20 April 2012
Politics in Uganda currently seems to be rotating around the interpretation of the word "change" by the ruling party NRM, as well as the opposition parties belonging to the recently banned A4C (Activists for Change), a political pressure group trying to end president Museveni’s "reign of terror".
In his inaugural speech as a head of state in 1986, President Museveni told the world that his was not a mere change of guards but a fundamental change. He was applauded because, for sure, the late Amin and Obote’s regimes left a lot to be desired.
However, starting with the 1996 presidential elections, the ruling party adopted a “no change” slogan. By "no change", the regime probably meant that for the promised fundamental change to be fully realised, there was no need for regime change. Ugandans embraced the slogan and voted overwhelmingly for Museveni.
During the 2001 general elections however, voices of change emerged with fear that the "no change" slogan actually meant no fundamental change in policies. Amazingly, change voices were championed by one of president Museveni’s closest allies and his former personal physician, Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye. According to Besigye, the president had abandoned the road to a fundamental change and instead embarked on a road to life presidency.
To counter the "no change" slogan, Besigye together with his wife Winnie Byanyima ganged up with a group of friends to form a political pressure group called “Reform Agenda” – read "Change Agenda". This group shook president Museveni a little but it did not bring about the desired change, which was actually regime change.
In the 2006 elections, an energised Besigye returned with the Forum for Democratic Change party. For the first time, Museveni’s "no change" slogan was in real danger, since many of his former cadres had abandoned him in favour of actual change. However, Museveni was re-elected in these elections, which many - including High Court judges - believe were rigged.
Now that the 2011 elections are behind us, with Museveni still in power, the country engulfed in all sorts of scandals and facing an economic down turn, voices of change have gained momentum, especially with the formation of the popular A4C. The government recently banned the group, accusing its members of attempting to overthrow an "elected" government.
The A4C leadership has however laughed off the ban by the state Attorney General Peter Nyombi, saying that it will not deter them from pushing for change. According to the A4C national coordinator Mathias Mpuuga, the attorney general cannot ban activism.
The Democratic Party president and former presidential candidate Nobert Mao agrees with Mr. Muuga, saying that the actions of government will make A4C even more powerful. “The tide of change is irreversible,” asserts DPs Mao.
In reaction to the banning of A4C, the opposition leader Kizza Besigye was rather upbeat about the whole issue. According to him, banning the name will not affect his activism for change, and like Nelson Mandela’s ANC which was outlawed during apartheid in South Africa, Besigye said banned groups have always liberated nations.
Much as the Attorney General threatened to ban similar groups in future, Besigye says that A4C will be back either in the form of Actions for Change or Uprising for Change (U4C). The interesting thing about the new suggested names is that they sound more "serous" and they will by all means excite the NRM regime which has been badly bruised by A4C.
Unfortunately for the regime, the voices of change are becoming louder with a growing number of NRM faithfuls demanding for change by openly asking president Museveni to kiss power good-bye come 2016. One of the several movement cadres who have done this is the Kampala Central Law maker, Hon. Muhammad Nsereko. With influential religious leaders like Bishop Zac Niringiye using the "go" word on Museveni, regime change seems to be over-taking fundamental change or no change in the vocabulary of Ugandan politics.
Photo: Gabriel White