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Uganda’s political dilemma

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How the degeneration of NRM has infected the opposition thus undermining potential for real change

The on-going battle inside the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) between President Yoweri Museveni and Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi has reopened the debate on succession. What chances actually exist for a peaceful transition from Museveni? What do those interested in a peaceful change of power and, equally, in a qualitative change in governance need to think about?

There is a widespread perception among elite Ugandans that our country has suffered a decline in the quality of governance. Many enlightened Ugandans are apprehensive at the failure of the state to deliver basic public goods and services. The public sector no longer embodies the public spirit; instead it reinforces a pattern of politics where the benefits of public policy enrich a few well-connected individuals at the expense of the many.

Thus, many routine public services like crime prevention, healthcare, and education are characterised by incompetence, corruption, apathy and indifference. The state in Uganda is most active and effective when it is protecting Museveni’s power. This has led to a widespread belief that power is not organised to serve a broader public good but rather a narrow interest.

I specifically refer to elite Ugandans because opinion polls, especially those by Afrobaromter in December 2010, showed that the majority of Ugandans believe public services are good/improving: 57/68% for health and 68/79% for education. May be ordinary people are ignorant, and therefore making uninformed judgement. Or may be elite Ugandans have been exposed to better services elsewhere and are too aspirational to see improvements in public sector performance.

How did we come to this? Over the last 28 years, Museveni has been pursuing a national development agenda. He may have calculated that he cannot achieve this goal if he has been overthrown and thus in jail or exile. He needs to hold power first. Yet the pursuit of power, and its accompanying concessions and compromises, has greatly undermined his ability to deliver on the national development project. This has led many to suspect he is pursuing power for its own sake hence claims of family succession.

This suspicion has led many NRM leaders to become opportunistic; they have also decided to pursue personal goals by lining their own pockets; hence rampant graft. And because theft is widespread and rampant, the probability that anyone will be picked upon for prosecution is low. This encourages more theft. Equally dangerous, the desire to retain the support of powerful elites in his governing coalition has led Museveni to turn a blind eye to their corruption, incompetence, and indifference to the public good.

This crisis inside the NRM has infected the opposition. The opposition is angry because it sees those in government as looters, a factor that has led to its radicalisation. Yet this perception could mean that the opposition is projecting its own view of power on public officials i.e. it sees public office as an opportunity to loot. Hence opposition anger may be a disguised form of jealous and equally an expression of its own aspirations to become looters if they capture power.

There is a big political dividend for being radical especially in areas that are hostile to Museveni. By taking an uncompromising stance against the President and the government, opposition politicians rally the base. Sounding belligerent helps build the credentials that such a politician is courageous and has not been or cannot be, compromised. Thus, in constituencies hostile to NRM, the extremists win. This has weakened moderate politicians in the opposition.

This dynamic is laden with risks. It means that if Museveni were defeated, those best positioned to succeed him are the radicalised sections of the opposition. Yet these will most likely reproduce NRM’s politics of confrontation, intolerance, lies, manipulations, subterfuge and corruption – most likely without Museveni’s finesse; thus ensuring that Uganda jumps from the frying pan into the fire.

So far, the success of extremists in the opposition has worked in Museveni’s favour. Although extremists can rally the base, they cannot grow their numbers. That is why although support for NRM has been declining, that of the opposition has not been growing either – according to opinion polls. But the radicals are functional for Museveni in another way: their extremism threatens many potential allies inside government and the most successful sections of the private sector (the moneyed class) who fear that change will come with retribution. So these cling to Museveni.

Museveni also knows he has effective and personal control over the core elements of the state – the military, police and security services – that make the exercise of power possible. Therefore, even if he were to lose control of the political machinery through an election, the victorious opposition or even NRM insiders like Mbabazi who are challenging him, would have won politically but would most likely fail to dislodge him from power. This is because Museveni would have retained control of the strategic elements of the state.

This is exactly what happened in Uganda in February 1966. The Secretary General of the ruling Uganda Peoples Congress, Grace Ibingira, in alliance with the Kabaka of Buganda, Frederick Muteesa, supported by the Army Commander, Brig. Shaban Opolot, successfully defeated Prime Minister Milton Obote politically through a parliamentary resolution that amounted to a vote of no confidence. They were unable to remove Obote from power because he had effective control over the core elements of the state – the army (through the Deputy Army Commander, Col. Idi Amin) and the police (through its Inspector General, Erinayo Oryema).

