On Monday the National Resistance Movement (NRM) will begin its 30th year at the helm of Ugandan politics.
Looking back it has been a tumultuous three decades.
Inheriting a dysfunctional state and even more woeful economy, the NRM has helped turn it around. Revitalising the economy, even if we know there is still a lot to do. Regularising our politics, even if they are not averse to bending and even ignoring the rules. And creating a stable, liberal environment for society to find its way, even if we don’t always agree at our wholesale adoption of foreign cultures.
But January 26th 1986 was not the beginning of the adventure. It started much earlier in the minds of some young men and women. While they were not unique in their youthful aspiration for a better Uganda, they more strongly believed it was their destiny to do something about it, “By whatever means necessary”.
"Wide eyed exuberance may have given way to adult cynicism, but there is still some things we can learn from those youthful adventurers that can give the whole project that we call Uganda a new lease of life....
Winston Churchill once said, “If a man is not a socialist by the time he is 20, he has no heart. If he is not a conservative by the time he is 40, he has no brain.”
Socialism is defined as a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.
Whereas it is to bash one’s head against human nature to communalise property, the principle “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” is still a laudable goal.
At the bottom of it, a desire to see no one left behind as we progress. That through their taxes the more fortunate will pay for the ladders – education and health, that will allow the lesser privileged to improve their lives and ascend to the high table.
It would be useful for us to reflect on that, in this day of endemic corruption that is killing service delivery and dooming millions of our people to a subhuman existence.
Ideological fervour aside, imagine the scene when your friend, Yoweri Museveni asks, “Are you in or are you not?” How many did follow him into the bushes of Luwero with zero guarantee of exiting this project alive, leave alone taking over government?
The truth is to make that decision you were either incredibly stupid or so convinced of the cause that you fell in with Museveni and his band.
The former needs no explanation but the latter is where the lesson is.
That these young men and women believed in a cause bigger than concern for individual safety and comfort, personal ambition, a selflessness we need ample dozes of today.
Of course it helped that for many there was no choice, they were branded outlaws and government agents were not averse to killing them on sight. But then again what can beat self-preservation to push a collective endeavour.
This project is going into a new phase, doing away with the old and integrating the new.
Organisations thrive and are sustainable on the strength of their mission, whether that mission is so ingrained in a critical mass of the members DNA as to cause a self-propelling drive. The trick is always to transmit it to the Johnny-come-latelies.
"The NRM’s challenge going forward is that it will be a victim of its own success. One, because now that more and more voting Ugandans were born after 1986 previous horror stories of an unstable Uganda do not wash. And secondly, for the rest of us who have seen a steady improvement in our lives we expect it to only get better, the law of diminishing returns be damned....
“No retreat, no surrender” would be absolute folly as a catch phrase for a guerrilla army, but that is exactly what we expect from the NRM – or any subsequent governments, going into the future.