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When enemies feed each other

Why Uganda’s pro-democracy activists get it wrong when they support radical extremist cults as alternatives to Museveni

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | In their misguided (even though, perhaps, well-intentioned) war against President Yoweri Museveni, many pro-democracy (but mostly pseudo-democracy) “activists” bring three fundamentally erroneous assumptions. First, that Museveni’s government has mismanaged Uganda by relying on brute force and corruption to rule and is thus unsustainable. Second, that there actually exists in Uganda’s opposition a democratic alternative to Museveni. Third, that any change from Museveni is good and will, therefore, bring better government.

These assumptions are not unique to Uganda. Indeed, they have been the curse of postcolonial Africa. Across our vast continent, these assumptions have been the foundation of elite politics and Western policy.

Nearly every change of government in most of Africa has been welcomed with mass celebrations as a symbol of a new dawn only to lead to even bigger frustrations.

Except for very few exceptions, successive governments in Africa have repeated the disastrous mistakes and follies of their predecessors almost to the dot – corruption, tribalism, nepotism, violence and fraud.

This article is a conversation with many friends in the liberal democracy circles in Africa and their cheerleaders in Western diplomacy, academia and journalism. There is a belief in these circles that democracy is an event, not a process; achieved at a gallop not a creep i.e. by revolution not evolution. According to this view, it is possible to democratise governments anywhere, anytime and under any circumstances. The greatest exponent of this view that I have met and interacted with is Prof. Larry Diamond at Stanford University, but he is not the only one. Many African and Western academics, journalists and diplomats think the same way.

Yet this conviction stands in contradiction with mountains of historic evidence that show that the establishment of democracy is actually a very slow process. Indeed, all historic evidence (save for rare exceptions) shows that democratic progression does not follow a continuous rising curve. Instead it is characterised by feats and starts: three steps forward, two steps backward. So recent studies of democratic retrogression are not showing anything unique or new but rather the features of democratic development.

The establishment and maintenance of a liberal democratic system is extremely difficult to achieve. This is because it makes huge demands on a population and requires a certain level of economic development, education attainment and political culture cultivated over many years, usually generations. The most successful and stable democracies are largely (not entirely) economically prosperous with high levels of education. Even a casual study of these societies shows that democracy was a consequence (even though now it propels it) of prosperity not a cause of it.

Coming back to Ugandan politics and contrary to the belief among many of our intellectuals and “intellectuals”, the Museveni administration has been one of the most successful historically, not just in Uganda but the world at large. This is not to discount its gross corruption and incompetence, its own violence and autocratic tendencies. But it has successfully stabilised a country that had almost become a failed state due to incessant military coups and civil wars. It has reconstructed the economy and sustained one of the best rates of growth of GDP even by contemporary and historic standards. Finally it has presided over expanding frontiers of freedom and liberty even when it occasionally (or even regularly) employs violence against opponents.

Anyone looking at opposition politics in Uganda would easily see why they do not represent a democratic alternative to the current government. Their ranks are filled with extremely angry and intolerant activists who, if they could command the power of the state, can only establish a totalitarian dictatorship albeit an incompetent one. Consequently, while Museveni’s NRM accommodates in its ranks many individuals critical of it, the opposition purges from its ranks anyone who holds even the mildest disagreement with their (always) radical extremist views.

Thus, the mainstream opposition of Defiance led by Dr. Kizza Besigye and its bastard child, People Power, led by Robert Kyagulanyi (aka Bobi Wine) demand from their supporters absolute loyalty to the cause and ideological purity. This heavy demand for conformity among followers has led to mass desertions as people find life inside these cults suffocating. There is no evidence in history of such radical extremist cults promoting democracy once they capture power. Instead, all historic evidence shows that given time and certain economic, social, cultural and intellectual circumstances, hybrid systems of the Museveni/NRM type do sometimes (and often) slowly evolve into democracies.

