Stop the Persecution of Bobi Wine! Fight for Democratic Rights in Uganda!
Statement of the Revolutionary Socialist Vanguard (RSV) [Nigerian section of the RCIT], 30.12.2020. http://www.revolutionarysocialistvanguard.wordpress.com
Uganda is claiming top spots in the world news these days, especially since the presidential election campaign kicked off. In a country where 80 percent of the population are youths below 35, the elections of January 14, 2021 seem almost like a day of destiny between the decades-long autocrats breathing down on Ugandans led by president Yoweri Museveni and Bobi Wine, the figure head of the radicalised masses with a teeming youth population. Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, better known, as Bobi Wine, has had a hard time campaigning since he declared his ambition to run for the presidency. Matters went from bad to worse for him when he was officially made a running candidate for the presidential elections in 2021 as the Museveni regime has launched every ounce of attack possible to intimidate Bobi Wine and bring his campaign to an end.
This rising spate of attacks reached a climax when during his campaign and “as he was leaving the Kyambogo University cricket grounds on the outskirts of the capital” he was arrested and his supporters brutalized. This sparked a mass revolt demanding his release to which Museveni and his brutes in uniform responded to by barbarously killing at least 50 of the demonstrators, this is apart from the collateral damage of state high-handedness where people not actively involved in the protests were also killed. The excuse for this state terrorism is the new trick in the book for the ruling class—violation of COVID-19 restrictions. This trick which seems to have worked quite well in dissolving the uprising in Hong-Kong may still be used in other parts of Africa, even though police and state forces have been known to kill more people than the pandemic has actually done across the continent.
Another Young versus Old Scuffle for Power?
76 year old Yoweri Museveni has been at the head of the Ugandan autocracy since he took power through a military coup d’etat in 1986, thirty-five, years ago. This means that almost 80% of Ugandans have not known any other regime. Such longstanding dictatorship can create a kind of young versus old conquest for power or even supremacy. In fact Bobi Wine was very active in resistance to the removal of the presidential age-limit, an issue that dominated the political scene in Uganda for almost 3 years since 2017, but we see that in North African countries where similar decades-long dictatorships have ruled, the agitations against old people in power is not as strong as it is Uganda. If one disclaims this fact what of in Nigeria where no singular ruler has been in office for a decade yet this call to dismantle the reign of old people continues to gain momentum by the day to the point that during the END SARS anti-government protests the Youth Democratic Party of Nigeria/National Youth Democratic Party (YDPN/NYDP) was formed or gained utmost popularity.
One can say that the strong drive for younger representatives in government is because the incumbents are old people hence the similarity of such drive in Africa but this too doesn’t cut it because it fails to explain why this kind of drive or agitation is not strong or barely even exists in Europe and North America. Angela Merkel, 66, has been the German chancellor for 15 years, while Donald Trump despite being 74 still tried to run for second term. What is even more astounding for this topic is that he lost to an older candidate Joe Biden, 78. So the question that still lingers is: What exactly is the driving force behind this young against old sentiment in the political arena especially in Sub-Saharan Africa?
At first glance, it would seem that this is a struggle against the African culture which places high premium on reverence to or supremacy of elders but this argument too does not suffice, for it fails to say why and how the ageism in African culture has lasted for so long. The economy is an integral and decisive part of culture and since most Sub-Saharan nations are still neo-colonies, that is, they have a poorly developed industry on top of the fact that they are economically subservient to the imperialist powers, remnants of ageist supremacy and feudal absolutism still persist. In other words, since the economic transformation of African nations was unduly interrupted at a very early stage by colonialism the struggle for democracy and independence is far from reaching world standards.
So all African countries are but pseudo-independent nations or neo-colonies. Evidence of this why Africa is the continent with the youngest population another reason why the corona virus did not claim as many lives as it did in Europe and the Americas. However what this truly depicts is the low life expectancy of Africans because of the deplorable standard of living. Hence the fight of the African youth is not against old people or old people in office per se it is against imperialism, dictatorship and for democracy. Before we go deeply into this there are still questions that boggle even sincere minds like can the youth be as experienced as old people, if not is it advisable to allow an inexperienced person take part in something as important as politics or the economy?
What about Experience?
