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NRM’s innovations and today’s quagmire

By Harold E. Acemah

Duped Ugandans ignore benefits from dissent within political parties

This is in response to a comment titled “Limits of internal dissent” by Dennis Musinguzi, published in issue No. 223 of July 20 – 26 of The Independent magazine. The comment reveals the extent to which many innocent Ugandans have been misled and duped by the propaganda machinery of the NRM regime to believe half- truths and falsehoods which Ugandans have been bombarded with for the last quarter of a century. The primary purpose of my rejoinder is, therefore, to set the record straight for the benefit of our younger generation.

To begin with, Musinguzi’s premise and conclusion are basically flawed. He argues that “the benefits of a multi-party dispensation will remain a pipedream” unless political parties do an internal political audit, strengthen internal democracy and enforce party discipline. On the contrary, the benefits of the multi- party political system are already self- evident and what he has proposed is, in any case, being done by UPC, FDC and DP.

The only truthful observation he makes in the entire comment is where he argues that, “The ruling party NRM is distrusted because it has failed to deliver on its many promises, especially on public goods and services. Worse still, NRM has not only failed to fight corruption, but has embarrassingly and unforgivably crafted itself as an instrument of corruption. More often than not, NRM has used its political power to aggregate corrupt benefits for its members. To a maturing polity, the failure to hold free and fair elections, continuous use of force and the waging of dirty and unfair campaigns against opponents, have undermined the NRM.” Most Ugandans would agree with this factually correct statement. Let me now critique the rest of the comment.

First, to argue as Musinguzi does that “one of the greatest contributions of the NRM government to Uganda’s democratisation was the innovation of the inclusive, broad-based and individual merit political dispensation” aka “movement system” or “no – party democracy” is an endorsement of a fraud which was imposed upon Ugandans in 1986. As I have argued elsewhere, this so- called innovation was, in fact, tyranny or at best one – party rule which was sugar- coated to hoodwink hungry politicians desperate to eat from the NRM’s high table. In reality the system was neither inclusive nor broad- based, but promoted and perpetuated nepotism and tribalism, as per design.

Second, this innovation was, in fact, a gross violation, for 20 years, of many fundamental human rights and freedoms of millions of Ugandans enshrined in chapter four of our Constitution (Article 29) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially freedom of association; freedom of assembly; freedom of speech and expression; freedom of thought, conscience and belief. This “greatest contribution” of the NRM regime was forced down the throat of most Ugandans, against their will.

Third, after the NRM was forced by internal and external factors to reluctantly accept the revival of multi-party democracy, there was absolutely no need to waste scarce public resources to hold a referendum on a matter on which consensus had already emerged. Against logic and wise counsel, the NRM has not only failed to fight corruption, but has embarrassingly and unforgivably crafted itself as an instrument of corruption NRM insisted and went ahead to hold a referendum at great expense which most Ugandans rightly boycotted or simply ignored. I learnt later on that some members of the NRM regime may have used the referendum to loot public funds by exaggerating the cost of this totally unnecessary exercise!

Four, what Musinguzi calls internal dissent are the normal dynamics of a vibrant political party which makes politics challenging and exciting. The militaristic leadership of the NRM treats “their party’’ as if it were a battalion or a brigade of an army where the commander gives orders which all members must obey without asking any questions; dissenting views such as those of Kampala Central MP Muhammad Nsereko are not tolerated and there is a queue for all top positions in the party. In a modern political party nobody has a monopoly of ideas or vision and hence compromise is the name of the game. Too many Ugandans tend to get overly concerned about internal wrangles in political parties when such wrangles provide an opportunity for self- criticism which can result in the strengthening of party unity.

Political parties are the building blocks of modern democratic states and for anybody to argue that the so- called “individual merit political dispensation” is a better option to govern Uganda is a function of ignorance and poverty of ideas. It is the constitutional and indeed God – given right of Ugandans to freely assemble and associate into political parties and compete freely and openly for power which belongs to the people and not to a chosen few. The NRM’s “innovation” is responsible for the quagmire and dire straits Uganda is stuck in today. This is a challenge for the multi- party political system to resolve at the earliest opportunity.

Harold Acemah is a political scientist, retired Ambassador and currently a Consultant in regional and world affairs.

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