This is not to say there is no democratic alternative in Uganda’s opposition groups to Museveni and his NRM. Rather, the democratic impulse and social and economic infrastructure for it in the country is very weak, and needs to be cultivated. Hence democratic minded individuals and organisations such as the Alliance for National Transformation led by the noble Mugisha Muntu, the Democratic Party led by Nobert Mao and I think the Uganda People’s Congress led by Jimmy Akena have little political traction.

These men and the organisations they lead preach compromise, accommodation and moderation, the qualities that sustain a stable liberal democracy. They seek to defeat but not to destroy opponents. They believe power must be pursued through legal means, and they abhor lies, fraud, violence and blackmail. On the other hand, radical cults (Defiance and People Power) see compromise as “selling out”, moderation as a weakness and accommodation as dilution.

The fact that the moderate groups attract little enthusiasm from the masses of opposition supporters and activists and their intellectual justifiers only shows how weak the democratic impulse in our country is. And the fact that radical extremist cults attract mass support from the opponents of Museveni only demonstrates how strong the forces of intolerance, violence and fraud dominate our politics. Thus many Ugandans tired of Museveni’s long rule cannot find a home in the mainstream opposition and find it futile to join the moderate parties because they have little support.

This is the dilemma of democratic progress in Uganda. The inability of moderate parties and politics to attract mass support and enthusiasm has led many liberal minded Ugandans to stay away from politics. This has left the political space to a tussle between Museveni and these radical extremist cults. This state of affairs is advantageous to Museveni: it keeps many Ugandans away from the ballot box, therefore, ensuring low voter turnout; which works in the president’s favor. And when he violently cracks down on these radical extremist cults, many people see it as justified.

Thus, although subjectively they are his staunchest critics, these radical extremists are objectively Museveni’s greatest allies. Both feed on each other: they are strong because of him and he wins because of them.

****

amwenda@independent.co.ug

12 comments

  1. MBABAZI CLEOPUS

    Whatever Bobi did 2 u Andrew ehh.
    U hardly say anything positive about the guy. However u 4get 2 point out that Bobi is a result of a useless, worthless and self imporant middle class that u represent. He’s taken advantage of the void u guys created while hidding in your air conditioned board rooms where u come with all sorts of theories that are just impractical ie “Arm chair” Politicians.

  2. You make me laugh Mr. Mwenda. But don’t worry, your Al Capone, Mr. Museveni, is going to stay in State House whether he wins the elections or not.

  3. I sense an element of fear for what Bobi Wine has started. Did you see what happened at the electoral commission? How can a democratic regime arrest the likes of Bizonto and BasajjaMivule while employing the likes of Full Figure as advisors?
    You can call Mao democratic? That character has destroyed the DP for good. The party is no longer true to its name

  4. Charles Semambo

    The only thing I understood in this article is one, Mwenda is on his way to join Mugisha Muntu and you’re most welcome

  5. In the meantime, let me celebrate the lord mayor.

  6. Andrew you should build a political party to accommodate the lost moderates but cannot find at home but need change. That’s been you record for years you have repeated time and again. Is time you acted on your belief

  7. Mwenda, first of all you really are brilliant, I’ll give you that.

    But there is something that I must say to you in regard to how you sometimes come off in your posts. It’s really more like a request.

    I’m a long time reader and admirer of your unique perspectives. And having read 98% of your stuff, here’s what I’ve noticed;

    (1) Double standards;

    Dude, each time you talk about the opposition, you sound so angry. And the use of words like bastard child, empty-headed etc really chills me to the bone.

    Yet when talking about the president, you criticise him albeit in a gentler way. And even go a step further to qualify yourself, saying;

    “This is not to say that Museveni is a liar. But rather to point out that he is human just like the rest of us…”

    My point is, can’t you criticise the opposition without coming off as rude or mean-spirited?

    One thing I have noticed with humans is, they appreciate it a lot when you treat them with respect. They will pay attention to you and hew closely to what you say if you are friendly to them. However approach them with rudeness, and regardless of how well intentioned your advice is, they won’t even listen.

