At the height of "operation freedom" – 'bringing democracy and freedom to the people of Iraq' – the then US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, when asked if democracy and freedom had been achieved in Iraq, said; "there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know."
This has been the state of political parties in Uganda. The NRM and the sets of democratic principles they subscribe to, have remained an enigma; and in Rumsfeldian speak, ' unknown unknowns-the ones we don't know we don't know.'
For a society to politically progress, that society should first understand its own system of governance. The problem with Uganda is that political parties have never understood the NRM/A ideology; and the "political arena" in which they were coerced into and continue to practice today. In the "opening up of political space", political parties as always, were hypnotised into believing that the NRM/A's newly acquired love for multi party politics, meant democracy as we conventionally know it.
So as 2016 draws nigh, we are forced to wonder, where are political parties and Uganda headed?
The answer is simple: judging from past trends, it is conceivable that President Museveni will remain at the helm of affairs long into the foreseeable future. It is also conceivable that after all the hue and cry about how the NRM has plundered the nation's treasury and formally instituted corruption and cronyism, Ugandans will yet again vote Museveni back to power by “overwhelming Majority.”
Its no wonder the sycophants as usual are already singing his praises to high heavens. Some are whispering sweet "7th term" and "visionary" music to his ears, the kind of music a revolutionary likes to hear.
In his last publication titled Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984), George Orwell, when writing about the Russian Revolution observed: “a revolution seeks power entirely for its own sake…” It leaders said, “we are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power."
Political parties from the very beginning romanticised with the Movement in confronting the 'visibility' of the democratic ideal with the singularity of the NRM/A revolutionary ideology, centred around personality cult, individual merits, put above and beyond the development of democratic institutions. Effectively, helping in the diminishing of democracy to mere "voting" every few years, giving "democratic" legitimacy to the ideological Movement rule, thus separating the idea of voting from the complementary idea of rule by and for the people.
In other words, political parties mortgaged their future for the sake of the proverbial thirty pieces of silver. The maxim, "eat, drink and be merry today for tomorrow will takes care of itself", since then became the order of the day.
It took political parties twenty years to sober up and realise that a leopard never changes its spots and so decided that to continue feasting on the carcases of the leopard’s kill; they could themselves end up under the claws of the leopard.
This is when they were being reminded that "revolutionaries never retire", and that they have never been redeemed by the "revolution" from being "bad leaders" – the "professionalised army" they were told, is watching.
According to Aristotle a democratic coin is minted with freedom as one and equality as the other face. "If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost."
Although freedom and democracy are sometimes used interchangeably, democracy is a set of ideas and principles about freedom. In short, democracy is the institutionalisation of freedom; its preconditions. There is no doubting that, this is not what democratisation meant for the NRM opening up of political space.
As long as the “people’s revolution” lives on, democracy will always be defined by the NRM/A agenda. Never mind that, the political parties have bought into this façade and posturing yet continue to fool Ugandans that change is on the way.
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