Therefore, Museveni can only surrender power voluntarily, so the better for his opponents to offer him a soft landing. This means that there is an urgent need to bolster the fortunes of the moderate opposition. This is the best way to attract the majority of Ugandans back into the political process. During the 2011 presidential elections, 42% of registered voters, more than the total votes Museveni got, did not vote. There is also need to have an opposition that will reassure Museveni and his people of change without retribution.

The battle between moderation and radicalism has been fought inside FDC between the supporters of Mugisha Muntu (moderates) and Nandala Mafabi (extremists). Although in the short term Muntu seems to have won, his victory is precarious. Bolstering Muntu’s position should be the most important objective for those who want a qualitative change in the politics of Uganda.

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Comments (31)Add Comment
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written by Rajab Kakyama, April 28, 2014
There is nothing wrong with radicalism. More so, if it is an expression of a struggle than a sign of desperation and vengeance. We are thankful for "The Independent" today, largely because of the "radical" tendencies of a former journalist at the monitor. On August 16, 2007, this is how Mwenda expressed himself:
"The Managing Director Monitor Publications Ltd Dear Mr. Tom Mushindi RE: RESIGNATION This is to formally inform you that I have decided to resign from being a Political Editor of Daily Monitor newspaper and from being a radio talk-show host on KFM. I have considered your request to return to Monitor and decided against it.
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written by Rajab Kakyama, April 28, 2014
I have also considered your request that I at least resume writing my Sunday column and again decided that I should take more time before I accept to do so. Since I have been on unpaid leave from Monitor for a long while now, I would like my resignation to take immediate effect. I have worked at Monitor since January 1994; first as a student intern during my first year as a student of journalism at Makerere University and since September 1996 as a full time employee. In fact, I am currently the longest serving journalist at the newspaper. During this period, I served Monitor with dedication and integrity. Almost every year of my work at Monitor, I won a certificate of excellence.
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written by Rajab Kakyama, April 28, 2014
I broke the biggest stories in the country, hosted the greatest names on radio and in many cases even attracted the largest advertisements. Monitor readers and KFM listeners responded generously to my articles and radio shows because I upheld our core values of independence, truth, accuracy, courage and balance. Monitor was for me more than a workplace. It was more importantly an institution that embodied the values that I cherish dearly – freedom, liberty, independence and professional journalism. The founders of Monitor did not begin the newspaper for money. They did so to create a platform through which Ugandans could freely and openly debate public issues. This attracted me to Monitor.
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written by Rajab Kakyama, April 28, 2014
Over the years, Monitor faced many threats from the state as a business. However, at no one time did the founders sacrifice its core values and heritage to safeguard it as a business. In fact, many of us suffered state harassment, went to jail and spent years in court on criminal trials for defending free expression in Uganda. Right now I am personally facing 15 criminal charges for expressing myself freely. It is our firm stand in defence of liberty that inspired many people and brought us readers and listeners. These gave us revenue and attracted advertisers which made the company successful as a business. By placing our core values above commercial concerns, we created a public space that many Ugandans, many of them in high government offices, came to value dearly.
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written by Rajab Kakyama, April 28, 2014
However, during my fellowship year at Stanford University, I was saddened to learn that the major shareholder, Mr. Karim Al-Hussaini (commonly known as The AgaKhan) unilaterally suspended my articles from being published in Daily and Sunday Monitor. Although the board of directors revoked the decision, I am not convinced that Monitor can regain its independence. I have consulted widely and thought deeply about Mr. Al-Hussaini’s arbitrary directive and reached a conclusion that the editorial environment at Monitor is no longer conducive to free and unfettered debate of public issues in the country especially the presidency. The interference of the major shareholder in the editorial details of the newspaper is a tragic development.
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written by Rajab Kakyama, April 28, 2014
This is especially so because of his other business interests in the country. He has increasingly undermined the paper’s editorial independence and its contribution to democracy and accountability in our country. I have been informed by journalists and editors that they are not allowed to write stories critical of the president and his family. The air in the editorial rooms is suffocating. I hold the values of independence from the state so dearly that I cannot work in such an environment. In sending his directive, Mr. Al-Hussaini was abusing his powers as a major shareholder. Media shareholders are not supposed to deliberately undermine the professional independence of media organisations.
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written by Rajab Kakyama, April 28, 2014
Mr. Al-Hussaini can only do this in Africa because somehow, anyone who is anything on our continent tends to act with impunity. A president steals from and kills his own citizens. An investor makes decisions about the company and disregards shareholders, employees and the values and the heritage of the organisation. That has been the persistent message of disillusionment on our continent! I have done some consultations and learnt that Mr. Hussaini did not consult other shareholders in both Nation Media Group and in Monitor Publications Limited – who actually hold the majority shares in both companies – before sending his directive. He did not even consult the board of directors of NMG in Nairobi, nor of MPL in Kampala.
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written by Rajab Kakyama, April 28, 2014
This arbitrary use of power is symptomatic of the way Mr. Museveni has been ruling Uganda and what I have been critical of. Does Mr. Al Hussaini think that only his interests matter and those of other shareholders don’t? Does he think that MPL employees are not stakeholders in the company – even if they are not shareholders? Doesn’t he consider the aspirations of the Ugandan people? Africa has seen many “investors” who traded blood diamonds, gold, Colton, oil etc as the countries in which they made huge profits collapsed under the weight of ethnic strife, civil war and abject poverty. I hope that Mr. Al-Hussaini has taken lessons from that experience." (Edited for emphasis.)