    The independent was built on the platform of advancing freedom, democracy and holding both the government and opposition to account.

    But I think it’s pretty obvious to any sane reader that even when the gov’t and opposition are being held to account, double standards are involved.

    Am pretty sure the readership here would appreciate it if you articulated your view points in a balanced and more measured way.

    Personally I hate bullies. And while you most times accuse the opposition of being bullies, that’s how you too come off in your posts. I trust you can be critical without being offensive. That’s the quality your earlier posts from 2010 to 2015 had that I now miss in your current posts.

    And no, I’m not an opposition guy, neither am I pro- gov’t. I just love being on the sidelines watching how things unfold between the two sides.

    In that regard, I owe you a great intellectual date because of how much insight you have presented to me from the various analyses you’ve done.

    Also you made me fall in love with reading. And now its one of my favorite passtimes. Many thanks! I really appreciate it!

    (2) Rehashing

    A good number of your posts sound the same. I mean its just the same content repackaged differently. Each time I read a newly churned out article from you, I can’t help but get washed up in that feeling of déjà vu.

    Wouldn’t it be better for you to explore territory you have never covered before?

    For instance, you could write about how China’s ambitions of overtaking the U.S might impact global peace, how specious policies that young people are craving for in this covid-19 error such as minimum wage is actually a dangerous thing etc

    On the minimum wage issue; l live in Kitintale. A lot of the folks here love listening to radio stations like galaxy, akaboozi etc.

    Anyone on this one occasion, my immediate neighbour in the “kikali” was listening to Ddembe FM. And lo, and behold I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard the radio presenter advocating for the government to roll out minimum wage.

    And two days before this incident, I had overheard a bunch of youths huddled together on a shop veranda at the stage complaining about how the government did not want to protect them from exploitation by introducing minimum wage…a very very dangerous policy for that matter. For those that are curious, I can explain the dangers in different comment.

    Anyway Andrew, i hope you won’t interpret my suggestions as disrespect. If that’s how I came off, am deeply sorry. That wasn’t my intention.

    Best,

    Benjamin.

  8. Mwenda, first of all you really are brilliant, I’ll give you that.

    But there is something that I must say to you in regard to how you sometimes come off in your posts. It’s really more like a request.

    I’m an admirer of your unique perspectives. And having read 98% of your stuff, here’s what I’ve noticed;

    (1) Double standards;

    Dude, each time you talk about the opposition, you sound so angry. And the use of words like bastard child, empty-headed etc really chills me to the bone.

    Yet when talking about the president, you criticise him albeit in a gentler way. And even go a step further to qualify yourself, saying;

    “This is not to say that Museveni is a liar. But rather to point out that he is human just like the rest of us…”

    My point is, can’t you criticise the opposition without coming off as rude or mean-spirited?

    One thing I have noticed with humans is, they appreciate it a lot when you treat them with respect. They will pay attention to you and hew closely to what you say if you are friendly to them. However approach them with rudeness, and regardless of how well intentioned your advice is, they won’t even listen.

    The independent was built on the platform of advancing freedom, democracy and holding both the government and opposition to account.

    But I think it’s pretty obvious to any sane reader that even when the gov’t and opposition are being held to account, double standards are involved.

    Am pretty sure the readership here would appreciate it if you articulated your view points in a balanced and more measured way.

    Personally I hate bullies. And while you most times accuse the opposition of being bullies, that’s how you too come off in your posts. I trust you can be critical without being offensive. That’s the quality your earlier posts from 2010 to 2015 had that I now miss in your current posts.

    And no, I’m not an opposition guy, neither am I pro- gov’t. I just love being on the sidelines watching how things unfold between the two sides.

    In that regard, I owe you a great intellectual date because of how much insight you have presented to me from the various analyses you’ve done.

    Also you made me fall in love with reading. And now its one of my favorite passtimes. Many thanks! I really appreciate it!

    (2) Rehashing

    A good number of your posts sound the same. I mean its just the same content repackaged differently. Each time I read a newly churned out article from you, I can’t help but get washed up in that feeling of déjà vu.

