It is no exaggeration to say that after 9th October, 1962, no date is as important and has reshaped Ugandan history as much as 26th January, 1986. This is the date the National Resistance Movement/Army marched into Kampala and power after a protracted five-year civil war.
The energetic rag-tag band of men and women, mostly in their twenties, some even in their teens, bore down on a stunned Kampala singing songs of change and revolution. They identified themselves as Marxists, left leaning intellectuals, some even Communists determined to undo the damage Uganda had suffered since her independence under “bad leadership.”
The movement was to be about inclusive leadership, equitable resource sharing, prosperity for all Ugandans who would no longer be judged by their tribe or religion. Sectarianism was outmoded and dead.
The leader of this movement Yoweri K. Museveni identified Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere as his hero. For more than twenty years prior to NRA’s victory, Nyerere had been preaching and practicing Pan Africanism not just in Tanzania but exporting it to Mozambique and other African countries that asked for his help. Nyerere himself espoused an African version of Socialism he called Ujamaa. Nyerere believed Africans could and should solve African problems, a faith Museveni believed and espouses to this day.
This approach was also key in winning them the good will of the people as they pushed against the disintegrating (UNLA) Uganda National Liberation Army forces on their way to conquering Kampala.
What changed it all?
Keen observers of Uganda’s social, economic and political developments over the past 34 years or so say it didn’t take this group sometimes referred to as the ‘class of 1986’ long to settle into and start enjoying the real spoils of power many of which contradicted their socialist and communist centred ideologies from their bush days.
First things first, this group given their new standing at the helm of society easily took over the finest pieces of real estate in Kampala’s elite neighbourhoods of Kololo, Nakasero, Bulogobi etc.
These had been abandoned by the fleeing top military brass and senior government officials of the fallen regime. To date they have either upgraded these properties into their main residences, rented them out to earn good dollars or sold them off very expensively to real estate developers making thousand-fold returns for themselves.
Since then, they stand accused of many sins. Among them is using control of government, the public purse and the security apparatus of the country, to ensure associates, kin and fronts of their own benefit from massive government tenders continuously. Public scholarships to the world’s top universities and strategic public service jobs are allegedly selectively divvied up. Management of key sectors of the economy seems ring-fenced.
Many good things attributed to this class of 1986 still stand today in our country; key among them being the invaluable commodity called peace and security we all enjoy. The relative growth of the country’s paved road network, reach of electricity to most towns, growing access to clean water, a semblance of a stable economy, to mention but a few.
Corruption, though, has been the most enduring and damaging dent to this legacy.
What next after 2021?
With many of the offspring of the class of 1986 coming of age, a number of them are now seeking political office come the 2021 elections and others are being prepared for leadership starting 2026.
While this looks like the ideal consolidation of power by bringing their next generation to the fore, the bitter rivalry for power already put in place by the current youthful opposition crystallised around NUP and Presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu won’t take this lying down.
And while the ‘yellow kids’ have all the resources and the system pre-designed to back them up, the disenfranchised ghetto youth with poor public education and very limited opportunities for the last 30 years are also warming up to come grab ‘their share’ at all costs.
In a little remarked similarity, the movement is going to battle with another movement that calls itself people power. Both ideologues claiming to speak for the common man or woman. The class of 1986 is facing off against the class of 2021 and there is a real possibility the 1986 class could suffer a debilitating, even fatal blow.
Only radical internal reform can sustain the class of 1986 at the helm much longer; anything less will be an open gate for the ‘have nots’ to push harder until they are at the high table.
The Author is a senior analyst and media strategist at consulting firm Brothers Intelligence LLC
Email: [email protected]