Tuesday, November 30, 2010

On Uganda's polls

Come to think of it, Ugandans are not used to opposition victory

By Asuman Bisiika

Ugandans used to violent election campaigns have been surprised by the relative calmness of the presidential poll campaigns.

On the radio and TV talk-show circuit, where I regularly do my pitch and listen in, there is unanimity of opinion that these presidential campaigns are boring; at least this far.

This calm has ‘blamed’ on the confidence of NRM. The general talk in the NRM campaign circles is that President Museveni will win by 65%.

Yet I am compelled to appreciate the NRM’s we-win-or-they-lose psyche. The brutal reality is that history favours Museveni. Ugandans are already conditioned to expect an opposition loss.

Come to think of it, Ugandans have never experienced an electoral loss by a sitting government (or the political side that has the sympathy of the military establishment). Neither is there any experience of a run-off election.

In the circumstances, of course no one is looking at the significance of Parliament in the broader scheme of things. With a wink from the military, President Museveni would ‘handle’ a Parliament in which his NRM party has minority strength while it would almost be impossible for Dr. Besigye to work with a Parliament that has an NRM majority.

So, the next President of Uganda will be the one whose electoral victory offers the best case scenarios in the aftermath of the polls; yes, the one capable of managing the possible post-election confusion. And as the French say, le chois est clare (the choice is clear).

But the opposition IPC is also digging in; confident they can deny President Museveni the mandatory anything-above-50% outright victory and force a run-off election.

Out of eight candidates, the main contenders are Dr. Kizza Besigye and incumbent President Museveni. This election means a lot to both Museveni and Besigye.

For Museveni, this term will afford him the time and opportunity to manage (ok, at least to think of) succession while for Dr. Kizza Besigye, it could be the last time his party will sponsor his candidature for the presidency. That is why the fear that these two candidates could turn this poll into a life-and-death project is real.

With the end of the northern rebellion, President Museveni’s campaign managers expect their electoral fortunes to increase in the north and eastern regions. But Besigye dismisses as futile Museveni’s current efforts to make inroads into opposition strongholds in the North and East claiming that “the contradictions between the people of northern Uganda and the NRM regime are irreconcilable”.

But such scenarios of over confidence and a sense mission have played out elsewhere to very bad consequences. In the June 1993 Presidential Elections in Burundi, military ruler Maj. Pierre Buyoya, portraying himself as a benevolent Tutsi ruler, was confident that his good-guy demeanour would win him the contest. It didn’t.

But Melchoir Ndadaye, the Hutu guy who won the elections, was killed in a coup in October 1993; less than six months later. Clearly the coup (and death of the duly elected president) was part of dynamics of the electoral process.

In the 2008 Presidential Elections in Zimbabwe, President Mugabe was so confident of a win that he could even afford the luxury to offer many concessions on the electoral legislation; and yes, he even withdrew his violence squads as a concession to Thabo Mbeki. He was returned as the second best.

But in the re-run that followed a hang presidential poll, Mugabe unleashed violence on the population that led to his only challenger to withdraw his candidature.

Well, while the opposition target denying Museveni an outright victory, the NRM’s minimum target is an outright victory. President Museveni’s campaign team do not even want to hear of, leave alone fathom, the scenario of a possible loss or failure to get an outright victory.

But still: what if…? Of course Museveni would petition court challenging result; but Ugandans know the suspense such a court petition would create?

When I cast my vote, it will be with the knowledge that the electoral process ends when the next elections are held. Alor est que le chois ancore clare (So, is the choice still clear)? Oui, plus clare (Yes, even more clearer). Chew on thatENDS

Saturday, October 16, 2010

What will Museveni’s manifesto look like? What is Museveni taking to campaigns?

By Asuman Bisiika

The nominations for presidential candidates slated for October 24 and 25 are now less than two weeks away. According to the Electoral Commission’s rules, campaigns begin immediately after the nominations.

