MR PRESIDENT: NOW IS THE TIME TO TALK
– an open letter to Museveni by Stephen Kamugasa on 23rd March 2021
Dear Mr President,
If there is one thing we have all learned from the 2021 presidential election in Uganda, it is this: Democracy is a cruel mistress. No one has a monopoly to her affections, least of all you; she leaves uncertainty in her wake.
Mr President, throughout Uganda’s post-independence history, there have been many political shocks which have caused much anxiety and fear. These shocks include among others: the 1966 Buganda Crisis, a military assault upon the palace of Kabaka Mutesa II at Mengo, which drove him into exile; the assassination of Janani Luwum in 1977, the then archbishop of the Church of Uganda; the mid-1980s protracted conflict, pitting the Ugandan Government against the Lords Resistance Army in which an imaginable suffering was visited upon the Acholi people; and, sundry armed rebellions, one of which you yourself led. The same shocks have in various ways created situations and circumstances of extreme uncertainty, leaving many citizens, including those that lead them, feeling powerless to understand the parameters within which to better manage change. This fear, as you know only too well, is real; it has the power to call into question the legitimacy of public institutions. Your government’s legitimacy is, as I write, a matter of conjecture. There is therefore an urgent need for you to act. This urgency will make it very tempting for you to want to act with speed without due consideration, especially as those around you clamour for a quick fix, to expedite decision(s). The imperative of fear is to give in to anxiety over reason, thus creating an intense atmosphere of emotions, including widening the scope of possible options available to you. I beg you to earnestly resist such temptation(s). For at stake is your entire life’s work as a freedom fighter; that is, your stated aim to open access to all Ugandans democratically, which you set out in the “10-point programme of fundamental change” at the start of your rule in 1986.
Democracy is worth a second chance. The case for democracy is premised on a basic principle that you and I are not perfect. None of us is. We are not good enough to govern ourselves. Indeed, we’re so bad that no one in their right mind would trust you or me with absolute power. This, I believe, is precisely the reason why you yourself cannot contemplate handing over power to anyone else – especially to those for whom your policies may have been injurious, lest they should repay you in the same coin. This is a legitimate terror. It is human to be afraid. But this fear must surely evaporate, once you appreciate that the whole purpose of democracy is to spread power over many people and institutions, thus minimizing the risk of absolute power falling into the hands of just one person or a band of people. Therein lies the genius of democratic security. You yourself have seen during the presidential election, how eloquently wisdom spoke in the streets and the public squares of Kampala. Her voice was loud and clear that the time is nigh for the curtain to fall upon your long rule over Uganda. There is no disparagement for a great freedom fighter like you, to talk with those you disagree with. Moreover, as F.D. Roosevelt once said, “The only thing [you] have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoned, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed effort to convert [a disappointment] into [an opportunity].” Mr President, now is the right time to talk – about an orderly transfer of power – which is commensurate with the dignity befitting a Head of State.
I am, Sir, yours respectfully,
This is an excellent letter. But as so often happens, he makes no mention of how the people of Teso (north eastern Uganda) suffered from conflict due to their neighbouring tribe and the Army for years in the late 1980s-early 1990s and how they were forced to leave their homes and live in congested “camps” while the army was ordered to implement a “scorched earth” policy. The population fell from one million to half a million in just 4 years because so many were killed or died. It was ignored by the rest of Uganda and the world – much like the current violation of human rights by the security forces is being ignored by the world.
For more information on the history of Teso, click here and go to Section 3.