the death of ugandan democracy

11 03 2007

In The Monitor today, there is a piece written by Mulini Mulera that addresses some of the topics that I touched on yesterday:

Dear Tingasiga: I need to set the record straight. The headline of my column last week, which stated: “Abandon the illusion, democracy is dying”, was not of my choosing. The headline I had suggested to my editor was: “Abandon the illusion, democracy is dead.”

Where the Executive repeatedly ignores unfavourable decisions of the Judiciary, democracy is not dying. It is dead. Where the Executive unleashes its military might on the Judiciary and the Legislature, democracy is not dying. It is dead.

Where the ruling party uses its highly partisan army, militarised police and other armed organisations to terrorise and frustrate the constitutionally legitimate opposition from exercising its rights, democracy is not dying.

It is dead. To pretend otherwise is to engage in unhelpful self-deception.
Events this past week have given me no reason to change my mind about the death of democracy in Uganda. According to news reports, President Yoweri T. Museveni blocked a critical report by a parliamentary committee which condemned the military invasion of the High Court (Sunday Monitor, March 11).

Government security operatives reportedly stormed Parliament’s printing department and took away copies of the report to prevent them from being circulated to MPs.
Now pause a moment, Tingasiga, and think about this.

Military personnel invade the High Court of Uganda. A few days later, state security operatives invade Parliament and seize documents that belong to the Legislature. Then the president waltzes into Parliament and tells his MPs to abandon all talk of a government apology for the criminal deed at the High Court.

And as usual, Gen. Museveni gets his way with them, not through debate, but through intimidation and a long story about the so-called People’s Redemption Army (PRA) rebellion.

He ignores the fact that in a democratic society where there is rule of law, the decision of the High Court is always binding on the Executive, even when that decision is most unpalatable.

Had Museveni cared about democracy, the independence of the Judiciary and the rule of law, he would have simply issued a statement to the effect that notwithstanding intelligence evidence that the accused men had plotted to overthrow his government by force of arms, he accepted and respected the High Court’s decision to grant them bail.
Instead he chose to re-arrest them on silly new charges that did nothing but confirm our view that his military regime did not believe in the rule of law.

Were you not amused, Tingasiga, to hear Gen. Museveni feigning innocence in the criminal invasion of the High Court by his armed men? No surprise there, of course.
The president has never accepted responsibility for any errors, failures or outright criminal acts by his regimes. But only the irredeemably gullible would believe that the Black Mamba boys or whichever edition of the president’s military men invaded the High Court, would have done so without the blessing of Gen. Museveni himself.

UPDF soldiers and the police can beat up a few MPs in Acholi or rough up a Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) rally without seeking a job-specific approval from the president.

They have a blanket permit to do that sort of thing. But where the job involves arresting a high-profile leader such as FDC president Dr Kizza Besigye, or invading the High Court of the Republic of Uganda, the orders must come from very high up.

It is unthinkable that Internal Affairs Minister Ruhakana Rugunda and/or Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura would have ordered the militarised Uganda police to re-arrest the so-called PRA suspects. Likewise the military commanders would not have done so without clearance from the boss.

Do not forget that this is a regime where ministers and other public servants must seek the president’s approval to take the most mundane decisions.  So the president may feign innocence in this saga, but the judges of the High Court and the sober citizens of Uganda know the truth. The buck stops at Rwakitura.

Happily not all news about this episode was bad. We learnt with great pleasure that the NRM parliamentary caucus has in its ranks a few brave men and women who actually believe in something.

It may be the kiss of death for me to mention them by name, but I cannot let pass an opportunity to salute MPs Mary Mugyenyi (Nyabushozi), Henry Banyenzaki [Rubanda West], Perez Ahabwe (Rubanda East), William Oketcho (West Budama North) Asumani Kiyingi (Bugabula South), John Kigyagi (Mbarara Municipality), Rose Namayanja (Nakaseke), Sam Lyomoki (Workers) and Felix Okot Ogong (Dokolo).

By standing up for justice they have earned the respect of many. I encourage them not to let up or be intimidated into the silence that has destroyed our country.