For that question the first answer that comes to mind is another question: how do we determine if a person is experienced? Do we confer the special title, “experienced” on someone just because of their age range? Experience is a question of exposure or knowledge gained from past errors or trials but because of the cosmopolitan inequality in human society it is very much possible for someone to have less experience/knowledge than their age mate or someone even younger than they are. At the same time this inequality ensures that only a few people have such exposure or draw practical conclusions from trial and error. That is why the few who are “experienced” may end up using such knowledge to their own benefit or to the detriment of their fellow men.
If experience is the accumulation of knowledge from trials and mistrials, even if we are to assume that the longer you live the greater your experience then everyone, both young and old should be, as much as possible, integrated into the active process of decision making concerning politics and the economy so that no section of the population would lag behind. This is particularly important because without the more or less unanimous trial and error in society there can’t be any true progress or advancement. Anything void of this are merely schematics of oppression that seek to put people, mostly youths through certain “processes” before they can be “qualified” which should be done away with. If one is not treated as if they are worthy to gain knowledge by practice, how can they?
What does this mean for Age Limits?
It certainly means that the current system of capitalism is designed to perpetuate ageism especially through electoral politics and that any direct consistent involvement of young people in the political and economic system can only be by mass movements. The Extinction Rebellion which spread from the UK, across Europe dealt the final blow to the myth of “experience”, since the grey headed and pot-bellied MP’s could not seem to care that the world’s ecosystem were spiralling towards disaster bringing the human race an inch closer to oblivion by the day, thousands of pre-school and high school boys and girls led by a sixteen year old, Greta Thurnberg, will bring them to heels.
The paradigm of Greta Thurnberg and the Extinction Rebellion proves once again that the liberation of all oppressed groups like women, ethnic minorities and youth can come only by popular uprisings and not routine elections. More so, the fetters placed on the world’s young people by electoralism can only be burst asunder by vibrant unionism and radical association. While we support the earliest possible voting age we hold that the right to unionism must be guaranteed for young people of the lowest ages. Similarly, this must go with the effort by progressives to introduce unionism and make even children participate in demonstrations and protests.
Should Revolutionaries support removing the Presidential Age Limit in Uganda?
If we agree that the youngest possible people should participate in social decision making even to the highest level we are essentially dismantling the system of age-limits in societal issues including politics. As this applies to the young so must it for the old but this seems like a contradiction to a fight led by Bobi Wine, as earlier mentioned one of the most notable campaigns he led was against the removal of the presidential age limit. If there should be no age limit in politics should revolutionaries have supported Bobi Wine’s call against the bill that was all about removing age limits for older people? The answer is yes, because in the case of Bobi Wine it was not just about age limits rather it was the ploy by a reactionary regime to maintain power.
True there’s nothing wrong in simply removing the age-limit for old people but under the influence of the dictatorial precedence of Museveni that constitutional amendment meant a go ahead for an already overbearing dictatorship. It goes without saying that there were certainly numerous other more burning issues than the said Act but the Museveni regime was hell bent on imposing it despite its anti-popular nature. This shows that the ulterior motive behind it was perpetuating Museveni’s reign. That is why such changes as are described in this piece must be executed only through mass insurrections and not merely by parliamentary or electoral reforms, that is, these tasks can never be truly achieved by the ruling classes no matter how hard they pretend to effect these changes.
When in Nigeria the Buhari regime began in 2019 to push for a lowering of the age-limits to allow younger people to contest for political office in the “Not too young to run” bill revolutionaries were quick to expose the bill as an attempt by the Buhari administration to feign progressiveness by cajoling the youthful mass to support them since at the time virtually all students’ unions across higher institutions were proscribed and many student activists under state sponsored victimization. The tactic required at the time was to explain this and call for reinstatement of the proscribed students’ unions while in Uganda the tactic was to oppose the presidential age limit by radical means.
The battle for democracy and against neo-colonialism remains at the heart of increased participation of youth in politics since the rulers in Africa promote an anti-democratic atmosphere to keep the continent in the service of imperialism. Likewise, if the yoke of imperialism on the continent is not destroyed all reforms including democratic gains face the constant threat of being reversed. Although this two edged struggle will inevitably culminate in a socialist victory for the masses and the oppressed, it must take the practical form of a campaign against corruption, election malpractices, nepotism, god-fatherism and all the attendant offsprings of capitalism which appear at varying degrees across all capitalist states. It must also take the concrete form of a joint campaign against all discrimination and marginalization of national minorities, women, immigrants, youth as well as fighting for the right of dissenters and opposition parties to freely express ideas and to campaign. To this end we call for the defence of Bobi Wine, the National Unity Platform (NUP) against the aggression of Museveni, his minions in uniform and the rascals in his National Resistance Movement.
