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‘It cannot happen here’

How accurate are claims by Ugandans on Bashir coup?

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | On April 16, five days after Field Marshal Omar Al-Bashir was kicked out in Sudan, President Yoweri Museveni’s Senior Advisor and Personal Assistant, Milly Babalanda, wrote in the New Vision that “Museveni knows when he will leave power” and that his government “is still strong and can defend its authority using civilian and military means”.

“There is a set of rules to follow for one to make an extended stay in power work. That rule book is written by President Museveni,” Babalanda wrote.

She listed the toxic combination that gets a leader kicked out as meddling by foreign powers, incompetence of the military, failure to strike the right balance between use of coercive muscle, and failure to keep the population happy and prosperous.

Interviewed earlier by The Observer newspaper, the Government Spokesperson Ofwono Opondo reportedly described as “simple minds” those who argue that Ugandans can copy Sudan and try to end President Museveni’s 33-year grip on power through protests.

“There are no two similar conditions for two countries,” he reportedly said “the situation (in Uganda) is very different in a positive sense. You need to read about the internal ingredients of governance within any of these countries where such uprisings are happening.”

But Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyakulanyi aka Bobi who is the self-styled leader of the so-called “People Power” movement; the amorphous but potent anti-Museveni force, took to social media to mock those claiming protests cannot kick out Museveni.

“When #PeoplePower is bringing down despotic Field Marshals, then despotic Generals should be put on notice,” he wrote.

Ofwono and Babalanda’s views also appear to be in contrast to what a Sudanese commentator noted at the height of the anti-Bashir protests.

The popular Sudanese blogger, Dr. Mahmoud a. Suleiman wrote: “Omer Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir, though not different from his ilk of oppressive tyrants, he boasts as superior to them. It is beyond doubt that tyrants do not learn from history and live in the illusion that they are able to overcome difficulties.”

Uganda like Sudan is no stranger to unconstitutional transfers of power. Seven of Uganda’s leaders since independence in 1962 have taken power via unconstitutional means. In Sudan, there was a coup on October 21, 1964 against Gen. Ibrahim Abboud, another against Jaffer Mohmed Nimeiri, and the latest against Bashir on April 11.

And the parallels between Bashir and Museveni are many.

Bashir, like Museveni, was born in 1944. Bashir like Museveni had been declared sole presidential candidate in the next election by their dominant ruling party. Bashir came to power in 1989, three years after Museveni in 1986. Museveni has so far been power for 33 years, three years longer than Bashir who was kicked out after 30 years. The leading opposition group in Sudan is called the Forces of the Declaration of Freedom and Change (FDFC). The leading opposition group in Uganda is called the FDC.

And in Sudan, whenever one thought of a military coup, all eyes were on capital Khartoum. In Uganda that would be Kampala. But uprisings spring surprises.

espite turbulence that had been raging, the force that kicked Bashir from power did not start in the capital. It began in a small town called Atbara, in River Nile State, about 350km from Khartoum on December 19. And a history of ideologically-driven political consciousness, combined with perceived current oppression, appears to have been a factor. That is why the protests came to be known as “The Revolution of December 19.”

With a population of about 100,000 people, Atbara is a rural city. It is known for the 1898 famous `Battle of Atbara’ against the combined colonising force of Egyptian and British. The Sudanese lost the battle but their pride remained.

Then Atbara became home of the first trade union in Sudan, formed in 1946 and as the headquarters of the Sudanese National Railway Company. But it has fallen on hard economic times. Although it is still regarded as the “Railway City”, few rail wagons are made here these days. Instead, it appears, only the spirit of trade unionism and communism remains. It is a hot hungry place. So when the government removed wheat and fuel subsidies and the price of bread shot-up there was public anger which flowed onto the streets.

“No to hunger! No to hunger!” the protesters chanted before setting fire to the local office of Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) headquarters.

Coincidentally, Sadiq al-Mahdi; the ex-prime minister who Bashir drove out in his 1989 coup, returned from exile the same day. The next day, the protests spread to Khartoum and other cities.

Pound for Shilling, Uganda is a far poorer country than Sudan which has a GDP Per Capita of US$ 4,900 compared to Uganda’s US$1900. But in November 2017, Sudan released the results of its 2014-2015 poverty survey, putting the nationwide rate of poverty at 36.1%. This mean income inequality is quite high in Sudan and contributed to rising resentment against the government

In its Africa Economic Outlook (AEO) 2019 report, the African Development Bank (AfDB) also noted the Sudan economy was in trouble.

“Sudan is in debt distress,” it noted with external debt an estimated 62% of GDP in 2018.

Soon the protests moved beyond food. Many protesters spoke against a government which only cares about itself preservation, is ridden with corruption, and has militarised all facets of life.

They danced to protest music by Sudanese musicians. One of the songs, titled ‘Tasgut Bas!’ (Which translates to ‘Just fall, that is all!’) became their anthem.

A rapper called Gofran, sang:

“Been waiting for this moment forever,

never thought it’ll start at the end of December

I’m out for freedom.

I’m out for justice.”

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4 comments

  1. The title is of this article is “It cannot happen here”, however, the details do not speak to this title other than in passing. I would have expected that after discussing the events in Sudan, we author would now contextualise them and bring it to the Ugandan situation. I waited and waited and did not see that happening. This is where our journalists fail us – lack of analytical rigour. Yes you can report the news – and then so what? What do we as readers learn from the story. You pick up the headline and fail to relate with it in the detail of the story!!!

    • Ignatius, Just re-read this. Carefully and word per word go through it over.
      The author drove the point to home i believe.

      • The analysis that I would have expected is comparison between the previous protests in Uganda and those that happened in Sudan. How did they differ and what were the similarities? Where did those in Sudan succeed where the ones in Uganda failed? Going forward what can the protest organisers in Uganda learn from their Sudan counterparts? Kitto if you found all these analyses, then perhaps I did not read the article properly. But I am sure I read from beginning to the end and did not find anything analytical in line with the title of the article.

  2. Indeed I believe that this nonsense can’t happen in Uganda. Looking at the aftermath of the different coups that happened in the African continent, the resultant has always been disastrous to the economies.
    There if Ugandan are wise, they wouldn’t choose the same path. But all in all, the fate lies in Museveni’s hands, if he truly loves the country as he claims, I really feel he should handover to another person before such a thing happens.

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