If you’re still interested in the tragedy at this point, here is his article from last week:

Dear Tingasiga:

Ugandans face a decision of awful moment. They must choose between democracy and dictatorship. The illusion that Uganda is a democracy vanishes when one reflects on the state of its five pillars, namely, the citizens, the news media, parliament, the executive and the judiciary.

Citizens have been beaten into fearful submission. Yes, there is an illusion of relative freedom of speech and the people participate in periodic farcical elections. Yet if you listen carefully, you hear a very loud silence across the land, where people gladly whisper their disgust in private, but live in mortal fear of the state.

Fear for future

They fear loss of jobs and other crumbs that fall from the high table of the land. They fear the wrath of Gen. Yoweri T. Museveni’s armed courtiers who have repeatedly unleashed vicious dogs, tear gas and lethal ammunition upon citizens in a show of force that is designed to remind them who is boss.

They fear each other, no longer sure whom to trust, everyone suspecting everyone else of being a state informer, a circumstance that has always worked perfectly in favour of dictatorships. Kitandugaho [don’t quote me] is the motto of the land.

Of course, there are many Ugandans who genuinely support the dictatorship. The groceries are flowing their way, the illusion of kasita twebaka otulo [enjoying peaceful sleep] remains vivid in their imagination, and their shared kinship with the most powerful rulers feeds a bizarre belief that they too are in power.

Some, of course, agree with Gen. Museveni’s actions and policies, while others support the dictatorship because they are too cynical to believe that there is a better alternative. We respect their choice.

Yet shutting their eyes against the painful truth that democracy in Uganda is dead will not alter the fact that democracy is really dead. If you doubt me, Tingasiga, consider the following:

Parliament has been bought with cash in a cynical move designed to neuter MPs, whose role must be to continue to provide the cosmetic appearance of a parliamentary democracy at work.

Not even the MPs from the Forum for Democratic Change [FDC], the main opposition party, could resist the temptation to exchange their freedom and moral authority for a few shillings that they, like the ruling party MPs, are drooling over with deep gratitude to the executive branch.

The executive branch itself was stolen again on February 23, 2006 when Gen. Museveni retained the presidency not by free choice of the citizens. And to erase all doubt, Gen. Museveni, the retired soldier, prefers his military uniform to his Saville Row suits.

The news media, while continuing their valiant struggle for some air, swim in shark infested waters and will soon be drowned by an increasingly intolerant military regime. Ongoing efforts to muzzle Daily Monitor, KfM radio and its sister television network, NTV Uganda, are examples of the regime’s determination to suffocate the freer press.

For their part, many journalists, unwilling to risk loss of their “freedom” or groceries, engage in understandable self-censorship. Others gleefully cheer the assault on their own profession, blinded by short-term interests and transient groceries.

And the single most important pillar of a democratic state, the judiciary, has been desecrated and raped. Last week’s invasion of the court house was the latest of the regime’s acts of complete contempt for the rule of law. It was a clear missive from the president to the people of Uganda telling them the simple truth that the military rules supreme and all else is pretence.

Happily, the judges read and understood Gen. Museveni’s missive. Rather than continue to play along as enablers of the dictatorship, they have laid down their gavels and gowns in an act of defiance that has earned them the respect of freedom lovers around the world.

Their action challenges all Ugandan citizens who desire the rule of law to stand up and be counted on the side of justice and democracy.

Students join struggle

News that Makerere students are laying down their pens in solidarity with the judges and magistrates gives us hope that the younger intellectuals may be ready to answer the call of duty in defence of their freedom.

But it will take more than the noble actions of the judges and the university students to defend freedom and the rule of law. All citizens must make a choice, either to accept military rule and all that it brings, or to join advocates of freedom and the rule of law in a peaceful and non-violent resistance against the military dictatorship.

The time for fence-sitting which has, for far too long, been the refuge of those who have chosen to remain silent in exchange for groceries is long gone. Today it is the High Court under attack. Tomorrow it will be you, Tingasiga.




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