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Monday, December 5, 2016


Last weekend a crisis that was on a slow boil in south western Uganda burst into full eruption when police and army units attacked the palace of the Omusinga of Rwenzururu, Charles Mumbere.

A series of attacks on security personnel and civilians in the districts of Kasese, Bundibugyo, Notorko and Kabarole in recent months has caused unease in the region. The taking refuge in the palace by some of the perpetrators of these attacks served as an excuse for security agents to storm the palace.

In the process between 60 an d100 people were killed, including 16 policemen and Mumbere was arrested and charged with murder in a Jinja court.

Since then numerous commentators are have highlighted certain issues critical to understanding the issue.

One, that the resistance of the Rwenzurru comes from a fight against marginalisation by Kampala and the Toro Kingdom under which they were. Secondly, that among the Bakonjo there is a difference of opinion about engagement with the central government and finally , that the genesis of the situation also lies in a certain amount of lethargy with which our own government goes about enforcing the law.

Last week I had the benefit of reading second prime minister Kirunda-Kivenjinja’s Uganda: The crisis of Confidence. In the section of the build up to the 1979 invasion of Uganda by Tanzanian forces and a combination of anti-Amin forces several things appeared obvious to me.

One, that the Uganda army at the time, after eight years of decay was incapable of any meaningful stand against the invaders. And secondly were it not for the Tanzanian army’s involvement it’s doubtful that Uganda exiles would have been capable of such a swift ejection of the Field Marshal on account of their disorganisation.

"For every romantic tales of success of rebel movements in Cuba, Mozambique or even Uganda there are dozens even hundreds of “rebel” movements that have been unsuccessful, the hopes of their buccaneering leaders dashed against the formidable defence of a coherent state or floundered for lack of strategy beyond wishful thinking...

The time for forcing government’s hand by force are long gone in Uganda.

People in disagreement with Kampala are going to have to use a little more brain and a lot less brawn to have their way. It is easier to resort to violence than intelligence in resolving disagreement. The hope being that if you can catch your opponent by surprise or overwhelm them with force or both, you can impose your will.

But what happens when you don’t surprise them or overpower them?  It can only end badly for you.

Given that the government, like any other around the world, has literal monopoly on large scale violence and that this government is more coherent than others before it, to hope to force into concession is not unlike bashing your head against a wall.

Now one needs to organise, mobilise and harass the government by civil means, if only because in the last three decades or so the NRM has built a countrywide organisation, that while not always working as one, is easily mobilised in the face of external aggression.

So why haven’t divergent views managed to organise to the point that the government would be forced into concession?

"Because it is too hard. It is too hard to formulate a durable message. It is too hard to sell it to a largely apathetic population. It is too hard to organise around it. And it is too hard to stay the course in the face of stiff resistance from government...

One understands the romantic notion of a smash-and-grab attack, the reality is that it is unlikely to happen today in Uganda.

This is by no means to diminish the unnecessary loss of life and the tense situation being experienced in south western Uganda.

But unpalatable as it sounds, if one wants to win concessions from government, any seating government, one needs to be a bit more organised, a bit more systematic and a lot more tenacious.

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