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written by Rajab Kakyama, April 28, 2014
I hope Mwenda's displeasure about the radicalization of the opposition is not an "antithesis" of the strong views that he so wilfully expressed in this letter. In the past, Radicalism has been applied as a galvanising force to coalesce masses against oppression. In the African struggle for independence, the Imperialists were so willing to work with the "more amiable" Africans, for instance, in Zimbabwe they preferred to work with Muzorewa but it was the stubbornness of Joshua Nkomo and "uncle Robert" that led Zimbabwe to Independence. In the Congo, the colonialists chose Kasavubu over a more radical Patrice Lumumba whose "authority" the y could not suppress even in death.
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written by Rajab Kakyama, April 28, 2014
In Guinea it was Sekou Toure and in Senegal, Senghor's radicalism that brought them independence. The much cherished "Pan Africanism" is a "brainchild" of radicalism. In 1957, after attaining independence, Nkrumah regarded Ghanaian independence merely as a means to a greater end, for the complete liberation of Africa from colonialism and the achievement of the widest possible measure of unity among the African peoples. With this in view, he could not tolerate disunity in Ghana And directed most of the national resources to this greater good. History's great generals- Napoleon, Robert E. Lee were radicals.
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written by Rajab Kakyama, April 28, 2014
During World War II, Churchill constantly complained that his generals were too cautious, as he illustrated this memo to the first sea lord: "It is now three weeks since I vetoed the proposal to evacuate the Eastern Mediterranean and bring Admiral Cunningham's fleet to Gibraltar. I hope there will be no return to that project. Anyone can see the risk from an attack which we run in the central Mediterranean. From time to time and for sufficient objects this risk will have to be faced. Warships are meant to go under fire." Maybe sometimes when we are faced with hard decisions, we need to get out of our "comfort zones" to take the necessary actions however radical it may seem at the time.
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written by Desmond, April 29, 2014
Rajab
There is a time when radicalism is the right approach, when you need a revolutionary change to an undesirable situation, as was the case in the African independence struggle or when a situation imminent danger demands an urgent robust response, like the one Churchill and England faced.

Uganda,s present situation does not measure to that, we will gain more if we have an evolutionary, gradual and incremental change. It will be change with continuity that the bulk of Ugandans are likely to support now

