NRM 21st Liberation Anniversary: How Government Is Accounting For The Lost Souls
Ugandan locals in a fight for a district.

NRM 21st Liberation Anniversary: How Government Is Accounting For The Lost Souls

For those who had a chance to attend the 21st NRM Anniversary at Kololo on January 26, 2007, they witnessed the handful of supporters who attended the celebrations.

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: January 26, 2007

On January 26, 1986, the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) came into power after a successful guerilla struggle led by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. This ended 15 years of tyranny and civil war - at least in the larger part of Uganda (the south.)

Following what was seen as a successful pro-people struggle against turbulent regimes, Mr. Museveni called people from other political camps, including the then Democratic Party President, Dr. Paul Ssemwogerere to form a government of national unity.

During this time, Uganda experienced a decline in the vicious cycle of vengeance and hatred which had previously ruined the country. People from different tribes, religions and political allegiances started co-existing in harmony.

The economy began to boom. The country's annual GDP had doubled by 1996 and the inflation rate went down from about 300% to a single digit figure. In Kampala City, the middle class bounced back and the city begun spreading with expensive houses on the rise.

Twenty one years after the 'liberation' and about ten years since President Museveni's 1996 elections landslide victory in the first ever election since 1980, the popularity of the regime that brought a 'fundamental change' is beginning to fade.

President Museveni remembers fallen heros at Kololo
President Museveni remembers fallen heros at Kololo.

For those who had a chance to attend the 21st NRM Anniversary at Kololo on January 26, 2007, they witnessed the handful of supporters who attended the celebrations. This lack of interest in the significantly historical day could be explained by the dwindling support of the NRM and generally the lack of meaning in celebrating the day.

The opposition political parties like the Democratic Party, the Forum for Democratic Change turned down the invitation to attend the Liberation Day, arguing that there is nothing to celebrate.

Ugandan locals in a fight for a district
Ugandan locals in a fight for a district.

They say the NRM is eroding the very values it fought to restore under the NRM Ten Point Program, which include the restoration of real democracy through elections, where ordinary people are empowered resist the blandishments of unprincipled politicians.

President Museveni votes in 2006
President Museveni votes in 2006.

Other values were also to bring about security through a politicized army and police, to bring about national unity, and non-interference in Uganda's interests by foreigners, through building an independent, integrated, and self-sustaining national economy.

The other plans were to improve basic social services--clean water, health dispensaries, literacy, and housing in the areas ravaged by the wars, zero tolerance to corruption, seeking cooperation with other African countries and maintaining a mixed economy--combining both capitalist and socialist methods.

But the opposition argues that the NRM has strayed from its promise. They point out some of the issues; which are tolerance to institutional corruption, failure to respect the rule of law, insecurity, and rising poverty levels among others. The two critical opposition groups, the Democratic Party and the FDC accuse the NRM of being an autocratic and abusing state machinery.

In fact, there are still bitter memories from the time when the members of the two groups were forced to swallow tear gas from the Uganda police. The FDC also accuses the government of continuing to hold their supporters illegally on what they call trumped up charges.

On the eve of the 21st Liberation Day, the FDC President Dr. Kizza Besigye, who was marching with his supporters, was showered with tear gas as his party demonstrated against the continued detention of 11 Peoples Redemption Army (PRA) suspects in the cells.

The 11 are jointly charged alongside with Besigye, a former NRM/NRA soldier, of treason. Although, the High Court granted them bail, they continue being detained at Luzira maximum security prison.

About a week before, Democratic Party supporters also faced the wrath of police as they marched to the Constitutional Square, where the party was scheduled to release what it calls the true report about the death of former fighter, Andrew Kayiira.

Kayiira, the first Minister of Energy in President Yoweri Museveni's government was killed under mysterious circumstance in 1987. An inquiry was conducted by the Scotland Yard but the report has still not yet been made public 20 years later, forcing DP to demand for the report.

This is not a situation one would have encountered about ten years ago. Analysts say that the NRM government's using state institutions like the police and the army against the opposition is proof that the government has lost popularity and is using all ways to keep in power.

The High Court siege by armed government militia popularly known as the Black Mamba is one of the issues that have soiled the image of the government which fought to return the rule of law.

FDC President, Kizza Besigye, reacting to the refusal to release the PRA suspects, referred to the Ugandan Courts as impotent because the government had refused to respect the court decision to release the suspects who had been given bail by the High Court.

"The courts of law are now impotent. If the Courts of law cannot be respected, where will Ugandans run to?" the angry opposition leader said as he used a handkerchief to wipe tears that rolled around his cheeks due to the tear gas.

This comment is an insinuation that the only option is to force the government out of power before 2010 as he recently predicted. But are Ugandans willing to sacrifice and shed blood in the name of liberation?

The first people to refuse that suggestion would probably be the people of Luweero, Nakaseke and other areas that form the infamous Luweero Triangle, who despite losing their property and loved ones, remained beggars for promised compensation from the government.

The other set of people who would not support the 'second liberation' would be the people in northern Uganda where a child born in 1986 has never experienced what peace feels like. Even the progress talked about in the country is just an insult to them. In case you doubt, ask a 20 year-old from Gulu, Pader and Kitgum.

To mark the Liberation Day, government ought to take stock of what the then NRA rebel soldiers set out to achieve (at least what has been made public) if the day is to continue making meaning. The NRM government should reflect on the 10 point program and respect the promise they made with Ugandans, many of whom are dead.

Also since it was a mass struggle that went beyond political lines, the day should be owned by all Ugandans and not just members of the ruling NRM because personalizing the day may mean that it will be history when the regime is no longer in power.

Otherwise happy Liberation Day!

Also read: Uganda Celebrates NRM's 21st Anniversary

President Museveni photos are courtesy of State House website.

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: January 26, 2007
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Gideon Munaabi is a journalist and public relations practitioner with Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd. He has been and continues writing widely for different publication locally and internationally. He is a founding member of Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd and is currently the chairman of the organisation.