A young Ugandan who is concerned about the current situation in the country sends an open letter to President Yoweri Museveni.
Dear Mr. President,
I am addressing this open letter to you as a citizen by birth of this great country Uganda!
On 26 January 1986 you captured power. Three days later on 29 January, you were sworn in as president. At that time, my father and mother had already reached a consensus of bringing me into this world. Seven months later, I came out of my mother’s womb and there I was as one of the citizens you led.
From the very start of my academic journey, I was told just like many others that, “we were the leaders of tomorrow”. Our friends like Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi who believed in the said notion got up from their “ghettos” just like you did during your time to actively participate in the development process of our country, which is guaranteed in the 1995 constitution. Mr. President to remind you of your youthful days, while at the University of Dar es Salam, you formed the University Students’ African Revolutionary Front activist group and led a student delegation to the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique) territory in Mozambique.
It is said that at that time, you were an admirer of international revolutionary Che Guevara. Even though you were young then, you saw it right to receive military training in a guerrilla warfare. At that time, Ugandans saw you as a forward-looking young man just like Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi who is not comfortable with what is happening in his country. Mr. President, whereas you chose to go to the bush, Kyagulanyi chose to speak, sometimes through his music.
Many of those in my generation have been told about the good in the first years of your presidency. Unfortunately, to us who were not there in the said years, it is very difficult to convince us about the good in your government since we have either been victims of political brutality in this country under your leadership. Mr. President, I wish to bring it to your attention that the barbaric attacks on civilians in Uganda (our country also known, as the “pearl of Africa”) in recent times are the latest terrible symptoms of a country experiencing multiple crises.
For this reason, I am deeply concerned by the decision of your government to prohibit mobilisations in Uganda not forgetting the contradictory Law as embedded in the Public Order Management Act. This has absolutely made it extremely difficult for ordinary citizens of Uganda to make their voices heard and to create the political space necessary to build a brighter future.
I urge you to reconsider the decision to prohibit peaceful demonstrations, which are expressly provided for in our constitution not withstanding the reasons you had at the introduction of multi-party politics in our great nation Uganda. I understand the need to keep citizens safe, including those mobilising on access to various rights and specifically civil and political liberties. It must be possible to find a way to do this short of banning our demonstrations.
I would also like to bring it to your attention that where you are not, there is police brutality and as a citizen, I am deeply concerned about the un-professionalism of the said police officers and as an ordinary Ugandan, I am left to think that police brutality is spearheaded by “Powers from Above”. I thus this far request that the police treat us with dignity and that you send a clear message that our civil liberties be respected. Myself and others who may think like me are not sure of whether you actually see how security agencies and or authorities treat the ordinary citizens in this country.
We must not suspend democracy and freedom while proclaiming our commitment to democracy and freedom. A peaceful world can only be built on equality, solidarity and sustainability. We must be able to say this in Uganda. As I write this letter, I am not sure whether I will complete writing it before being arrested, neither am I sure of my safety after this letter is circulated! This is not the kind of Uganda we should dream to have; we should yearn to have a Uganda where there is practical freedom of speech and expression.
As a citizen born during your regime, I know just like you know that you have an obligation to represent all Ugandans. As you are already aware, the National Resistance Council of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) together with the High Command and Senior Officers of the National Resistance Army under your chairmanship worked out proposals for a political programme that could form a basis for a nationwide coalition of political and social forces that could usher in a new and better future for the long-suffering people of Uganda. You termed this proposal the Ten-Point Programme (“political Bible”) of NRM.
In coming up with this, you and your group thought that in view of the fore-going, a political programme around the said ten points could form a basis for a national coalition of democratic, political and social forces, that could, at last, bring some motion in the centuries-old stagnation. I will not discuss and reflect on each point but I request you to reflect on the said points and see if they are still on track, obviously the answer will not be in the affirmative but rather in the negative.
Throughout the different cultures in Uganda, we all preach unity and this far, we have found opportunities to overcome our differences and work together for the common good; it is one of the defining characteristics of our nation’s greatness. Mr. President, we must exploit these opportunities than training us to be a generation of hard core criminals. We are living in a country where we have no hope of living the following day. Many of us were not part and parcel of the multi-party politics that you introduced, we grew up and found ourselves in what we see in Uganda today, we obeyed as young people and as citizens. It is just disheartening that we chose to support what our government introduced and instead the same government has opted to prosecute and persecute us for choosing to support them.
Mr. president, multi-party politics comes with difference in ideologies and you thus can’t expect everyone to think like you, otherwise you would have not gone to the said “ Bush”. I propose that as young people, we are given space, audience and platform to make our contributions to the development process of this great nation.
In the recently concluded Arua bi-election, your campaign rhetoric found an audience with those who would use our differences to divide the people of Arua and Uganda at large. Throughout the campaign, your supporters directed hateful language at people based on our different political ideologies and expression in this country.
In the days that followed the Arua bi-election, we saw people seemingly emboldened by the anticipated victory of Hon. Kasiano Wadri committing harassment, vandalism, property destruction and even assault based on those differences. Many of these acts have been carried out in your name just in case you are not aware. Though you may not condone this behaviour, your silence gives tacit permission to those who perform these acts.
I am especially troubled by incidents surrounding the arrest of Members of Parliament and others during the Arua bi-election campaigns and inhuman conduct of security agencies like the Uganda police and the army while making arrests. The picture given to the young generation is clearly bad and disappointing by those in office for there is nothing left to admire of them, rather we admire political leaders of other countries who have served their terms of office and left office for others to come in with new ideas.
There is a picture created in an environment that enables and encourages those who want to harm others just like Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi was manhandled. Mr. President, we have a presumption of innocence in our laws, I pray that we stick to our laws for our constitution has been often times mentioned as one of the best in the world, may we not just leave the said constitution on paper but rather implement if for the good of Ugandans?
Your Excellency, the presidency is about many things. Chiefly, it is about setting an example to those you lead through your leadership. I ask that you keep your promise of the objective as to why you went to the “said bush” by loudly, forcefully, unequivocally and consistently denouncing these acts and the ideology that drives them. I ask you to use your position, your considerable platform and even your social media accounts to send a clear message that hate, mistreatment and violation of human rights as enshrined in our constitution have no place in our public discourse, in our public policy and in our society. In the premises I request you to order for the un-conditional release of Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, Member of Parliament for Kyadondo East
For God and my country.
* Mwanga Mastullah Ashah is a PhD Fellow at Makerere University