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Uganda at 55 – Part 2: Missed Opportunities - By Dr. Bbuye Lay Mukanga

Uganda at 55 – Part 2: Missed Opportunities - By Dr. Bbuye Lay Mukanga

Momentous things have happened in Uganda since Part 1 of my reflections on Uganda at 55 was published. Soon after, the Government moved to introduce a “Private Members Bill” that would remove the less than 75 years old limit on the age of any Presidential candidates. There were immediate objections from the Opposition benches of Parliament, and the population at large. 


Besides questioning the constitutional validity of the removal of the relevant Clause, the Opposition also questioned the way in which the bill was being shepherded through Parliament. It had not even been sent to the Parliamentary Counsel for review. A standoff ensued in Parliament. Scuffles led to some regrettable exchange of blows among the MPs, and Opposition MPs openly defied the Speaker’s attempt to suspend some of their members from the House. This was a purely internal Parliamentary matter.


On 27 September 2017, members of the military’s Special Forces Command invaded Parliament, assaulted Opposition MPs and kidnapped some of them. Some of the kidnapped MPs were sent to various “detention centres” around Kampala, and others ended up in hospital being treated for injuries. A couple of days later, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) boastfully took responsibility for the military assault on Parliament. One source reported the IGP’s bragging as follows:


KAMPALA - “I’m the one who planned all this [parliament raid]. Those people you saw in plain clothes were a joint team. I requested sister security agencies to support me. Police did its work professionally and were focused on the work that took them there,” Gen Kayihura [Inspector General of Uganda Police] told journalists ….  Kayihura’s revelation comes on the back of reports that troops from the military’s Special Forces Command (SFC) reportedly took part in storming parliament, which saw opposition MPs ferociously attacked, bundled out of the chamber and dumped in police outposts around Kampala. – – 29 September 2017


Soon after, there were reports of grenade attacks on some Opposition MPs’ homes. A Government spokesman incredulously and disingenuously accused the victim MPs of organising to bomb their own homes to make the Government look bad! With the Opposition excluded from Parliament, the Speaker and Government moved and had read a private member’s bill to remove age limit, that is, to allow Yoweri Museveni to be able to run for another term as Pulezidenti.


Many were left shaking their heads in wonder at how Uganda seemed to be stuck at the same level of political development, and solving the same problems, using the same methods that were applied over 50 years ago.


In Part 1 of my reflection on Uganda at 55 (years since Independence), a thesis was advanced that Uganda’s stunted or arrested state of political, socio-economic development is, in a large measure, the result of the failure to properly integrate and internalise three fundamental building blocks of a country’s growth and development: (1) constitutional governance and rule of law; (2) critical thinking; and (3) wisdom. In Part 2, I will highlight some of the key elements of Uganda’s momentous failure to grow as a nation. I will mainly dwell on issues of constitutional governance and the rule of law during the earliest years Uganda Independence, followed by more abbreviated comments on critical thinking and wisdom.


Constitutional governance and rule of law


Constitutional governance and the rule of law is the first building block of any nation, or for that matter for any community. It is the cornerstone where everything starts. For any country to take itself seriously, and for others to take it seriously, that country needs to have, project and live out a sense of why it should exist at all. Being a sovereign country embodies a form of being chosen, accepted, respected and anointed as a unique people. It is a form of anointing that should be felt and experienced by both the people of the country and the people of other countries. This anointing is found in the constitution and in the laws of the country. 


For natural and healthy self-development, any country (and even a family) needs to follow a pattern of first providing structures that develop its identity, self-worth and boundaries of and for operating and functioning as country. Even in bringing up a child, the surest and easiest way to succeed is to start with an initial sense of “order”. This is not just my mother’s wisdom; even educators recognize this basic building block for human development. Extended to communities and countries or nations, constitutional governance and rule of law constitutes that sense of “order” that needs to be cultivated at an early stage.


The greater part of Uganda’s political and socio-economic and other forms of underdevelopment and under-performance stem from the failure to ingrain the concept of and respect for constitutional governance and the rule of law in the Ugandan political discourse. Instead of living and working by the Constitution and adhering to the rule of law, the early years of Uganda’s existence, and then subsequent years, were infected by an incapacitating parasitic cocktail of underhanded intrigue and trickery, bribery, criminal impunity, militarisation, violent repression, and tendency towards and capitulation to one-man rule.


