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A democracy or a histocracy?

By Ndebesa Mwambutsya

Invoking the historical right to rule and stay in power indefinitely has the potential to destabilise Uganda

President Museveni has been quoted in the media wondering aloud at a rally as to how people expect him to go out of a banana plantation (read power) which he had planted and which had started bearing fruits.  Before this statement he had also vowed not to hand over power to the opposition who, in his thinking, would mess up the oil fruits. And before that he had sworn not to hand over power to the opposition whom he likened to wolves.  And before that, President Museveni had on many occasions used the metaphor of him having hunted and killed his animal (read captured power) and he could not hand over this power to others who were not part of the hunting expedition.

Museveni is not alone in this politics of eating fruits of liberation by right.  Gen. Matayo Kyaligonza while seeking to ring fence the position of NRM Vice Chairman Western region against Museveni’s son-in-law, Odrek Rwabwogo, also invoked the historical argument to justify the ring fencing of Vice Chairmanship.  Many NRM politicians who call themselves historicals by virtue of the fact that they fought to oust former presidents Milton Obote and Tito Okello Lutwa such as Gen. Kahinda  Otafiire also invoke their historical role in bringing NRM to power thirty years ago in order to justify their continued stay in power in Uganda.  Even NRM supporters who did not participate in the bush war do not hesitate to invoke their historical right to rule by associating themselves with the Luwero war of liberation. Luwero war is always invoked to justify monopoly of power and legitimise overstaying in power even three decades after.

Invoking historical rights in order to have privileged access to political power and public jobs by NRM members is not the only claim. It is extended to providing public goods and services.  Museveni has always warned those citizens and regions who dare to vote the opposition candidates that the NRM government would not extend public services to them.  At a function in Lango region for example, Museveni instructed the UPDF Wealth Creation soldiers not to give out NAADS cows to supporters of the opposition.  Quite often, NRM supporters have expressed their disappointment at the appointing authorities for giving some public jobs or public funds to the opposition.  This mindset of NRM seems to imply that only NRM members; and more so the historicals are citizens and the rest are subjects.  That the latter are not entitled to political leadership or public posts or public goods and services by right.  It is as if getting social services from government when you are not a member of NRM is a privilege.  Politics in Uganda is no longer about looking-forward to the future but looking-backward to the past. I hope NRM is not turning Ugandans into pillars of salt like the Biblical wife of Lot who turned into a pillar of salt for looking back-ward when it was not appropriate.

These historical rights claims by Museveni and other historicals to monopolise and hang on to power, have unequal access to public jobs and other services, and eating fruits of liberation is contrary to what Ugandans were told by those who went to the bush to fight for freedom.  The NRM/NRA fighters told Ugandans that going to the bush was an act of altruism by what they meant selfless concern for the wellbeing of others at no gain.  That it was an act of sacrifice for the good of all citizens without expecting payback or any gain to themselves.

As it has turned out now, it seems the “self-sacrifice” of NRM bush war liberators is something Ugandans have to pay for after all and at a high price of being turned into subjects.  Political posts such as the presidency is not only a preserve for historicals but one must be an original historical.  Presidential term limits must remain lifted until all historicals are dead.  NRM historicals must have access to high public jobs before other citizens (read subjects) are considered.  Access to public resources such as NAADS handouts must be given to NRM supporters before other Ugandans are considered.

This attitude of claiming entitlements to fruits of liberation and hang on to power runs counter to the general principles and practices of revolutionary leadership in liberal democracies. Mahatma Gandhi did not lay claim to the prime ministerial position in India because he was the leader of the independence movement. Nelson Mandela did not seek to remain in office forever because he sacrificed to get rid of Apartheid in South Africa.  Sam Nujumo of Namibia did not hang on to power for more than fifteen years because he had not eaten the fruits of Namibia’s independence which he led through the revolutionary SWAPO movement.

Invoking the historical right to rule and stay in power indefinitely has the potential to destabilise Uganda.  Historical rights under NRM rule are now conflicting with democratic rights.  In a democracy all posts are open for contestation by all citizens.  In a democracy all citizens are entitled to public goods and services regardless of one’s political affiliation.  In a democracy a candidate cannot say I can’t leave power or hand over power.  This can only happen in a histocracy i.e. the rule by historicals.


Mwambutsya Ndebesa

History lecturer, Makerere University


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