Andrew is right on this and Muntu is the man for the job

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written by Rajab Kakyama, April 29, 2014
Hi Desmond!
Incremental in what sense? No medicines in the Hospitals, family rule, corruption, militarism, massive unemployment, impassable roads- which of these would you like to continue with Desmond? I find Mwenda's article largely a blackmail to the opposition. How would one contend with a police that is clearly partisan and hellbent to quash any kind of political mobilization? Isn't this the "suffocation of the editorial room" that Mwenda refers to in his resignation letter? There should be a clear disconnection to the current trend and if needs a revolution, so be it.
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written by Ocheto, April 29, 2014
By saying that the current regime could be bribed, given a soft landing, to surrender power are you not actually suggesting that they commit political suicide? It is wishful thinking to expect the current NRM government (power hungry as they are: power means everything in Uganda) with its absolute control of instruments of power to just give in for the benefit of democracy. The core of the historicals who felt they were cheated and got sidelined have been effectively replaced with even more power hungry zealots who will never just walk away from absolute power.
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written by Ocheto, April 29, 2014
. Look at Syria: do you think Assad and his henchmen will just surrender? Or Egypt where the military machinery mercilessly struck back, regained power, jailed and pulverized all the revolutionaries, within months of the so-called Arab Spring. The military is so entrenched in Ugandan politics only whoever is “directly” in charged can stay in and wield power in Uganda. If Musevei goes there will be turmoil without anybody effectively in charge of the coercive forces. That is why any talk of Mbabazi as the next president is whistling in the dark. Even General Muntu: how much is he still accepted by vestiges of military establishment that takes orders only from Museveni and no one else?
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written by winnie, May 01, 2014
1.On the case of the Odoki its perfectly okay for a president to nominate one who he trusts 1st of all odoki has a good record,as lawyers we all know about Justice John Adams and Justice John Marshall they all served for over 30 years besides that the post of CJ is like that of a chairman he is basically there to overule if there is a tie and when the supreme court judges fail to agree on a specific matter most of the time he is free thats why he can afford to attend celebrations in Kololo for the whole day the main guys in law are the Solistor General and the Attorney General legally,they run the show
2.Uganda should be ruled like North Korea those guys are so disciplined.
3. Democracy is not meant for some nations look at Egypt,Libiya WHERE are they now ?was it about Gadaffi
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written by winnie, May 01, 2014
4. Uganda's politics is of poor quality and soooooooooooo calculative the Politicans are ruled by the low class they foolishy tell them what to do and they deliberately agree to their crazy demands now look at Kasokoso why is it hard for Semujju to tell his voters that they are ilegally occupying that land and that they even risk being arrested for tress pass?its coz they will accuse him of neglecting them and not being "their man" so he foolishly abides by their demands.
5.Why cant Katuntu tell his voters to keep basic hygiene to avoid Jiggers he cant coz he will risk being misunderstood by his voters for having insulted them.
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written by Andrew M. Mwenda, May 02, 2014
I have read and re-read my resignation letter as quoted by Kakyama above and failed to see any relevance it has to this debate. However, we can say that Nelson Mandela, Robert Mugabe, Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Toure, Jomo Kenyatta etc all left jail and finally sat with the departing colonialist and negotiated terms of the transition. More profoundly is the fact that the vast majority of citizens through numerous opinion polls say they trust Museveni, think public goods and services like roads, schools, hospitals, education, healthcare, water etc are good or very good and even more say are improving. Museveni is not apartheid system - even with all the weaknesses of his administration which i continue to point out.
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written by Andrew M. Mwenda, May 02, 2014
Can I advise Kakyama to read and re-read my resignation letter from Monitor and follow what we have been doing at The Independent to see how we have truly built a professional media house where there is free and unfettered debate not just of public issues but even persons. I am the most criticized person on this website and in comments below this column and not once has one comment, or a paragraph in it, or even a sentence of letter been removed because it criticized Andrew Mwenda - and I own this company and website. Therefore, at least I hope Kakyama can have the courage (and few ever do) to admit that this newspaper lives up to its promise of free debate of every issue including of Museveni's family - just read Personal Rule in Uganda.
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written by Andrew M. Mwenda, May 02, 2014
What is significant is that this newspaper believes that everyone should have their voice heard - Museveni, Besigye, Mwenda, Kakyama - everyone. Does Kakyama's quotation of my resignation letter in any way contradict this promise?
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written by Raymond , May 02, 2014
Andrew, I think the way Ugandans act in the regime change they don't need to plan the way your putting it. Its good that you can correlate your information very well. How did Amin go? The same with Obote and Obote? That shows you that Ugandans are very reactive not proactive. I believe that Syria, Libya, Egypt scenarios are far from Uganda. However one thing in mind is that the youth seem to be becoming more interested in the way things are politically managed. That's where danger apparently lies. I don't see how Museveni will manage this circumstantial situational. And when you talk of the force Police, Army among others these are the ones that pushed Mubarak out in the modern politics and repeatedly to Sohato too. So its a question of when not time I guess.
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written by Rajab Kakyama, May 03, 2014
@Mwenda