Uganda’s political discourse started to be clouded in undercover political maneuvers during the events leading up to Independence. Arguably the most notable of the pre-Independence cloak and dagger maneuvers was the way in which UPC and Kabaka Yekka (KY), with the connivance of the British Colonial Office annulled the mandate of the DP Government, which had been elected in 1961. New elections were engineered, and a UPC-KY coalition Government was installed in Entebbe in March 1962, just 6 months before Independence. The degree of freedom and fairness of those elections, including the independence of R.C. Peagram, the British Commissioner  of Elections, will forever be debated in Uganda. But most appalling of all was the fact that in Buganda, where over 25% of the seats were contested, there was a short-circuiting of the one-man-one-vote principle. Instead of being directly elected, in Buganda, MPs were nominated by the KY-dominated Lukiiko. This was a Lukiiko whose own election was debatable and contestable.


Within two years after Independence, Grace Ibingira, Daudi Ochieng, Brigadier Shaban Opolot and others, with the possible collusion of the Kabaka, were said to have hatched a plan for a military putsch against Prime Minister M Obote. Obote outwitted the plotters by commandeering important sections of the Army and the Police. In another maneuver, some of Obote’s cabinet colleagues tried to organise a cabinet vote of no confidence in him in his absence. Obote outmaneuvered his colleagues, had them arrested and put them and other real or imaginary co-conspirators and opponents in indefinite imprisonment. The imprisonments were carried out under a much-maligned law that the Colonial Government had used to imprison and exile anyone who questioned its authority into a gulag of detention centres. Eventually, Obote ordered the army (under Col. Idi Amin) to attack the Kabaka’s Palace and forced the latter to flee.


In February 1966, three months before the invasion of the Kabaka’s Palace, Obote had suspended the 1962 Constitution, with it the President of Uganda, who was the Kabaka of Buganda. On April 15, 1966, Obote had had a new Constitution promulgated without being read or debated by Parliament. It became known as the Pigeon Hole Constitution. He now became the Executive President of Uganda.


Obote then, under the coaching of then Attorney General Godfrey Binayisa, drafted another Constitution. Whereas Binayisa resigned in May 1967, Obote rammed the new Constitution through a Parliament that had become humbled, de-fanged and made a mere rubber stamp of UPC resolutions. Under this new Constitution, Uganda became a Republic on September 8, 1967. Among its provisions was the abolishment of all monarchies in the country.


Soon Uganda was declared a one-party state – the Democratic Party (DP) and Kabaka Yekka and any other party formally delegitimised in 1969. The political game became one of UPC-Yokka!!


The 1967 Constitution was mostly about legitimizing UPC as the single party that was entitled to rule Uganda, and keeping Obote in power as President for Life. The 1967 Constitution also removed an vestige of devolution of political or any other power and responsibility beyond a single unitary government structure.


In 1969, Obote tried to organise what would have, anyway, been sham elections to give some electoral legitimacy to the unilateral decisions that he had been making unilaterally for about 6 years. At the first round of UPC-Yokka “primaries”, Obote’s buddy Sam Odaka lost to some upstart candidate. Instead of taking the blow on the chin, and respecting wishes of the local party branch in Jinja, Obote shut down the whole election process. So, even within the confines of UPC, there was no room to dance to any tune other than that of the party leader and his immediate cronies. It is doubtful that anyone knows what Obote would have done about elections if Idi Amin, with British and Israeli connivance, had not come along and pushed him out of the way.


Another aspect of the breakdown of constitutional governance and rule of law in Uganda was how Obote used his position to distribute Ministerial positions and plum appoints to opposition members and unqualified civil servants to buy their loyalty. As the UPC-KY crumbled, Obote bribed many KY MPs with offers to become ministers in ministries which were empty of meaningful functional responsibilities. Even Buganda Lukiiko Members were bribed with Ford Zephyr 4’s, Peugeot 403’s and offered positions in Government.


I recall a former Muluka Chief (then a Lukiiko member) who was made Secretary General of then West Buganda Province (headquartered at Mpigi). It was one of the biggest and most populous administrative areas in those days. I knew the man well because he was a relative of my mother. He was completely out of his depth as a Provincial Administrator, even hardly spoke English (the official national language). Hence, he went about his responsibilities in the same way that a Muluka chief would.


So, soon after Independence, the idea of a country in which service and reward are defined by merit and value of what a person produced was put to naught. Not just in Mpigi Province, but all over country.


On a Saturday afternoon in 1969 at Nakivubo Stadium, suddenly and out of the blue, Obote announced that “Uganda was making a move to the left”. Overnight, all the major private businesses operating in Uganda were “nationalised”: banks, insurance companies, you name it. There was no discussion in Parliament or any other fora of this important change in the property rights laws of the country. At this stage, things were just happening. Only what Obote liked counted. Those who did not like what Obote liked were detained.


