COMMENT: By Yoga Adhola
UPC needs to look critically at what Obote did, build on it, and look into the future
In a recent discussion on UPCNET, a UPC internet discussion forum, Allan Tewungwa (alias Ras) asserted: “In UPC, we follow Milton Obote and his example. He was a high-minded nationalist leader, a pan-African great and anti-imperialist strategist. His writings and teachings are there for all to see, read (on UPC net) and follow”.
There is no doubt the late former President of Uganda, Milton Obote, was a great nationalist. That stated, we must realise the ideology of nationalism had its limitations and it was to serve a limited purpose. The limited purpose that nationalism served was to restore the self-respect of the colonised peoples. It also injected morale as well stimulated national solidarity. Beyond that it could not or cannot guide us after independence.
It could not help us understand that independence was not the end of imperialism. That imperialism simply adjusted its method of operation from direct colonialism to neo-colonialism. That is to say the exploitation of the underdeveloped countries was to continue unaffected by independence.
Also contrary to Allan Tewungwa’s claims that Obote wrote about imperialism, and much as I have read everything Obote ever wrote, I have never seen any writings by Obote on imperialism. That is not to say he never resisted imperialism.
It is also true as Professor Emerson says in 1968 his book, “Political Development and Social Change”: “Nationalism by itself gives the answer to virtually none of the particular problems arising from the ubiquitous demand for development and, indeed to very few of the multitude of questions which confront peoples coming to independence.”
These multitudes of questions could only be confronted through a program of national-democratic liberation. Aware that a new phase in the struggle for liberation in the former colonies had come about, a meeting was called in Moscow in December 1960 and formulated the program of national-democratic liberation.
National-democratic liberation, the, began in the terminal period of colonialism with the fight against colonialism. After the attainment of independence which was assumed to be the threshold for further struggles, the struggles were to get rid of moribund traditional institutions. It was to get rid of oppressive institutions which were laid in the pre-colonial days as well as during colonialism. It was also to resist imperialism and guarantee the citizens a better life.
It is not true that Obote was an anti-imperialist strategist. He did cause discomfort to imperialism yes; but that was not out of strategy. That was out of the nationalistic impulse. To be an anti-imperialist strategist assumes a good grasp of imperialism and it is out of that grasp that you weave a strategy.
Whatever Obote did against imperialism was out of necessity, not strategy.
Also contrary to Allan Tewungwa’s claims that Obote wrote about imperialism, and much as I have read everything Obote ever wrote, I have never seen any writings by Obote on imperialism. That is not to say he never resisted imperialism. He did resist imperialism yes, but that was out of impulse, not strategy.
I was very close to Obote ideologically and intellectually from the mid-1970s until his death. I had a lot of discussions with him and also exchanged reading material. He often recommended to me what to read and vice versa; however, I never detected any serious reading on imperialism by him. As a matter of fact I avoided availing him serious readings on imperialism.
The anti-capitalist (notice not anti-imperialist) moves of the late 60s which he dubbed `move-to-the left’ were nationalist impulses. Obote’s impulsive reaction against imperialism was true of all nationalists in the former colonies.
I do know many UPC who have fallen under the spell of the charisma that surrounds Obote and they cannot think beyond Obote. They cannot read any political writings apart from Obote’s and, just like Allan Tewungwa says, they follow Obote and nobody else. This is not good for UPC and Obote’s legacy as well. In fact, it is not healthy at all.
There is no denying Obote did a lot to found UPC, but we need to look beyond Obote. UPC needs to build on what Obote did and look into the future. We need to learn from other experiences of similar political parties and movements. We need to learn from the stock of knowledge mankind has built up over the years. As Obote said a few times; he is not a god. Indeed he is not a god to be the alpha and omega of the UPC ideology.
Yoga Adhola is a former Editor-in-Chief of `The People’ and a leading ideologue of UPC.