantling the political, economic and social structures of the Tokugawa regime made it difficult for the new constitution to take effect until 1890.
In China, internal uprising caused in large part by corruption, famine and external involvement contributed to the end of the empire in 1911 that was followed by the struggle for power that provided opportunities for local warlords to re-establish their power at the expense of the central government. A civil war ensued for thirty years keeping the new republic in a state of anarchy.
Closer to home and in more recent times, Uganda witnessed the turmoil and killings that followed the collapse of the Amin regime and resulted in a bloody guerrilla war in the Luwero Triangle and the Northern and Eastern regions of Uganda.
The revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and coup in Central African Republic have likewise been accompanied by political instability with adverse impact on society and the economy. These are many lessons for Uganda to learn from.
So how do we avoid a post-NRM bloody civil war? One way of doing that is first and foremost to analyze professionally and objectively without fear or favor what has caused instability and failed regimes in Uganda and identity the root causes and recommend solutions.
We need to be bold but respectful of one another and identify the root causes. Some people among us may resist but sweeping problems under the carpet will not offer a lasting solution and we are not here for temporary solutions but for laying a foundation for sustainable democracy and good governance.
To eliminate or minimize post-NRM feuding for political posts on a winner takes all basis, we should seriously consider the possibility of forming a transitional umbrella government under capable, patriotic, experienced and above all leaders of impeccable character or integrity taking into consideration Uganda’s diversity in all its manifestations.
To avoid fighting about who should become president we should set up a presidential commission in which every region of Uganda is represented. This is what happened in the Soviet Union after the death of Stalin in 1953.
We need to stress once again that we are all Ugandans with diverse characteristics and potential which when properly harnessed should serve Uganda as an asset, not a liability.
From time immemorial conflicts have been there, are still there and will always be there at household, community, regional, national and global levels. What we need to do is to muster the art and courage of managing them so that they don’t erupt into wars.
We can do that if we keep in mind that we were born free and equal in dignity and rights: that none will govern by divine right or by the sword.
In Uganda we should adjust to changing circumstances and agree to an inclusive transitional government headed by a presidential commission of representatives from the regions of Uganda.
Preparing for a transitional government should draw on the lessons of the Moshi conference of 1979 that brought together Ugandans in the diaspora with diametrically opposed interests that exploded into bitter political and military confrontations followed by bloody wars. The failures and atrocities that followed are still fresh in our minds.
We must also be ready to admit mistakes by commission and/or omission where and when they occurred. It is through this admission first that others including those directly or indirectly affected can gather the courage to forgive except perhaps in extreme circumstances including crimes committed against humanity where perpetrators need to be punished for the purpose of sending a signal that such practices can’t and won’t be tolerated. Admitting a mistake is not a sign of weakness; rather of wisdom and pragmatism.
Let me return to the transitional government idea. Besides running the country for at least three years, the transitional government should conduct a national census and convene a national conference to give Ugandans a chance to discuss how they want to be governed.
There are many among us who favor a federal system of government that checks central government tyranny with in-built safeguards to ensure that power is not abused at lower levels. It should also revisit the 1995 Uganda constitution and establish a Truth and Reconciliation exercise.
The transitional government should also arrange for presidential and parliamentary multiparty free and fair elections based on the following criteria:
First, establishing a truly independent electoral commission agreed to by all stakeholders;
Second, drawing up profiles and procedures for candidates in multi-party presidential and parliamentary elections.
Third, putting together a truly independent vetting commission that ensures that presidential and parliamentary candidates meet the minimum requirements set out in the profiles;
Fourth, standardizing campaign funds for presidential and parliamentary elections in order to stop the rich candidates from bribing voters;
Fifth, to avoid taking advantage of the position of incumbency, all members of the presidential commission should be barred from contesting the first elections. In France all members of the National Assembly stepped down in the first elections after the revolution.
The people of Uganda would then select their representatives on the basis of their campaign manifesto instead of their money. This would encourage leaders to be accountable to the people for fear they might not be re-elected, if they behaved otherwise as is the current practice.
We must also keep in mind at all times that we are regardless of our backgrounds, Ugandans first and foremost endowed with reason and conscience and must treat one another in a spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood.
This conference and those to follow must keep this basic principle in mind as we join hands with those that started before us in preparing for a transitional government.
Ladies and gentlemen that is my contribution to the steps to be taken in preparing a roadmap.
With blessing of the Almighty, I wish this conference every success.
November 29, 2013