NRA is the abbreviation for National Resistance Army – the rebel group that waged an armed revolt against the nascent Uganda People’s Congress -UPC government from 1981 to 1985 – capturing then instruments of power in Kampala from the Tito Okello Military Junta on January 25, 1986. Okello had overthrown his boss month earlier – launching fruitless negotiations with the same rebels.
The reasoning behind the rebellion was that the Electoral Commission, which organised the General Elections of 1980 on behalf of the then Uganda National Liberation Front -UNLF government, rigged Apollo Milton Obote and his Party – UPC into power.
In fact, before the Electoral Commission announced the results, it was the late President of the Democratic Party, Dr. Kawanga Sssemogerere, who claimed that his Party had won the elections.
Paradoxically, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, previously commander of the rebel group, Front for National Salvation (FRONASA) who had joined forces with Apollo Milton Obote’s Kikosi Maalum to form Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) of whose Military Council he was Vice Chairman to Paulo Muwanga, threatened to go to the bush if elections were rigged. Although he himself lost where he stood as a candidate of his party, Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM), which won only one seat in the National Assembly (Parliament), he indeed kept his word. Almost as soon as Obote was declared President he declared war on the nascent regime of Obote.
The future President of Uganda withdrew his big FRONASA contingent from the Kikoosi Maluum-FRONASA military alliance that constituted UNLA. So, when Obote assumed power, he inherited only the Kikosi Maalum, with a few FRONASA elements necessary for intelligence purposes and linkage of the UNLA military apparatus in a clandestine manner. He formed what he called Patriotic Resistance Army (PRA). He had enough men and military hardware to commence his resistance war against the Obote regime. The popular myth that he started with only 27 men would hold a lot of credence if the majority of the Fronasa elements remained in UNLA.
Besides, Museveni had been Minister of Defence in the UNLF government. He had adequate political and military advantage to organize adequately for a future resistance war. However, it was not that easy. He was helped the fact that former President Yusuf Lule, who had been removed from the Presidency of Uganda after only 63 days, had been organizing from Kabete, Kenya, to launch his own resistance within Uganda. He, with a few Baganda neo-traditionalists, had formed National Resistance Movement (NRM) and National Resistance Army (NRA) but lacked a militarily resolute person to command NRA. Although Lule felt uncomfortable working with Museveni, who had participated in removing him from the Presidency on account that he was undemocratic and authoritarian, he cowed down and handed NRA and NRM to Museveni and his team of politicians that included Amama Mbabazi. This action by Lule and his loyalists changed Museveni’s military and political fortunes. He became the supreme NRA commander and NRM political supremo, almost unmovable militarily and politically.
Since 1986 the then NRA leader, Yoweri Museveni (previously Yoweri Kaguta Museveni) now Tibuhaburwa Museveni, has deliberately fused his political wing of the NRA, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) politically and militarily.
It has become increasingly difficult to pinpoint the boundary between the political and the military in the governance of Uganda, whether it is in the conduct of elections or discharge of public services. In all cases the centrality of the military is detectable. The military services the political and the political services the military. The ultimate beneficiary is President Tibuhaburwa Museveni whose sovereign leadership of the army and party are almost unchallengeable. He has firm iron hand over military and political processes, and almost single-handedly dictates the military and political agendas in the country and region.
Many political actors are military and many military officers are political and even seek political office through elections, with gun on their backs. There is no doubt that one success story of President Tibuhaburwa Museveni’s governing (as governance) of Uganda is the total militarization of politics, thereby achieving the subordination of the political to the military.
Interestingly, even if the architects of the Uganda Constitution 1995 decided to delink the post-NRM/A Constitution Making process army from the NRA, which waged what has been popularized as a liberation war against the past regimes of Obote and Tito Okello, by creating what they called Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF), the NRA concept did not necessarily disappear. The reason could be sought in what President Museveni said while promulgating the Uganda Constitution 1995 at Serena International Conference Centre. While speaking about the insertion of UPDF in the Constitution, he said if he had his way, he would have NRA instead of UPDF constitutionalized.
Although the President promulgated the Uganda Constitution 1995 with UPDF as the army of Uganda, the evidence that has manifested since then is that NRA was not just a physical armed group but an idea or habit of mind. Ideas or habits of mind do not just go away until superior ones arise to displace them.
Critical analysts of the politics and military of Uganda have concluded that UPDF is just mirror image of NRA. NRA was a violent military outfit, not necessarily a peace-keeper internally or externally. It acquired power through violence, which perhaps is what dictates President Tibuhaburwa Museveni’s repeated pronouncements that he is the Master of Violence. The constitutional UPDF has been consummated by the idea of NRA. The NRA idea is that power should never get out of its hands. Many UPDF officers have re-echoed the same arrogant stance.
There is no doubt that the new constitutional UPDF inherited its initial military personnel from the NRA. This explains why numerous Rwandese refugees, who later formed their own Rwanda Patriotic Front/Army (RPF/A) from within NRA to wage a rebellion against Juvenal Habyarimana’s Hutu dominated regime, formed a significant component of post-violence government/army of Uganda. Many Luwero bush war combatants formed the initial UPDF.