Even if the age limit for things like voting or contesting in elections is lowered this does not give the youth equal stake in power with the elite or ruling class. A case study is Nigeria where APC/PDP spend billions of naira on election campaign the youth can hardly reach office without passing through the god-fathers in these parties and even when they do they are figureheads of the same cabals. The battle must be to displace the ruling class and as such must be done alongside the working class both old and young, at the same time, it can only be through radical means of mass uprisings.
We hold that only in a socialist world where everyone is regarded as a potential contributor to the advancement of society through collectively planning of the economy can the marginalization of the youth population be eliminated completely.
The 2021 Elections and the Task of Revolutionaries
Bobi Wine and the National Unity Platform (NUP) have become a force to reckon with in all of Uganda especially since it now serves as a lightening rod to more or less unite all opposition parties against the main impediment to the people’s progress the National Resistance Movement (NRM). To its credit the People Power Movement adopts radical means to combat the injustices and the hold of the Museveni dictatorship in Uganda. This means that revolutionaries can enter a united front with the party both during elections and at the barricades, that is to say, revolutionaries must give critical electoral support and practical collaboration to the party while retaining the right to openly criticize it. Hence we raise a few but very vital criticisms.
First, People Power is not a socialist movement it is a progressive popular movement with a strong petty bourgeois outlook. While this characterization may be eclipsed by the clamp-down against the movement, revolutionaries must point out this weakness which may lead to pitfalls in future. No doubt because of its petty bourgeois nature it seeks to collapse all mass uprisings to elections, constitutional or electoral reforms by “putting pressure on parliament” and other methods. Socialists must call the party out on this and fight within it for the adoption of socialist demands. Such movements usually have strong pacifist inclinations, these must be combated and replaced with a democratically controlled self-defense arm to fend off attacks from state thugs in uniform!
Drawing parallels from the just concluded US elections one can say that without the Black Lives Matter protests which opened up a pre-revolutionary situation there, Donald Trump would not have lost. In the same way, even after Trump lost he still used all the machinations within his reach to discredit the elections and withhold power. What is worse is that while Trump may be leaving the White House come January 20, Trumpism might be the new “mode of operation” for the US government for a long time especially since Trump is now using his lame-duck period to shape the future policies of the next administration by trying to provoke wars and arouse conflicts especially with Iran by the help of Israel.
Furthermore, the Senate might be dominated by more or less die hard Trumpists of the Republican Party come next year. The president elect, Joe Biden who is just a slower poison than Trump, folds his arms as the out going president creates hostility especially abroad as long as he can blame Trump for it and in so far as the workers and masses do not rise against him. This is why we uphold our critique of the National Youth Democratic Party/Youth Democratic Party of Nigeria (NYDP/YDPN), a petty bourgeois party which was formed or gained popularity during the END SARS protests because the party seeks to collapse all momentum of popular uprising into electoral politics especially the 2023 general elections in Nigeria.
Hence it is very likely that Bobi Wine will be able to enter office not via election but via a popular uprising. In any case, a revolutionary socialist transformation of the country is only possible through an uprising of the masses. While Donald Trump has surrendered the presidency Museveni is not likely to do so without a mass insurrection. Revolutionaries must prepare the masses for a long battle even after the elections against the pro-imperialist Museveni regime and all elements of its neo-colonial reign even after Bobi Wine’s emergence.
Again we emphasize that a battle for freedom of association, movement, expression and public gathering must be part of the front burner in this fight. No capitulation to draconian restrictions under the cover of COVID-19. Museveni’s violation of his own COVID-19 restrictions shows that the whole travesty of the COVID-19 emergency measures globally is a fraud that has nothing to do with public health and everything to do with the ruling class trying to maintain power and wealth. The People Power Movement must reject all pacifist persuasions and brace itself for armed defence against Museveni’s henchmen in which ever form they take.
The defeat of Musevenism in Uganda will happen not through the ballots but rather by the expropriation of the native bourgeoisie and the establishment of a workers and poor peasant republic based on a planned economy in Uganda.