By Stephen Twinoburyo
I have always believed that it is important to learn from other people’s strides towards improving themselves. As such, I have had time recently to study what are known as ‘The Dinokeng Scenarios’ in South Africa and pose the question: ‘what lessons can Uganda draw from this?’.
Based on the premise that a more engaged citizenry would contribute to the consolidation and strengthening of democracy in the country, in 2008 a group of 35 South Africans from a wide spectrum of the society gathered at Dinokeng to consider the country’s possible futures. The Scenario Team comprises leaders from civil society and government, political parties, business, public administration, trade unions, religious groups, academia and the media. They were brought together by six convenors, Dr Mamphela Ramphele (the first black vice chancellor of the University of Cape Town, first black woman vice chancellor in S Africa and former partner of the late Steve Biko), Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, Mrs Graça Machel, Dr Vincent Maphai, Mr Bob Head and Mr Rick Menell.
They looked at the country’s history, its achievements, where it wants to go and the critical challenges it faced. They then posed a question, ‘How can we address our critical challenges before they become time bombs that destroy our achievements?’. The answer lay in looking at three possible paths (scenarios) the country could take: Walk part, Walk behind, or Walk together. Each scenario will lead to a different future. These possible futures are based on the principle that “Futures are never given. They are created”.
Under scenario 1: walking apart, the citizens would disengage, the state would become ineffective and the country would fall apart.
Under scenario 2: walking behind, the state would lead development hence borrowing heavily, state directed investment would weaken private initiative increasing citizen dependency and in the long-run, state intervention and control would become unsustainable.
Finally under scenario 3: walking together, civil society, business, labour and the state engage and cooperate. Accountability increases and the state’s capacity to deliver core public services is enhanced. The fundamental tenet of this scenario is that the nation can succeed if and only if the citizens and leaders from all sectors rise above their narrow self-interests and contribute purposefully to building the nation.
Periodically, the Dinokeng Scenarios Team holds national debates and asks critical questions about the country’s progress in various sectors like democracy, education, health, service delivery, social integration, government policy e.t.c.
Does Uganda face similar futures or are we already in one or a combination of theses futures? Are there other future scenarios for Uganda?
To try and answer these questions, one would have to go back to Uganda’s history, especially the post-1986 history which seems to define greatly what Uganda is today.
The NRM came to power in 1986 with a 10-point programme that to a great extent captured the values of scenario 3. For about 10 years, the mood in the country was very optimistic and the country experienced tremendous economic growth. During this time, the country worked on a new constitution and the citizens and the leaders seemed to work together. Democracy looked firmer during those years and most Ugandans believed that the government was doing a good job of uplifting the country. Those are what I call the years of development.
From 1996 after President Museveni’s first presidential elections, things started changing and we seemed to move into scenario 2. It is during this time that most government assets were sold off and the state started taking an authoritarian role. The state put the citizenry in the role of walking behind. Those who politically disagreed with the leadership became excluded from the national discussion by the state and were in fact classified as ‘enemies of the state’. Two clear classes emerged: the state as the leader and the citizens as the followers. Because of the position the state put themselves in, they became very worried and fearful of the citizens. For the state, these became years of entrenchment. National development was thrown off the pedestal and personal acquisition and entrenchment took center stage. The constitution was trashed.
From 2006, we entered scenario 1. It is very clear that we are now walking apart. Looking at the corruption enquiries that are taking place, the contempt with which ministers treat parliament, the way the leadership disrespects institutions and the level of public delivery, it is undoubtable that we are falling apart and that the state is ineffective. The state achieves most of what it wants through enforcement or coercion rather than cooperation. Most of the structures and institutions that were set up during the first phase are now being torn apart. I call these the years of besiegement. The leadership is besieged because of its record and fear of the future while the citizens are besieged by the leadership that does not know where to go.
How then do we go back to scenario 3? This will require the concerted efforts of various sectors in the country.
But looking at the Ugandan opposition parties, have they taken the issues confronting the country beyond the struggle for leadership? When I think of the future of the country, I think of a future that my children and grand children should enjoy. Are our political parties addressing matters of our future that are not necessarily political? What role are they playing in forging partnerships with civil society and enlightening the citizens of their needs? What is the role of civil society, academia, religious institutions, labour e.t.c in identifying and confronting the challenges that the country faces?
We need to start critically discussing what future we envisage and want for our country. We need to start identifying possible ways to get there. We need to set the foundation for our children.