Yet the two major political groups, the ruling National Resistance Movement and the Forum for Democratic Change, have not been talking about their manifestos.

In normal circumstances, a political party that has been in power for about twenty-five years would only need to review their cumulative achievements and set projections as their campaign manifesto. But the circumstances are not normal because the government communications and information dissemination systems have failed to sustainably promote government programmes.

There are two thematic options NRM’s manifesto can be approached: the promotion of the achievements of over twenty years or the projection and promise of better things to come. If it were up to me (if I were hired to write it), I would string it up in such a way that the achievements of the regime are captured as the foundation on which the projections and promises are made.

But I digress; the NRM will most likely not trust me with writing their manifesto. However, the question still remains: how will the NRM approach the campaigns for the 2011 Presidential Elections?

This essay is not intended to answer that question squarely, rather it is a rhetorical attempt to look at the NRM’s 2011 Presidential Elections campaigns from an assumed point of strong disposition, positioning and posturing.

President Museveni’s highest showing in this term (2006-2011) has been in the following areas: rural electrification, ending the armed rebellion in northern Uganda, increased access to clean water and a deliberate effort to improve on the road sector.

However, these areas of success should have been consistently promoted by the government’s communications and information dissemination systems. If these areas had been sustainably promoted, the challenge of the manifesto writers would have been limited to packaging these achievements into soluble messages for public absorption and appreciation during the campaigns.

So, how will the NRM take advantage of the improved social development indices like rural electrification, improved road network, improved access to clean water and the end of the rebellion in northern Uganda?

The rural electrification programme is supposed to extend the national electricity grid to cover 90% of the settled areas of the country. And my information is that they have already covered about 70%. One does not need to be highly educated to appreciate that rural electrification can accelerate the socio-economic transformation of the entire country.

With limitation of public servants, the government’s communications and information dissemination systems should to promote government’s high score in the social development indices without overly making it an NRM thing yet still to string it as a political mobilisation value.

In fact one of the (many?) things that President Museveni will be remembered for is rural electrification. This is the first time since independence that government is making a deliberate effort to bring the rural folk in the electricity loop; actually the national loop. Imagine for the first time the rural folk would also participate in debates over electricity tariffs.

Rural electrification will be etched in the collective minds of the people like Obote’s famous nineteen hospitals that remain the back born of the country’s health services delivery system.

In a deliberate action that was described by many as unprecedented, government allocated the road sector about one trillion for two consecutive years ending July 2010. This was the largest single allocation in the whole budget overtaking the education sector for the first time in many years.

The unprecedented increase in the budgetary allocation for the road sector bed a corresponding increase in public interest (and expectations) in the road sector. Question is: how will the NRM manifesto advantage of this public interest and expectations in the road sector? ENDS

Constitutional Court slaps state in the face; stops Besigye trial

Constitutional Court slaps state in the face; stops Besigye trial

Stopping Besigye’s trial was too liberal. Guy us vitually immunised from state prosecution

By Asuman Bisiika

On Tuesday October 12, the Constitutional Court stopped the trial of Dr. Kizza Besigye in the High Court and the Military Court Martial. Most commentators described this as an unprecedented landmark court ruling.

Mr. Richard Butera, the amiable director for public prosecutions, could only make a feeble response to the rather surprising ruling.

Now, during Vision Voice’s Talk of the National radio talk show on which I am a regular, show host Paul Busharizi asked my opinion on the ruling. I said it was tempting to see the ruling as one of those ironical things for which President Museveni picked credit.

Uganda has come a long way you know; so far away that the state’s acceptance and abiding by a court ruling is an achievement that should be attributed to president. We after all know that the state is capable and can do any thing to stifle the free operation of the Judiciary. Yes, President Museveni takes credit for the fact that he can let the Judiciary ‘run riot’ in town.

