Stay calm, Uganda is not Sudan or Algeria

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Events in Algeria and Sudan where long serving presidents have been toppled in quick succession many people have sent many tongues wagging with excitement within the opposition, and suppressed trepidation among some NRM supporters worried that the trend could soon sweep through Uganda. It is important to analyse what appears to be the common threads in Algeria and Sudan, namely ideology, social and economic deprivation, lack of democracy, longevity and age of the presidents, to understand if Uganda is similarly fertile for a popular mass insurrection. 

President Yoweri Museveni has led Uganda for three decades now, through credible competitive elections, and digging it out of an abyss, but longevity alone cannot be sufficient to generate popular discontent. In any case, NRM has faced running discontent including armed rebellion from inception. In those decades, President Museveni and NRM have brought fundamental and credible changes in Uganda’s landscape, the most important of which are freedoms, democracy, observance of human rights, rule of law, and economic liberties especially to the everyday person.

While the opposition may grumble, the overwhelming majority of Ugandans experience continuous expansion and enjoyment of rights and freedoms, critical for self-creativity, advancement, development and prosperity. It is unlikely that small sparks can provoke a widespread revolt. Secondly, President Museveni and NRM have held both state and political party apparatuses with firmness and fairness that functionaries aren’t a law unto themselves like in Sudan. Admittedly, there is a tide of arrogance, impunity and false sense of entitlement which NRM should deal with. 

The democratic space is very broad, functional, and effective, with few genuine critics able to sustain accusations, and be able to mobilise against President Museveni on the basis that he is insensitive to popular or public grievances. In fact, it is because Museveni proactively engages with public demands and discontent that many of his critics accuse him of being a ‘peasant’ president, and micro-manager, and I dare say, the majority underprivileged are with him for now. 

Egypt, Algeria and Sudan are all economically more prosperous than Uganda, the urban and lower rungs of society hugely depend on government subsidies, which once removed cause extreme hardships. In Uganda’s land, economic and social support systems allow individuals to produce, raise productivity and share their incomes as each deem fit, and this government has left them with very wide latitudes. On the issue of youth, women and unemployment, President Museveni is the lead advocate and sometimes direct provider beyond the state to empower groups with seed capital, skills, job-creation, and employment.  

And while there is low productivity that engenders poverty and social deprivation, majority of Ugandans may not hold President Museveni and government as directly responsible for their predicaments. In fact, most Ugandans are relatively self-sufficient in food, housing and water supply, the things that would perhaps provide a trigger. In all the above, the proactive, candid, and effective engagement that President Museveni and various government institutions provide with dissenters usually mellows down even the most aggressive discontent.

Many people are in shock that the ‘strong’ Omar Bashir, easily fell to an unarmed protestors who ‘besieged’ public facilities and have had food and water continuously supplied to them. It should be pointed out that, unknown to many people, Sudan’s military and security apparatus had been undergoing infiltration by foreign money to ensure it doesn’t take a stand with him. This may be unlikely in Uganda. It is actually an old strategy that has been used by the US and its European allies for decades where they infiltrate and offer various forms of inducements including financial bribes, safe havens, and positions in post coup times to weaken leading and critical elements in state institutions. 

Most recently, this was used in Iraq against Saddam Hussein, Syria against Bashar Al-Assad, Egypt against Hosni Mubarak, Libya against Muamar Gaddafi, and is currently underway in Venezuela where US allies Brazil, Honduras and others are actively and openly encouraging the military to either overthrow or abandon President Nicholas Maduro. In the old days, they used direct assassinations during coups as in El Salvador, Chile, Peru, Panama, and Zaire.

Usually, while foreign agents foment and exploit a crisis through multiple fronts, most people in, or close to government, get too distracted with grabbing material wealth, and become unable to analyse the unfolding events. We often think that the shadow power structures created whose true shape and purpose stays hidden are the danger, while foreign interests capture and subvert democracy.

Although seen by critics as a front for US interests in the region, President Museveni is actually the one currently leading revolutionary enlightenment among African leaders to immunize against sinister foreign interests that have enslaved, and marginalized Africa, and therefore could be a target.

While mobs have genuine grievances, it is dangerous for politician to rely on them to stage an insurrection against a president after all, their parties can remove them if they become a liability. In Uganda’s case there is vibrant popular democracy where, if the opposition was well organised and led, could persuade voters to reject Museveni.