For 68 years since Uganda was declared a Protectorate in 1894, the colonial State officials did not serve the people, but they were servants of the State. The people or colonial subjects were the servants of the rulers. As we mark 55 years since Independence in 1962, the African leaders are also not the servants of the people. The would-be citizens and not subjects are servants of their leaders.
During the 68 years of colonialism, Ugandans lost sovereignty to the colonialists. Today, Ugandan citizens have lost their sovereignty to either the State or organisations such as International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Trade Organisation or multinational corporations, now called foreign investors. The colonial State had an unstated policy of divide and rule and created districts along tribal lines. The State is still creating districts along tribal lines.
So whose independence are we celebrating? As Prof Mahmood Mamdani would say; whose 55th birthday are we celebrating on October 9? Independence of the State or of the citizens? Chapter one of the Constitution says all power belongs to the people; so sovereignty primarily lies with the citizens and not the State.
Now, let’s check this out in the workings of independent Uganda.
We analyse state-society relations, looking at the laws made to regulate the relations, as well as political practices in terms of making turning point decisions for society and the country.
In 1963, Parliament in cahoots with the then ruling parties, Uganda Peoples Congress and Kabaka Yekka, ignored the people and elected Kabaka Edward Mutesa and the Kyabazinga of Busoga William Nadiope president and vice president, respectively.
In 1966, Parliament connived with the Executive and abrogated the 1962 Constitution, replacing it with the 1966 Pigeon Hole Constitution. The people were no consulted.
In 1967, Parliament and the Executive proceeded to debate and promulgate the 1967 Constitution and established a republic.
The people were again not consulted.
Then enter Idi Amin and the further entrenchment of master-servant relations between the State and the people.
In April 1979, the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) government came into power under the leadership of president Yusuf Lule. He was deposed by the then Parliament within 68 days, and replaced with president Godfrey Binaisa. Binaisa was then deposed by the Military Commission of UNLF 11 months later. The people were not consulted.
[Milton] Obote’s government then returned to power after the disputed 1980 polls. Until he was deposed again in 1985, the State had all the powers and the citizens were largely onlookers.
When Museveni’s NRM arrived in 1986, it promised a fundamental change, which would later be defined by practice. In the Ten-Point Programme, NRM promised a participatory and representative democracy.
It was not clear than NRM would end up “participating” the people instead of people genuinely participating in shaping public affairs. The power of citizens has since been marginal, only consulted for convenience and to legitimise ready-made decisions.
The history of state-society relations in Uganda, therefore, is one of eroding citizens’ powers and amassing it in the hands of the State. Politically speaking, all the regimes have deliberately eroded the power of organised society either through co-optation, suppression, bribery or manipulation.
As NRM has been limiting the powers of organised societies, it has simultaneously been removing limits on State power.
Almost all the Acts made by NRM that aim at regulating state-society relations have seen the powers of State organs and officials increased. The whole political strategy of removing term limits and now age limit for the presidency to give Museveni free reign falls in this scheme.
The hallmark of democracy is citizens’ participation in the public space to shape their destiny and that of their country. Limiting the power of citizens and increasing the power of the State is to promote authoritarianism.
For sustainable peace, national integration and democracy to blossom in Uganda, therefore, citizens’ sovereignty should be reclaimed and public space expanded. Organised societies such as NGOs, students, youth, labour and women movements should reclaim their space.