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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Obote’s death closes chapter on the past

By Daniel K. Kalinaki
Published in The Monitor, Kampala, on October 12, 2005

DR APOLLO Milton Obote’s death ends an era in Ugandan politics in which former leaders have provided a perfect scapegoat for everything that’s wrong in the country.

A lot of it was justifiable; by invading the Lubiri in 1966, Obote released the dogs of war from their barracks and turned the military into the weapon of choice for those interested in gaining and retaining political power. By abrogating the 1962 Constitution and forcing another on the country through the pigeon holes in Parliament, Obote gave precedent to other leaders to make laws when it suited them, and break them when it did not.

If Obote manoeuvres were experiments in political brinkmanship, Idi Amin was the mad student who sneaked back into the laboratory at night and tested them on the guinea pigs that Ugandans became throughout the Savage Seventies.

Other leaders were either not in office long enough to change the course of our history (Prof. Yusuf Kironde Lule), were too overwhelmed by the office and those who continued to wield real power (Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa) or found themselves in State House with more bullets than brains (Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa).

Obote’s death signals the end of the national pastime, of looking over our shoulders into the past and marks the start of one in which we must take responsibility for the present and the future. Apart from Binaisa, all the former leaders are now dead and can no longer account for their actions.

Death, that leveller of man, has ensured that their records will be examined in history books and not commissions of national reconciliation.
To many people, however, these former leaders do not even feature in memory.

The dilemma
During next year’s election, President Museveni would have been in power for 20 years; more than half of the voters will be people born under his watch or who were young innocents during the late seventies.
Many of us in this category have never lived under multiparty politics, never seen any of the former leaders in the flesh - except Binaisa, who, lets be honest, doesn’t really count.

We might have seen war during 1981-86 and those in northern Uganda still live under the horrible spectre of the LRA, but we cannot easily relate to the 300,000 killed during Amin’s days, many of them dragged away from their beds.

How do we relate to the expulsion of Asians and other foreigners when they are running most of the supermarkets and computer shops in the big cities on top of owning half the real estate?

How can we be expected to care about the effects of Obote’s Common Man’s Charter, his socialist leanings and other economic misadventures when every other business is a forex bureau and when the only thing keeping you from buying sugar or other groceries is the hole in your pocket, not on the shelf?

Tribal identity, long a tool of social-political mobilisation, is hardly felt in our generation; your friends are likely to be people of similar income or who support the same Premiership club, not your village mates.

Of course there are lessons to be learnt from the past; that the military should neither be personalised nor used as a tool of political persuasion (yes, and please stop sniggering); that there should be equal opportunities for all based on ability and merit, not ethnicity; that we should have a clear process of changing leadership at all levels.
Part of the problem is that our history is interpreted by whoever is in power to demonise the past and whitewash the present.

So while the current regime talks of Obote’s atrocities in Luweero Triangle (like it was a one-sided war), UPC stalwarts remind us about how Obote built schools and hospitals, as if he was doing us a favour.

Because Amin’s soldiers killed thousands, we are supposed to be grateful for going through a night unmolested, as if personal safety is a favour from the government and not its obligation to its citizens.

Some of our current dilemmas - like the reluctance of leaders to leave office, a politicised and some argue, personalised army - are hangovers from the past.

Others, like unemployment, corruption, poverty are either self-inflicted or continue to exist because we have failed to solve them, not because we inherited them.

If President Museveni is still president in 2009 - and there is little to suggest that he won’t at least try to be - he would have been in office as long as all the past leaders combined.

If, at the end of his time all that Museveni or any leader has to show is the fact that they were better than Amin or Obote, we would have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing from our history


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