By Harold Acemah
In Issue No. 101 of The Independent (March 5 , 11, 2010), Abbey Kibirige in an interesting and otherwise balanced article raised, in my view, a false alarm about ‘Mao’s motives in taking over DP’ and concluded that Mao could have a hidden agenda to use his leadership of DP as a springboard to forge a ‘Nile Republic’ out of the current Greater Northern Uganda. Let me attempt to put Mao’s remarks, which I fully share, in historical and political perspective.
On Jan. 26, 1995, at a state occasion to mark the 9th anniversary of the NRM regime, President Yoweri Museveni, to the delight of the audience assembled at Kololo, disparagingly remarked that all past leaders of Uganda were swine. In plain language, he said that all former presidents, vice presidents and prime ministers of Uganda were pigs. Since then, Ugandans have humorously nick named pork ‘past leaders’.
Seated in the VIP tent with President Museveni were the usual government dignitaries, members of the diplomatic corps and some of the past leaders of Uganda, including former Vice President Gen. Mustafa Adirisi, Vice President Brig. Gad Wilson Toko (R.I.P), and former Prime Minister Eric Otema Allimadi (RIP), all from Northern Uganda. They had been officially invited by the Government of Uganda to attend the event. In our African culture, and indeed in all civilized and decent societies, a good host does not insult his guests publicly. I was present to bear witness to what transpired on that day in 1995.
That was 15 years ago, but to politically-minded and discerning Ugandans, it seems like yesterday. The real targets were, of course, former late Presidents Apollo Milton Obote and Gen. Idi Amin Dada as well as former Vice President, Gen. Mustafa Adirisi, all of whom come from Northern Uganda.
To add more insult to injury, he appointed a ‘Minister of State for Northern Pacification’ in 1986 ostensibly to tame and civilise the ‘primitive’Northerners, who come from the equivalent of what the colonialists used to call the ‘dark continent’.
Ankole, where President Museveni hails from, was one of Obote’s favorite regions. After living for eight years in exile in Tanzania, Obote returned to Uganda on May 27, 1980 and the first place he touched Ugandan soil was at Bushenyi, Ankole. During the second UPC Government, 1980 “ 1985, virtually all the Banyankole MPs were appointed by Obote to senior Cabinet positions, such as AdoniaTiberondwa, James Rwanyarare, Yona Kanyomozi, Chris Rwakasisi, Edward Rurangaranga, Patrick Rubaihayo and my friend Ephraim Kamuntu. In addition, Francis Butagira from Ankole was the Speaker of Parliament. What a tragedy that Obote’s love for the Banyankole has now been reciprocated with hatred for him, his political party, the UPC, and Northern Uganda generally.
I believe that there must surely be a minimum standard below which any educated person, and especially educated persons in positions of leadership, should not descend.
As renowned Nigerian author Chinua Achebe has correctly observed: ‘We (the educated elite of Africa) have stood too long on the side-lines; and too many of us have adopted the cynical attitude that since you cannot beat them, you must join them’.
What has always baffled me over the years is why the NRM regime has been very hostile to Northern Uganda since 1986. Also puzzling is why leaders have simply turned a deaf ear whenever they have been insulted and ridiculed in public and elsewhere.
Ugandans should, at least, peacefully and intellectually challenge these unnecessary and constant verbal assaults. Northern Uganda has been treated by the NRM regime as if it is not an integral part of Uganda.
The sooner the North is treated justly as part of Uganda the better for the unity and territorial integrity of this country. Many Northerners are beginning to feel that if they are not accepted as bona fide citizens of Uganda, we should quite seriously consider other options, including what Chairman Norbert Mao of Gulu District proposed sometime back.
There are at least ten or more member states of the African Union which are smaller, geographically and population wise, than the Greater Northern Uganda, which is certainly economically and socially viable as a political entity.
Frankly, most Northerners are not desperate to remain in Uganda under the prevailing conditions. We can survive and indeed will prosper without Uganda, for goodness sake!
Mao does not need to deny any secession claims before 2011, as Kibirige demands. Northerners have, in fact, been pushed between a rock and a hard place by the tribal regime which, in the 21st century, has deliberately and systematically polarised and created a North/South divide to rule Uganda indefinitely. What a shame for anybody to revert to a colonialist strategy of the 19th century. If anything Kibirige should appreciate Mao’s and our patience and tolerance of an indefensible system imposed on Ugandans, by force, for almost a quarter of a century!
Ugandans need to learn the objective lessons of our tragic history. One lesson we could all learn and apply in our daily lives is to treat each other with all due respect, as fellow citizens. For our own common good and mutual benefit, let us treat each other with humility, not arrogance and recognize that none of us has all the answers to our numerous problems, many of which are actually self-inflicted by the ruling elite.
The author is a political scientist, a consultant and a former ambassador of Uganda