"Does Kakyama's quotation of my resignation letter in any way contradict this promise?" - Of course not. My reaction is not towards your resignation letter, it is rather towards this very article. In your article I fail to distinguish between, "principles" and "extremism or radicalism." It would be "too much" to expect the opposition to act normally in such extreme and stringent conditions- where the NRM has taken over every aspect of the state, where the police is obsessed with maintaining the regime in power, where there is state inspired corruption and a few else among others. Hypothetically, take it that Mr. Al Hussaini is government and you (Mwenda) are the opposition.
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written by Ocheto, May 03, 2014
Mwenda do you even read and comprehend what you write? The exegesis of Kakyama's response was directed at your seeming dismissal of radicalism as bound to reproduce the same bad regime that it purports it is fighting to replace. K is saying if that were the case your radicalism (to leave Monitor the way did was radical) would have replicated the intolerance that you suffered when you worked at the Monitor. But apparently it didn't, it had the exact opposite as reported in your letter (hence its reproduction verbatim). I hold the opposite view. Your radicalism has gone nowhere but has instead turned into a Stockholm Syndrome, i.e., sympathizing with the oppressive State.
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written by Denis Musinguzi, May 04, 2014
My simple reading of Andrew's article and the responses thereunder is that the opposition, worth the bait, must do everything it takes to surmount the obstacles placed before it by the siting regime. While a leveled political play ground is the ideal, reality shows it is the onus of the opponent to outsmart the the one in power. I believe, without trouble of adducing concrete proof, that nowhere in the world is a political system that seeks as its political object to make it easy for the opposition to wrestle from it power. The difference is in the details. But if Andrew's radicalism against the Daily Monitor produced its stark opposite at The Independent, then radicalism, as one among very many other political tactics, should be allowed room in the opponent's strategy to wrestle power.
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written by Andrew M. Mwenda, May 05, 2014
Well, does my resignation letter sound radical? I would be surprised. it does not denounce Monitor. It criticizes Ali Hussain without calling him names.Unless Kakyama and his ilk think criticism is radicalism. Muntu criticizes the government and so does katuntu and bidandi and many others and they are not radicalised. the radicals i speak of are the intolerant lot who accuse anyone who disagrees with their emotional outbursts of having been bought; who reject every opinion poll that shows that many ugandans (rightly or wrongly) trust museveni etc. My resignation letter, mr. kakyama, is not radicalism. it was a sober statement of what was happening at Monitor.
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written by Andrew M. Mwenda, May 05, 2014
Most importantly, there are many things about Mr. Ali Hussain which I knew as an employee of Monitor which i never raised in my resignation letter but which would have provided considerable grist to it - like the fact that the paper could never publish an opinion critical of him, his actions and the workings of any and all his companies and organizations. That is why if there was anything wrong happening with Bujagali, monitor cannot publish it; and if they write any story about it, it has to be approved by Paris. I felt I should disagree from a purely principled standpoint and leave such things and many others based on insider information I had out of the public sphere.
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written by Denis Musinguzi, May 05, 2014
Well put Andrew, but your usage of radicalism appeals to the modern American usage of the term to refer to extremism. Radicalism, in its etymological and historical sense, is far moderate, and refers to opposition to all forms of government, or authority. The fact that you declined Monitor's offer to publish your your articles after the board had revoked Ali Hussain's directives because you believed Monitor will never regain its independence is a statement of radicalism in all its deep meaning. Radicalism also means new idea or opinion that is likely to have a great effect. It is precisely due to your radical stand against Monitor that The Independent was born, with a completely new air of independence, at least in your own judgement.
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written by Edward Sekyewa, May 05, 2014
This piece seems to point at a scenario where radicalism implies retribution, and I do not agree with that. Radicals may come up with new ways of doing things without necessarily being retributive. That Museveni can only surrender power voluntarily means that we even need more radicals to stop him in those tracks, otherwise why would we continue wasting time and resources preparing for elections? As of now, Museveni has not committed such crimes that would require him to go to jail or in exile once out of power, but he is likely to commit such crimes if he continues entrenching himself in power.
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written by Frank B, May 09, 2014
Guys don't attack Mwenda as a person, look at the issues he raises if they make sense. And again this is his opinion
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written by Andrew L.C., May 19, 2014
One. Your premise that "the opposition is projecting its own view of power on public officials i.e. it sees public office as an opportunity to loot. Hence opposition anger may be a disguised form of jealous and equally an expression of its own aspirations to become looters if they capture power" is based on a cynical view that the current looters in office use to jusify their actions. There are many people in the opposition who find the blatant abuse of power in our country disgusting and alike to the behavior of pirates. Some Ugandans have pride in their country and would like to see it develop as it should. Also how can weed out those with diabolical motives from those with good and patriotic ambitions for our country without giving them a chance.
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written by Andrew L.C., May 19, 2014
Secondly. I am shocked at your defence of the incumbent presidents stay in power based on Museveni's finesse at the politics of confrontation, intolerance, manipulations, subterfuge and corruption. I think most Ugandans excluding the elite Ugandans who make a small part of the general population would rather jump into the fire if it means it will purge our country of the looters mentality that is sucking the life blood out of this country.

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