Yet beyond politicising things, there is another way to look at the Constitutional Court ruling that stopped the prosecution of Dr. Kizza Besigye. And here…

On September 22 1972 or thereabouts, President Idd Amin killed Chief Justice Ben Kiwanuka over what was believed to be disagreement on the direction and process of justice in the country. The death of Ben Kiwanuka, after whose name a Parish in Lubaga Division and a road in the business centre of Kampala City has been named, has always inspired the Judiciary in Uganda.

Ben Kiwanuka’s martyrdom set the bar very high for both the political leadership and the Judiciary. What can the political or military leadership do to the Judiciary that is more outrageous than the killing of the Chief Justice? Or what can the leadership of the Judiciary do that is more bold and courageous than Chief Justice Ben Kiwanuka’s actions that earned him martyrdom?

So, with this kind of background, the Judiciary can spring off almost anything on the government. Indeed let’s face it; although the reasoning behind the Constitutional Court decision to stop all proceedings against Dr. Kizza Besigye and his co-accused can be justified and rationalised, it is also true that the ruling went beyond the matter before the court. The ruling was too liberal and untraditional; it was judicial activism.

The media, bless them, of course got it wrong by insinuating that the cases had been dismissed. But this was kiika, not the usual dismissal for lack of evidence. Besigye has actually been immunised from criminal prosecution in some way or other.

But I must say that stopping of Besigye’s trial is a win for all the players mostly because the decision of the Constitutional Court resonated with public perception. President Museveni wins for demonstrating that ‘it is possible’; the Judiciary wins for exercising ‘moral courage and boldness’ and Dr. Besigye for proving that power belongs to the people and justice is dispensed in their name.

In Uganda, there are two institutions that still command respect and the moral high ground. They are the Church and the Judiciary. However, of the two institutions, (we can be academic and call them ‘estates of the state’), the Judiciary has retained the highest level of moral decency.

Even in the strenuous circumstances of 1970s and 80s, the Judiciary still remained true to its cardinal function of arbitration without bias. The only problem was always implementation or abiding by court rulings. Which is not the business of the Judiciary.

The Church and Judiciary earned this respect through the martyrdom of Anglican Archbishop Janan Luwum and Chief Justice Ben Kiwanuka. A good like President Museveni leader appreciates their (Church and the Judiciary) opinions; as history has shown that any attempt to tamper with the free operations of these institutions leads to some level of state failure. ENDS

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

‘Mr. Kigali’ gets 93% over-kill as Rwanda awaits King Kigeli

By Asuman Bisiika

On September 6, Paul Rutagambwa Kagame will be sworn-in for a second and last term of office as President of Rwanda. As was expected, he easily won the August 9 presidential poll; the talking point though has been the 93% victory.

At one of the radio talk shows on which I am a regular, the show host said it was not a landslide but a tsunami. Does the 93% over-kill represent Kagame’s level popularity in Rwanda? No, please no.

In the first place, the question of Kagame’s popularity should not arise because an electoral process, whether won by 100% or slightly less like it was in the August 9 poll, would not do justice to his larger-than-life national profile.

As I have said elsewhere, President Kagame’s participation in the political leadership of Rwanda (don’t mind winning elections) is out of legitimacy, not tangible electoral popularity. His people’s attempt to portray the 93% as a measure of popularity is actually misplaced.

Rwanda’s political dynamics
After the genocide, the victorious RPF made what they called the RPF Declaration of 1994. This declaration overwrote (was supreme over) the Constitution and the 1993 Arusha Peace Accords, the two documents on which Rwanda was to be ruled in a power sharing deal.

The essence of the RPF Declaration of 1994 was that all political players in Rwanda are sort of co-opted to the RPF (ok, at least to their viewpoint).

So, for one to participate (well, and winning) in elections in Rwanda, it is has to be on the terms of the RPF. And since Paul Kagame, the ultimate ‘Mr. Kigali’ is still in the electoral mix, he deserves all the votes. Don’t mind that the 93% figure has parallels with elections in Mobutu’ Zaire (now Dr Congo) and Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

Kagame’s 93% score should be viewed in this light: President Museveni holding elections in 1990 at a time all the political elite had been co-opted into the National Resistance Movement. Would any one be surprised if Museveni won with 95% in 1990?