The seeds of impunity were sown. Four years before the Move to the Left policy, Obote, his cousin Adoko Nekyon, Defence Minister Felix Onama and Col. Idi Amin had been accused of looting and illegally importing (smuggling) a large quantity of gold and ivory from the Congo. In the end, they just closed down the investigation. The law of the land did not apply to them.


Some time soon after Independence, then Prime Minister Obote is said to have choked on a piece meat, something that could happen to anybody. Apparently, some quick medical intervention saved the PM’s life. The then Superintendent of Mulago Hospital, Dr. Abiasali Kibaya, made a press release that alluded to a piece of meat in the PM throat. Since the PM wanted the publicly acknowledged offending piece to be a fish bone, not a piece of meat, he had Dr Kibaya dismissed from his job. A few years later, when people were being detained in earnest, Dr Kibaya was also thrown in jail – for the simple reason that he had years before released a true, but personally embarrassing report about the PM. Insulation of politicians and other powerful people from legal obligations and personal embarrassments became rooted in Uganda’s infant footsteps.


Obote militarised the Uganda polity. He was one of the first leaders of independent Africa to train the police in military tactics and give the police weaponry that was at times more lethal than what the army had. At the centre of the militarised police was the “Special Forces Unit”, a free-ranging, scorched-earth, kill-and-go machine. The ground for military repression was laid soon after Independence: a rampaging army and armed Police, extra-judicial killings and imprisonment, spying and intimidation by the General Services Unit (GSU). The list is endless.


I believe that the failure by Uganda’s leaders, and Ugandans at large, to embed, water and nurture constitutional governance and the rule of law as the central pillar of the country’s existence is the main cause of Uganda’s failure to grow and develop as a nation. All the 55 years of Uganda’s “Independence”, to wit, the UPC-Kabaka Yekka Coalition, Obote 1, Idi Amin Dada, Military Commission, Obote 2, Okello Lutwa, and Museveni’s thirty-plus years, are a colossal witness to the absence of a constitutional and legal framework that leaders and citizens believe in, lionise and are ready to defend in sacrificial ways.


This failure has completely undermined the remaining two building blocks of nation building, as well as all other fabric of the validity of Uganda as a country.


Critical thinking


The second building block of a country’s growth and development, one that is in short supply in Uganda, is critical thinking. Critical thinking is the disciplined intellectual process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information. The information that is used is gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.


In its exemplary form, critical thinking is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness. It entails the examination of those structures or elements of thought implicit in all reasoning: purpose, problem, or question-at-issue; assumptions; concepts; empirical grounding; reasoning leading to conclusions; implications and consequences; objections from alternative viewpoints; and frame of reference.


Critical thinking has two main components: one, a set of skills that support the generating and processing of information and belief systems; and two, the habit, based on intellectual commitment, of using those skills to guide behavior.


As such, critical thinking is more than and goes far beyond the mere acquisition and retention of information alone. In addition to this, it involves a way in which information is sought and treated. Critical thinking also transcends the mere possession of a set of skills. Instead, it involves the continual use of acquired skills.


Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities and a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and socio-centrism.  A well-cultivated critical thinker will raise vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely; gather and assess relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively;  come to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards; think open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and communicate effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.


Critical thinkers are the equivalent of the prophets in the Judeo-Christian Old Testament Scriptures. Rather than seeing the prophets as people who “foretell the future”, Christianity would be more authentic, interesting and attractive if prophets were presented and treated as God truly intended them to be: people who study the conditions of the country and express their opinions based on the Law that God had given to the people of Israel. The same goes for nations like Uganda. Potential critical thinkers have not been lacking in Uganda. What has been lacking is the freedom for critical thinkers and critical thinking to thrive.


The framing of the 1962 Independence Constitution lacked not only broad grassroots inputs, but also lacked intellectually tight critical thinking. The Constitution was hammered out by a clique from Mmengo and a clique from UPC, each with very narrow selfish interests. Soon after Independence, the two groups could not agree. Each side started defending what suited them and attacking what did not suit them, and there was little common ground.


From the start, Uganda’s leaders did not encourage, in fact actively and ruthlessly discouraged, critical thinking because it did not necessary tally with their positions. Many supposed intellectuals were bribed or otherwise co-opted into being Government mouth pieces. People like Rajat Neogy, the publisher of the critical publication TRANSITION, were jailed for sedition. Intellectuals started leaving Uganda or just singing the choruses of the Government of the day. Many were killed, especially under the Idi Amin and Obote 2 eras.