Therefore, although the view that UPDF is a disciplined, peaceful, peace-seeking army, some soldiers, from top to bottom have not completely delinked themselves from their violent past. Indeed, UPDF has been involved in many violence-rich hot-spots internally and externally, principally in South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR) and Somalia – all in the name of ensuring peace and security. Many Ugandans – military and non-military have lost their lives, and millions of Congolese, South Sudanese, Somalis and Central Africans have in the process lost their lives. It is not clear when the carnage will end because it has been complicated by rebellions of Banyamulenge Rwandese in Eastern DRC and Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in both DRC and Uganda. The centrality of UPDF in quelling these rebellions cannot be doubted, although at times the DRC has claimed that UPDF supports Banyamulenge rebels and individual UPDF have been involved in stealing Congolese resources and reigned violence on Congolese citizens.
Ever since 1996, when President Tibuhaburwa Museveni offered himself to elective politics, militarization of politics has become a distinguishing feature of electoral processes organized by Uganda’s Electoral Commissions at all levels of society, whether or not the candidates have historical attachment to NRA or UPDF. Accordingly, the gun has become integral to elections. It is abnormal if gun-mediated violence is not central to any electoral process. It has characterized Presidential elections, Parliamentary elections, Local Council elections and by elections. As if this is not bad enough, the Judiciary and Parliament have been invaded by militarily armed thugs, highlighting that what the regime does not want to come out of Parliament or the Judiciary will not be tolerated,
Although the government has sometimes apologized for the unfortunate military interventions in what should be entirely civil processes, the military interventions have continued; sometimes creating the impression that Uganda is occupied militarily by the UPDF-cum-NRA.
The Ten Million Dollar question is: How can we de-NRAnize Uganda’s electoral processes? This question ignores the fact that almost everything in Uganda is absolutely militarized from bottom to top of society, which has made the fear factor a mainstay among the led and the leaders.
It is not easy to prescribe a solution to what appears to be a complex problem. Simple solutions to complex problems tend to complicate them further by the simple solutions becoming the new problems themselves and interconnected in a complex way. However, if there has been physical liberation of Uganda, as the bush war combatants have been busy popularizing for 37 years, there must be mind-liberation through de-NRAnizing the mind. The impression that has been created in the minds of most Ugandans who have been conditioned to believe that without the NRA bush fighters there can be no peace and security, let alone, stability, in Uganda. We have seen many cases of erosion of peace, security and stability in Uganda over the last 37 years, especially during elections.
If we are to de-NRAnize the collective Ugandan mind, we must begin with elections first then move to the public service and finally to the military. There has been NRAnization of all these spheres of human action. The most pronounced NRAnization has occurred in the army, with ethnic and kinship ties playing a critical role in determining the PRACTICE, PROCESS, MEANING, BELONGING and IDENTITY of the army. Some analysts think, believe and are convinced the army is more outward than inward looking. This is of course unfortunate but not altogether insurmountable.
We have to refer to the Oyam by-election to prescribe how best to de-NRAnize elections in Uganda. This by-election took place yesterday, soon after another by-election in Bukedea during which untold violence characterized the electoral process that produced an NRM candidate as winner by 91%. The violence attracted the concern of the President who for the first time in the history of electoral politics since 1996 ordered his anti-corruption boss in State House, Brigadier Isoke, to investigate the violence. Hopefully, for the first time in the history of electoral politics since 1996, the President will learn why Uganda’s elections are characterized by violence as an aspect of rigging the ruling party into power at all levels of society.
According to CHIMPREPORT, UPC President, Jimmy Akena, had accused NRM officials of being electoral thieves prior to declaration of the UPC candidate in the Oyam North by-election, Dr. Eunice Apio Otuko, winner with 49.12 percent of the total votes cast against NRM’s Sam Engola Okello’s 47.38%.
Reportedly, Walter Ochola, the electoral presiding officer of Wanglobo polling station, the usual phenomenon of armed soldiers raiding polling stations and seizing either boxes or ballot booklets manifested itself when armed soldiers arrived in a vehicle, jumped out, raided his desk and grabbed 5 ballot booklets. They walked back to their vehicle and ticked 250 ballot papers before returning them to him with the order “Make Your Accountability!”. Reportedly Ochola declined to incorporate the 250 preticked ballot papers even if he was under gut point. The action of Ochola, if repeated everywhere in future elections in the country would eventually transform the collective mind of Ugandans, enhance the value of the right of resistance and popularize the journey of de-NRAnizing elections. This would change the landscape and results of electoral processes in Uganda and make them more meaningful and effective in producing the leaders that the people themselves choose.
Otherwise, the NRAnization of elections in Uganda remains endemic and integral to the advent of NRM/A governance, which has its roots in grabbing of power through the barrel of the gun and, consequently, everything conceivable. It requires collective political action of Ugandans to address it, since the NRM government is its initiator, sustainer and primary beneficially. It dehumanizes and disempowers Ugandans since (we) cannot decide our leaders and our destiny through the power of the vote.
One thing is true. The security and politics of Uganda will never stabilize towards having the destiny of the people and country in the hands of indigenous Ugandans until the de-NRAnization process is complete in all spheres of life and the economy of the country. There is, therefore, need to critically rethink the military and politics of Uganda to delink them from the violence of the NRA idea. Ideas, and the ideologies associated with them, can be violent. Critical ccademic researchers and public intellectuals need to be active in investigating and discussing further this school of thought.
Let me end this article by making what I consider an important and timely observation regarding the Oyam North electoral result. The result demystifies the phenomenon of hereditary politics, which President Tibuhaburwa Museveni wants to continue using to build and reward political families by turning politics into a genealogical matter, with the rest of Ugandans just as purveyors and voters to return the candidates from the genealogically maintained political families. The strategy is dangerous because it depoliticizes and turns the rest of Ugandans into political undesirables who should have no political rights of choosing leaders and/or seeking political office.
For God and My Country.