    Wouldn’t it be better for you to explore territory you have never covered before?

    For instance, you could write about how China’s ambitions of overtaking the U.S might impact global peace, how specious policies that young people are craving for in this covid-19 error such as minimum wage is actually a dangerous thing etc

    On the minimum wage issue; l live in Kitintale. A lot of the folks here love listening to radio stations like galaxy, akaboozi etc.

    Anyone on this one occasion, my immediate neighbour in the “kikali” was listening to Ddembe FM. And lo, and behold I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard the radio presenter advocating for the government to roll out minimum wage.

    And two days before this incident, I had overheard a bunch of youths huddled together on a shop veranda at the stage complaining about how the government did not want to protect them from exploitation by introducing minimum wage…a very very dangerous policy for that matter. For those that are curious, I can explain the dangers in different comment.

    Anyway Andrew, i hope you won’t interpret my suggestions as disrespect. If that’s how I came off, am deeply sorry. That wasn’t my intention.

    Best,

    Benjamin.

  9. Mr Mwenda I really don’t think that you think that Ugandans are so stupid to believe what you are
    writing about in this particular article! How can you, Mr M9, claim that M7’s NRM accommodates critics within its rank & file, yet most of today’s opposition in Uganda are a direct result of a purge from nrm? Where did Gen Muntu of alliance for national transformation come from?
    In 2003 you were a news reporter for The Monitor then when your cult M7 expelled with ridicule some of his most trusted ministers like late Eriya Kategaya, Miria Matembe, Bidandi Ssali among others for merely opposing his evil intentions to amend the constitution for him to stay in power! As every one knows it all those so called M7 critics within NRM including yourself are there because of monetary inducements, etcetera. Mr M9, no matter how long a pig stays in water it will never become a crocodile. Similarly no matter how long M7 remains in power he will never become a democrat!
    M7 came to power via the barrel of the gun and he’s maintained himself in power using the gun & money. M9 remember as you keep pointing an accusing finger at Uganda’s comrades in the struggle for democracy as either cults, bastards, extreme radicals etc. the remaining four fingers are pointing at you Andrew Mwenda as the most extreme radical and cultish worshipper of M7. You extremely believe in the superiority of your ideas as being dogmatic. But just a few years ago in this very town you were humbled by one of the gifted opposition lawyers during the probe into the infamous presidential handshake on oil money; you were forced to eat your humble pie & admitted to your blatant ignorance of taxation law regimes!
    Give us a break M9 & just cheer on the looters as you wait for some crumbs from the so called high table! One day Ugandans will call it enough!

  10. 1.All African leaders who are real statesmen and calculative in their decision making;know that Africa does not have the luxury of democracy and its elements of foolery.This is mainly coz of the high levels of poverty and illiteracy.
    2.We Know M7’s worth.
    3.The citizens of USA have the luxury of making a fool of themselves like protesting and advocating for the rights of the blacks coz the leaders know that Boeing,Gulf stream and Businesses from Silicon valley will make money for them.
    4. With time;the likes of BobiWine,Full Figure and Bad Black can become our President and M7 has no qualms with it but for now; he is eager to see more 100 Mukwanos popping up then he can let go.
    5.People power chaps have a problem with reaching Political orgasm;they need tear gas so as to climax but they even dont climax; Most of their supporters need to first visit Mulungu in Munyonyo before they hit the roads.
    6.I read the steps to be followed when one wants to Register a political party some of the requirements include (i)One should attach the constitution of the party,(ii) Attach the party colours;(iii)the number of supporters the party has etc; How dd Bobi Wine qualify to be the party President for a party which was dormant for over 20 years with no members? isn’t this fraud?What took him this long to register his People Power as a Political party?Who elected him the flag bearer?

  11. I would that Western ‘democracies’ and their proponents: media houses, gave an opportunity to African democracy to evolve.

  12. This is a brilliant and true analysis of Ugandan politics

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