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Uganda is in free fall, Nabudere

By Onghwens Kisangala

The Indenpendents Onghwens Kisangala interviewed eminent Ugandan academic Prof. Dani Wadada Nabudere about a broad range of issues. This interview was done before the final results of the US election were known, and before Parliament absolved Security Minister Mbabazi in the Temangalo scandal. Below, excerpts:

The country appears to be in free-fall politically, economically, and socially. What is your interpretation of recent events?

If by recent events you mean the Temangalo affair, I think it is clear the NRM government has lost direction. From the supposedly revolutionary fundamental change achievement, they have demonstrated what they actually stood for: the fleecing of the country. Corruption under the NRM has been growing and there is no indication that the government has the capacity to deal with this problem. The President is not helping matters by interfering in Parliamentary investigations before Parliament passes on their findings to him for action as head of the Executive. What he has been doing by summoning the NRM Caucus and the so-called Political High Command is to shelter some people from public oversight. In short, he himself is protecting the corrupt instead of exposing them. This is in sharp contrast with what is going on in Rwanda as far as cases of corruption are concerned. You are therefore right in concluding that the country is in a free-fall.

Previously, President Museveni would have reacted to such blatant corruption with a reshuffle. It is more than two years since the cabinet was changed. What is your view? I dont think that reshuffles are the answer to corruption. The answer to corruption is to give room to the legal processes and until the constitution of the country can be allowed to function as it was intended to be, the Judiciary and the police as well as the Director of Public Prosecutions will never have the autonomy to carry out their responsibilities. And yet as we have seen in the case of the Temangalo affair, it is the President who is interfering with the parliamentary investigations and hence the judicial process. Therefore, the problem lies at the very top of executive authority.

What is your view about the state of the country today?

NRM came to power with the claim that it was strong on security. Indeed, there has been an improvement in the behaviour of the security forces. At the same time, however, we have witnessed certain high-handedness in dealing with the opposition especially. The police has been militarised and we have seen arbitrary arrests of MPs and other political opponents late Fridays when these individuals have no access to courts to apply for bail. We have witnessed the arbitrary and flagrant arrests of the Buganda Kingdom ministers and their rough treatment. These are situations where arbitrary arrests have been used as an instrument of punishment, thereby circumventing the judicial process. We have also witnessed the invasion of the High Court by the Black Mambas to frustrate the legal process in the case where a high ranking opposition member was being charged with offences that have never been followed up, showing again that arrests and shoddy trials are being used as a form of punishment of opponents. This does not augur well for the future of this country and the country is getting alarmed, when particular groups such as the Balaalo are being given preferential treatment when they invade other peoples lands. We have now a situation where these groups are being given Special Police Protection units in the name of bonafide occupants of land even before the Land Reform Bill has been passed by Parliament.

In the past such a lack of grip on issues or their handling has led to changes of power through coups, etc. Do you see one against President Museveni?

Please do not ask me such questions. You can draw your own conclusions. What Ugandans desire and deserve is respect for the constitution and a peaceful transfer of power. Therefore, what we demand as Ugandans is that the President and his government respect the constitution. Anything happening beyond the constitutional process is illegal and treasonable under the law.

A political censure [of Amama Mbabazi and Ezra Suruma] is looming in parliament. Basing on the previous censures, what do you see happening?

I cannot predict what will happen. All I can say is that even on previous occasions, there have been presidential interferences and, as I have already observed, this tendency undermines the authority of other institutions of the state such as Parliament and the Judiciary. These institutions have the responsibility to assert their powers, but in the past there have also been cases where these institutions are compromised through bribery and executive influence. This adds to the dilemma that the country faces under the NRM government.

How has party politics helped Uganda?

Multiparty politics cannot function well when the government does not respect their role but instead uses the coercive state bodies such as the armed forces and the police to harass them. The system cannot also function when the electorate is reduced to poverty and emeere yaleero syndrome which compels the voters to sell their votes. The opposition is not an exception to the buying of votes, and therefore the representative system cannot function. Hence, democracy is undermined at the core. What is needed is a new way of mobilising the people to go beyond existing politics in Kampala, the way Barack Obama has turned the US upside down. The question is whether we have such a politician who has the necessary commitment to the people and who is able to turn the impoverished exploitable masses into a positive force for change.

The last two presidential elections were settled by Supreme Court. What electoral reforms will give Uganda free and fair poll? I think that the recommendations were clear from the judgements themselves. You cannot have an Electoral Commission that is chosen by one party to the election to be independent. You cannot also have a free and fair election when the incumbent president uses the armed forces as a personal institution and the police as a praetorian execution force. Any electoral reform that does not ensure that the security forces are neutral national forces only used for the interest of the country as a whole will not protect the democratic rights of all in a democratically functioning system as we have seen in Uganda.

Do you think Kizza Besigye should run for president again in 2011?

That is up to the FDC members to decide.

Buganda has been at loggerheads with government, what outcome do you foresee?