As I have said elsewhere, the national civics in Rwanda must fit in the thinking of Gutahuka (return of Rwandan refugee), Gubohoza (the RPF liberation or the hegemony it created) and Itsemba Bwoko (Genocide). Needles to say, the custodian of these ideals is the RPF led by Kagame.

He led the 1959 Tutsi refugees back home in 1994, he organised the return of (the 1994) Hutu refugees in 1997 and he led the forces that stopped the genocide.

When I was in Prison, I learnt that the return of the Hutu refugees in 1997 meant a lot to them; in the same way the Tutsi’s return back home in 1994. Incidentally I learnt a lot about Rwanda when I was in prison than all the time I was wining and dining at the exclusive Jali Club with Hutu and Tutsi leaders.

To understand Gutahuka, one would have to appreciate its character. It was a mass wave of whole communities fleeing their homes; an event that has been indelibly written in the collective history of both Hutus and Tutsi. This character contrasts the new wave former state functionaries fleeing the country (some through the airport) after falling out with the establishment.

The most important aspect of Gutahuka also comes with feeling of defeat that led to Guhunga (exile or refuge) in the first place. And since the Gutahuka was on the terms of the leadership, there is always a sense of submission (both passive and active) to the forces that organised or led the Great Trek back home.

Regular visitors to Rwanda like Andrew Mwenda (editor of The Independent news magazine) who think Kagame’s popularity derives the state’s delivery of social services may need to know that Rwanda had a very strong social welfare regime during Habyarimana’s time.

So, whereas there may not have been electoral thefts, the environment under which the elections were held was not sanitised enough for a liberal and informed civic participation.

Super hero Kagame
Kagame is actually like Rome’s Julius Caesar and the so-called first triumvirate. But like Caesar, the challenge is how he uses his super hero status. Which brings us to the question: is Kagame stifling the opposition or the country lacks a credible opposition?

In a recent interview, Kagame said, and rightly so, that it is not his job to create the so-called credible opposition. It was a good quote yes, but he was merely politicking. A credible opposition can only exist where there is open debate on national issues. In Rwanda, one such issue is the call for the restructuring of state power and authority by returning the former king as a titular head of state.

It sounds crazy, but I lived in Rwanda long enough to know better. I had my own verbal brawls with President Kagame over Omwami Ndahindurwa Kigeli, Rwanda’s last king. In my personal assessment, if Kagame is ‘Mr. Kigali’, Omwami Kigeli is the only counter-hero to Kagame’s super hero status.

The other option for the political opposition is to wait Kagame out till 2017 when his last constitutional term of office expires. The assumption is that if he stays in power, he will have to come up with some ‘political bargain’ that will result into ceding of some political space.

If he leaves power, his absence would involuntarily create some political space as the new leader would lack Kagame’s national and international profile and appeal.

So, those threatening war like the exiled former Security Chief Patrick Karegeya, may end up playing into Kagame’s hands. Bwana Karegeya, revolutions are no longer sexy.

RPF weaknesses
The RPF government changed the name of the genocide from the Rwanda Genocide to the Genocide of the Tutsi. This represented a clear RPF failure to project itself as a mass party on the platform of Gutahuka, Gubohoza and Intsemba Bwoko.

Their failure to promote the 1997 return of Hutu refugees as part of the national homecoming narrative and the self-destructive promotion of the RPF as a partisan interest group complete with a business empire completes the picture.

Since political activism can only take place in (or under) the RPF, any exclusivity in the party narrows space for national debate. That’s why there are these fall outs within the government (forget the party). And because of this exclusivity, former RPF luminaries like Gen. Kayumba Kanyamwasa, Col. Patrick Karegeya, Ambassador Theogene Rudasingwa and many others find it hard to mainstream their grievances into a horizontal national debating platform. The only way out is to flee out.