If Uganda’s leaders were not willing to provide space for well articulated thinking by others, one would have expected the leaders to come up with some critical thinking of their own. Sadly, none of Uganda’s leaders have ever made public any intellectually viable treatises of their ideas of what Uganda means to them, and how they would like to see Uganda constituted, governed and developed. Idi Amin can be excused for this lapse, but the same excuse cannot be made for Obote (about 14 years at the helm) and Museveni (32 years at the helm and still going).


In his 2015 book UPC and National-Democratic Liberation in Uganda, Yoga Adhola says that Obote had well reasoned ideas on the governance and development of Uganda, but that Obote was too busy with “practical” matters to write! I do not buy this for one minute! In Canada, we had leaders like Pierre Elliot Trudeau who left behind and shared with fellow citizens well-reasoned treatises of their views of the country and why and how they governed as they did. These are now being used in other countries.


As far as critical thinking is concerned, what really happened and is happening in Uganda, is that leaders do not surround themselves with independent critical thinkers. Instead they groom and reward people who enable them in achieving their selfish ends. The recent and current list of ENABLERS includes people like Eriya Kategaya, Apollo Nsibambi (co-opted from Makerere), Ruhakana Rugunda (as a young man, arguably the most incisive Ugandan critique of both the neo-classical and the Marxist paradigms), Rebecca Kadaga, and so many others.




The Uganda polity and socio-economic development process has suffered from a cascade of failures. Inadequate constitutional governance and rule of law led to inadequate critical thinking. In turn, there has been a failure in Uganda to accumulate a cadre of sages and a repository of wisdom that is required to sustain a country. In the Old Testament Scriptures, after the book of the Law, there are the Books of the Prophets (critical thinkers). This is then followed by the books of Wisdom (Job, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, and many of the Psalms). Wise people and wisdom literature reveal the ability to be patient with mystery and contradictions—and the soul itself. The cadre of wise people is constituted of those citizens who have always passed through a major death to their egocentricity – people who have been transformed into becoming the conscience of the country. In Uganda, we lack such a class of wise people.


One would have thought that after even only ten years in power, Museveni would have overcome the penchant for accumulating wealth, building empires, grooming hereditary political heirs, slinging guns, promiscuity, and all those empty promises. If Museveni had foregone those penchants, many people would be forming a bee line to his hut to seek his wise counsel. The country would be reaping the rewards of an elder’s leadership. Leadership is derived from commanding respect, and NOT from demanding respect. Instead, Museveni risks the ignominy of leaving this world like a maligned and reviled leader, such as Kamuzu Banda, Muammar Khaddaffi, Saddam Hussein and others who overstayed and abused their usefulness.


In the process of clinging to power, our leaders have starved, killed and otherwise prevented others who would have graduated to the class of wise people. One thinks of the late Balamu Mukasa. He was one of the most accomplished Ugandans of all time. He graduated from Moorhouse University in the late 1920s and had a doctorate from Yale University in 1934. In the 1950s, he worked with Governor Andrew Cohen and others on laying the ground for internal self-governance and Independence. He was the brains behind the Uganda Development Corporation and so many other initiatives. He also supported Ben Kiwanuka and DP in the run-up to Independence. Because of this, the UPC Government denied one of the architects of Independent Uganda any role in post-Independence affairs. Instead, the Government tried, in many ways, to make sure that even his means of livelihood were taken away from him. I am sure Balamu died a broken man as he saw Uganda cascade into chaos in the early to mid 1960s.


 More recently, one can think of the case of Eriya Kategaya. Instead of passing into the glorious evening of an elder statesman, Eriya paid the price of speaking up against violations of the 1995 Constitution. Museveni took everything away from him, and turned Kategaya into a desperate pauper and beggar of favours from the Government. …. And of course, there are many others who could have graduated into the cadre of Uganda’s wise people, but they were dispatched into exile or to their graves for speaking their minds.


Where can Uganda go from here?


There is a saying in Luganda to the effect that some things can become so crooked that it is impossible to continue with them without breaking them. (Luganda: Akaakyama amamera, bw'okagolola kamenyeka bumenyesi) My own view of present Uganda is that the country is so crooked that we need to go back to the beginning, convene all Ugandans into a national dialogue, and redefine the parameters of who we want to be and how we want to achieve what we want to be.


I believe that this will take a groundswell of uprising by the young people of Uganda – to say to my generation and Museveni’s generation: enough is enough, get out of our way. I am comforted in my hope by the fact that more than 60% of living Ugandans were born before Museveni ever came to power in 1985. My hope is the Bobbi Wines of Uganda. Of course, there also the Evelyn Anites of Uganda. Thank God that the Bobi Wines hold the truth, and truth eventually wins.






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