I think that Buganda and the people in any other part of Uganda are entitled to ask for constitutional reforms, including federalism. The negotiations on such matters should be above board and should not be tied to individual electoral interests as we have seen in the recent politicking surrounding the proposed Land Reform Bill, 2008. As I have already pointed out, the arrest of Buganda officials was quite out of order. We have also seen recently the central government intervening to break up the kingdom of Buganda by encouraging the formation of smaller ‘kingdoms’ within Buganda. The government has also gone as far as stopping the Kabaka from visiting Nakasongola, which is in his kingdom. The same government has also been trying to use the kingdom of Bunyoro to create a confrontation with Buganda over ‘Mailo Akenda’. They have one-sidedly given the Omukama of Bunyoro permission to tour the areas in Buganda that the central government had stopped the Kabaka of Buganda from visiting, when Nakasongola constitutionally lies in the kingdom of Buganda.  This is a provocation and a one-sided approach that is bound to create more confusion in the country and can eventually lead to disturbances that can lead to unconstitutional means of doing things in the country.

Has micro decentralization of Uganda (into smaller districts) achieved greater service delivery or disintegration of the country?

That is up to the people in these different districts to say. What is clear is that the policy of decentralisation that was adopted by the Constituent Assembly in 1994-5 has been undermined by a recentralisation of power once more under the presidency. What are called ‘new’ districts are actually without resources even to pay the salaries of the local political elites that fought for the districts. The whole policy is based on winning votes by creating agents who will support the incumbent in the 2011 elections. But this approach is self-defeating because it undermines a coherent administrative structure in the country that really works. In the end the administrative system is bound to collapse.

Do you see East African regional integration working better this time?

It is already clear that the fast-tracking of the political federation in East Africa has aborted, with Tanzania opposing the move. The reason appears to be the fear about the political engineering that has been going on in Uganda where there seems to be a building up of a personal and family empire in the name of democratisation. Many East Africans feel you cannot have a democratic East Africa when one leader cannot be removed from power. This feeling has led Tanzania also to create roadblocks in the way of creating a single East African Common Market, which is a fundamental requirement before we can move to a Common Currency. Therefore, this approach to regional integration cannot work and it is better to consider other alternatives such as the Buganda demand for federo and for a more bottom-up approach to the whole question of regional integration.

Considering President Bushs African policy, how do think Obama’s America
will impact Africa?

The fact that Obama is an African-American does not turn him into an agent to support African causes as such. Obama is an American president-elect and as such he can only pursue policies that advance the ‘national security interests’ of the US. Luckily in addition, he is a declared global citizen and we therefore expect that he will pursue policies that support a more multilateral approach to global problems, rather than the unilateralism that President Bush has been following that landed the US in the quagmire in Iraq. Africa has to stand on its own feet and clean up its house and the African people themselves must do so by dealing a blow at its dictators.

As a member of the Gang of Four, do you think you made the right decision not to join President Museveni’s government even as your colleagues joined him?

There appears to be some fascination in certain political elite circles in Uganda about the phenomenon of the ‘Gang of Four’. The fact of the matter is that the ‘Gang of Four’ does not exist. It only exists in the imagination of those individuals who, for their own purposes, try to resurrect the image of the ‘Gang of Four’ to meet their psychic needs! The description the ‘Gang of Four’ was at the time of the UNLF coined by either Mahmood Mamdani or Yoweri Museveni to describe four individuals who played a leading role in the formation of the Uganda National Liberation Front in Moshi. Thereafter these individuals came to be connected with the institutions that were created in the interim government under Yusuf Lule and Godfrey Binaisa.  These individuals are Dani Nabudere, the late Omwony Ojwok, Edward Rugumayo and Yash Tandon. They discharged their responsibility quite well and it is only in that period in which they played a leading role that Ugandans ever enjoyed a period of popular democracy with the Mayumba Kumi cells giving ‘dual power’ to the grassroots communities in every corner of the country to run affairs in their localities when government broke down in the country with the fleeing of dictator Idd Amin Dada.  After the Military Commission took over power in 1980, ushering in a new period of dictatorship, which continues up to now, the four individuals formed the Uganda National Liberation Front (Anti-Dictatorship) to continue the legacy of the UNLF, but this organisation was dissolved in July 1992 and its dissolution was announced to the whole country for their information. That meant that former members of the UNLF (A-D) were now free to join any organisation of their choice and play a role they considered good for the country. So, I do not understand when you ask me whether certain individuals whom you associate with the non-existent ‘Gang of Four’ made the correct decisions in joining the NRM. My answer is: Please contact those individuals and ask them why they did so. I am not accountable for their decisions and actions. I may perhaps point out that when compatriot Ojwok died and was subjected to attack by Augustine Ruzindana, I came to his defence to explain the role Omwony Ojwok had played in the period when UNLF was formed in Tanzania. I felt obliged to do so to defend the memory of a compatriot who could not defend himself.

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