It is now wrong to portray the power structure in Rwanda in the light of Hutu-Tutsi formations. It is about “those in power and those out”. Those in power may be Tutsi but they don’t represent the Tutsi as an ethnic entity. And as a government, they would even feel uncomfortable with the Tutsi label.

Thing is: whoever challenges (or fundamentally disagrees with) those in power, whether Hutu or Tutsi, would face the same fate: prison or exile. I think that explains the wave of Tutsi fleeing the country. ENDS
The author is a socio-political analyst with very keen interest on the Great Lakes region. He was the founding editor of The Rwanda Herald.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Twenty four years later…, the NRM struggle continues
Published in The New Vision of January 26, 2010

By Asuman Bisiika

I was once an active political cadre; a political instructor of sorts. One of my favourite topics was “the management of state power vis-à-vis the armed struggle”.

I used to explain to my students: Revolutionary outlook guides the management of state power. To avoid revolutionary regression, counter-revolutionary and neo-revolutionary tendencies, the sustainability of the struggle is critical; which is the basis of the line: the struggle continues.

Otherwise without ideological clarity to guide the armed struggle and the management of state power, the revolution would be reduced to merely assumption of state power; the quick-fix attitude commonplace with military coup plotters. Reference is the 1966 coup (January) and counter-coup (July) in Nigeria that was later to lead to the Biafran civil war.

Sustainability of the struggle is not about the rhetoric oratory of cadres sugared with wordy bombast and quick-tongued diction. Revolutionary sustainability is about tangible and intangible achievements that constitute a legacy.

Now, as the NRM leadership celebrates 24 years in power, what is its enduring legacy?

The most enduring achievement of the NRM struggle has been the demolition of the colonial state superstructure. The central plank of the colonial state was the chief; variously addressed as King, Paramount Chief or merely Chief.

The Chief levied taxes, collected taxes, arrested you for defaulting on payment and released you as he willed. The chief’s responsibility was to the colonial state not the people he ruled. And as long as he did not annoy his colonial masters, he could do with the population as he wished.

He could be a native traditional leader or appointed by the colonial state like the case of Semei Kakungulu, but brief remained the same: namely to rule on behalf (or wish) of the colonial state which was far removed from the people.

The immediate post-colonial administrations, either for lack of ideological clarity or confidence, inherited the entire colonial superstructure and thinking. With the benefit of retrospection however, we can now say that the colonial state was so much entrenched that its destruction needed more than just being independent from colonial masters.

By contrast, the new chief created by NRM (the Sub County Chief or the District’s Chief Administrative Officer) is supervised by the people. This re-organisation of the state superstructure is irreversible.

The phrases “it was a political decision” and “orders from above” are now in vogue as response to queries over bad buys by the government. Weary administrative functionaries (led by Permanent Secretaries) just look on or take advantage of the politicians’ greed and shenanigans. The Chogm scandals are a testimony to this scenario.

Yet this can be explained. The challenges the NRM leadership face today can be blamed to the span of the armed struggle. The armed struggle was so short that it didn’t give the ‘strugglers’ enough time for a comprehensive ideological discipline, cadre development and grounding to run a state professionally.

The NRM didn’t have the opportunity to run a state-like administration like the UNITA of Angola, RENAMO of Mozambique or SPLA of Sudan. This would have given the NRM Political Corps the experience to transit from survival mode (self-preservations and territorial holding) to sustenance and consolidation mode needed to run state apparatus.

Imagine a ten-year stalemate with NRM holding the Political West (from Kafu to Kagera and from Katonga to the Rwenzoris). They would run the ‘liberated areas’ as a state and use their experience to run the administrative functions of the government.

