Footnotes from the British Underground

This blog began as venue for my stories as I traveled in Africa. 18 months later, I return to it as I travel to study as a Marshall Scholar in the United Kingdom. My hope is that this blog can be a conduit for you - my family, friends and secret/strange admirers - to track my movements, see a photo or two and get a glimpse of my days in the UK. Apologies once again to Dostoevsky for the blog's name...

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Location: Bradford, United Kingdom

After graduating from Notre Dame, I'm off to England for graduate study. I'll be studying for a M.A. in International Politics and Security Studies. When not studying, I'm continuing to coordinate Uganda-CAN's efforts to end the 20-year war in northern Uganda!

1.3.05

Uganda, Denounce Politics of Fear...and the Heat!

The streets of Kampala are crazy, truly crazy - filled with loud music, boda-bodas, cars whizzing by, street sellers, street preachers, taxis dominating the road, shops, construction workers and more and more. I think most people would righly be driven insane walking these streets daily. But I love it. There is such life, even if it is completely chaotic and uncontrollable and disordered. I cannot help but smile sometimes amidst it all.

Things back in Kampala are good. I am still studying Luganda, but also now studying grassroots development with some officials from an organization called Uganda Change Agents Association that does rural, self-reliant participatory development trainings. Quite impressive, especially because they believe so much in conscientization - awakening people to their abilities, capabilities and power to assess, act and reflect on their situation. I am also working on organizing my independent study project, which begins in a little under four weeks. I am meeting with a parliamentary MP in charge of the legal committee on Thursday, and then traveling to Lira Saturday to see the Red Cross at work in some camps for internally displaced camps. My topic is converging on something relating to the relationship between the government and vulnerable peoples from the northern conflict, especially IDPs (there are over 1.6 million of them in northern and central Uganda).

In other news, I am submitting an editorial to the major newspaper here, The New Vision. My academic director really encouraged me to do it, and I hope it will get published. It is nothing special, but I thought I would post it below. Well, best wishes across the globe. Peace.

Uganda, Denounce Politics of Fear
1 March 2005

“Don’t change horses in midstream.” This famous maxim coined by the 16th president of the United States Abraham Lincoln is the very concept that duped the American electorate into giving George W. Bush a second presidential term. Now, the Movement is employing the same simpleton logic to push through a constitutional amendment that will ensure President Youweri Museveni a third (arguably fifth) term and perhaps more.

Just four months ago, Bush stunned much of the world, defeating Senator John Kerry by over three million votes. Yet, Bush’s triumph was less surprising if we acknowledge the “war president phenomenon.” Namely, that a leader in times of war and instability can exploit the fear of the masses to ensure electoral victory. Bush, operating an effective propaganda machine, convinced the American people that only he could keep them safe, secure and prosperous.

Today, President Museveni is using the same line of attack to win the constitutional kisanja debate, which will ultimately entrench his regime for years and even decades to come. Employing a basic utilitarianism, Museveni wants to reduce complex constitutional and electoral debates to one question for the Ugandan people: Are you better today than you were yesterday? Or even cruder: are you better today than you were 18 years ago?

Just like Bush, Museveni suggests subtly and even explicitly at times that only he can bring safety, security and economic growth for Uganda. Speaking to the conflict in the Acholi region, the Movement contends that Museveni is on the brink of peace, but a change in direction or leadership will see the whole process crumble. This propaganda might ring hollow to the discerning ear, but to a people who still acutely remember the horrific years of the Obote and Amin regimes, they resonate.

This is not to say that Museveni has not done much good for the people of Uganda, for he most certainly has. It is to argue that no leader who is genuinely committed to the democratic freedom and prosperity of the people should use politics of fear for personal ambition. By seeking to change one of the constitutional elements that was widely agreed upon as critical in 1995, the Movement is disgracing the very political movement that brought hope and freedom to the nation after decades of turmoil.

Beyond this constitutional attack, the Movement has also acted blatantly to curtail and intimidate voices of opposition. Countless examples have been reported in these news pages in recent weeks. Stifling voices of dissent and opposition is an affront to the people of Uganda who deserve a truthful, open political debate on such relevant affairs. Not to mention the right to free and fair elections.

Healthy, viable democracy cannot prosper in an environment of fearmongering, intimidation and propaganda. Fear cuts through the very fabric of a society, destroying any space for transparency, accountability and freedom. Throughout human history, political and social cultures of fear have been the swamps from which violent and inhumane dictators have arisen.

For Uganda to arrive at a brighter future, it must be directed by the collective will and voices of the Ugandan people, not an unaccountable oligarchy. The triumph of rule of law over personal politics is always a victory for the common good. The challenge for all true patriots is to awaken the masses, especially those isolated in rural communities, to demand political transparency, constitutionality and truth. The challenge for politicians is to listen.

Uganda, like all strong democracies, needs a “transitional moment” where a peaceful transfer of power takes place. Such a historic moment should happen next year. Americans in 2005 succumbed to politics of fear, but I have hope that Ugandans in 2006 can do better, assenting to a bright future of liberty and hope.

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