Perhaps corruption (manifested in messed up procurement processes, delivery of shoddy public works and services) would not be at such destructive levels as it is now. ENDS

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Music and politics? Not a bad bet, but who promotes who

By Asuman Bisiika

The rumour is that the National Resistance Movement will adopt Joe Chameleon’s Basima Ogenze as their signature promotional song. And of course, Dr. Hilderman’s Amelia is a praise song for Amelia Kyambadde, the powerful Principal Private Secretary to the president, who is expected to try her hand in active politics in 2011 Oh by the way, it was reported that FDC will hire Bobi Wine to out a song in their favour. One of the books that capture the dilemma of artists playing an active role in the socio-political affairs of a society is Ali Mazrui's The Trial of Christopher Okigbo. The late Nigerian writer Christopher Okigbo, who is itemised in Encyclopaedia Britannica as a poet, is said to have died in active combat fighting for the secession of Biafra from Federal Nigeria. Earlier, Okigbo had declined an award for African Art reasoning that “art is art and there cannot be African Art and European Art”; very good arguments. The ethereal setting of the book and the arguments are a testimony of Mazrui’s brain power and creativity. The main argument in Mazrui’s book is: if Okigbo could decline a continental or Negro award portraying it as racial and parochial, how could he bring himself to die in (or for) a parochial secessionist cause for the Biafra State? But there is nowhere the art of music played such a big role in political activism like in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In DR Congo, when all avenues of expressing discontent were shut by the state, music offered the only escape. But unlike in Uganda, the music industry in DR Congo was big and had been accepted as part of the Congolese socio-political culture. *********************** In 1986, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) held Presidential Elections in which President Marshal Mobutu Ssese Seko sought re-election. To spur President Mobutu’s campaign, Franco Luambo Makiadi released Candidat Mobutu calling the population to rally behind the candidature of Mobutu. Marshal Mobutu won the poll by 99.99 per cent; as was expected. Of course, the politically passive Tabu Ley Rochereau (Afrisa Internationale) was ‘requested’ to do something. He outed Mobutu, bato bako vote yo massivement (Mobutu, people will vote for you massively). The twenty-minute long Candidat Mobutu was a hit in Zaire and most African countries including Uganda where Congolese music was popular. In search of theme songs after the overthrow of President Mobutu in 1996, (and of course not knowing that the lyrics of the song were praises for Mobutu), radio stations in Uganda ironically played Candidat Mobutu. I will let you in on the lyrics. The Intro Chorus goes like: Zairoise mpe Zairois (Zaireans, ladies and gentlemen). Bima na balabala (take to the streets). Banzana nabasolo (think and be true). Tala lokola nkake (shine like lightning). Pona candidature ya Marshale (for the Marshal's candidature). Mobutu Ssese Seko. Tozala Sese, tozala frank (we are frank, Ssese). Hypcrise to boyi (we hate hypocrisy). Ingratitude to boyi (we hate ingratitude). Nani akoki kosumba ekolo (who will lead the nation). Soki Mobutu te nani mosusu (if not Mobutu, who else). Mobutu Ssese Seko. Some of Franco Luambo’s (the lead singer) lines went thus: Mobutu azongisa unite nationale (Mobutu returned national unity). Mobutu azongisa la paix na Zaire (Mobutu has returned peace to Zaire). Tambola nakati ya Zaire mobimba (Go all over Zaire). Loba monoko nyoso oyo olingi (Speak whatever you want). Moto akotunayo azali te (no one will ask you). Est que kala ezalaka bongo (was it like this before?) Listen to this: Tozuiye naano mabe te (We don't have any problem with him) Abebisa ata moke te (he has not made any mistake) Alembi naano te (he is not yet tired) Nzoto naye ezali naano makasi (His body is in good health) Pona nini toluka candidat mosusu (why should we look for another candidate)? Anecdote: Franco released Candidat Mobutu when he was in exile in Belgium where he had fled from Mobutu’s brutality. In appreciation of the song, President Mobutu 'forgave' him and allowed him to return from exile. Franco turned down the offer; the song was after all a clever satire; for how can an enemy sing your praises. My estimation of Uganda's musicians is that they can do better than just throwing tired lyrical lines at us. And I hope the praise songs for politicians are not the usual hollow entreaties on the campaign rallies of all the candidates. ENDS