Opposition leader Rtd. Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye’s delivered a lecture at the New York City Bar Association on Thursday, 1st September, 2016 tackling the fight for justice, the rule of law, and democracy in Africa drawing lessons from Uganda.
Besigye said in a democratic society—and in a diverse and pluralistic society—it is to the Temple of Justice that people go for the peaceful and just adjudication of disputes.
He said it is justice, at its core, that is the foundation of democratic government, and without which there can be no open society.
“I take my lessons from Uganda—that favoured land from which I hail. Despite our many problems, we still like to call it “The Pearl of Africa.” Whenever I hear “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika”—God Bless Africa—the anthem of Africa. I think of those rolling hills and the rugged ridges of Rukungiri, where I was born. I think of the verdant valleys of Northern Uganda.
The green pastures of the West Nile
Mount Elgon and The Mountain of the Moon
I think of the Nile and Bwindi impenetrable forest
I think of the ancient heritage of Buganda and Bunyoro and the Luo
Then I remember, with no small measure of pride—
That it was my ancestors—our people from all across Africa—
That erected the pyramids and invented the hieroglyphics. That the first footsteps of man is to found in the heart of Africa.
When I remember all these, and the rich culture of our people, and the great civilizations they forged and will continue to forge until the end of time—then I find courage to stand here before you.
I find courage in my past and I am buoyed by hope for the future. As Thabo Mbeki would say, I am, after all, an African! A Ugandan, yes! But above all an African!”
Besigye presented himself as a man who has been living under the shadow of the law—not in its brilliant and luminous radiance.
“I stand before you as a man charged with treason in his land of birth. I am here today, outside Uganda, by the permission and grace of the Uganda High court, to which I am very grateful.”
He said during the last presidential campaign in Uganda, which culminated in the February 2016 presidential elections, which he contested and which he believes he won convincingly.
“I campaigned on one radical and threatening idea: That all Ugandans—all my compatriots—must be citizens and not subjects. That was the core of my campaign: citizens versus subjects.”
Besigye says colonialism in Africa stood for one radical idea: that no African could be a citizen and that by the edict of nature and some inscrutable faith, an African was forever consigned to be a subject.
Under apartheid, Africans were “drawers of water and the hewers of woods.”
The colonial state—and the entire edifice of the colonial system—were based on the belief and the simple premise that Africans were inferior human beings—beings destined to be governed by a stern state or a stern master.
“This is the colonial idea of tutelage. Africans were projected as naturally backwards and in need of tutoring in the art of modernity and civilized existence.”
He said upon this ideology was erected the concept of people as subjects.
After independence, the African elites inherited the colonial state and hardly buried or interred the colonial ideology that Africans are merely subjects.
“The African elites have used the same coercive tools to perpetuate monopolization of decision making, State institutions and resources.”
Kwame Nkrumah Patrice Lumumba Steve Biko Nelson Mandela—all the heroes of the pan-African liberation struggles—revolted and waged pitch campaigns of defiance against this racist ideology, Besigye noted.
“They refused—and defiantly did so—to accept Africans as mere subjects and not citizens. They refused to accept that we, as Africans, are children of a lesser God.”
In redefining Pan-Africanism, Besigye said at the core of the pan-African liberation ideology is the radical belief that every African is a citizen.
“That we are children of a benevolent God just as any other race of this earth. That, my friends, is our campaign in Uganda. That is our campaign of defiance.”
“The campaign that every woman and man and child in Africa is a citizen. That every African—by birthright—is a citizen of our beloved continent. That we, as citizens, determine how and who governs; that we control State institutions and our national resources.”
Besigye said his treason stems from the fact that he told people they are the masters and the state is the servant.
“We are simply seeking to democratise Uganda—to have free and fair elections, and to have basic human rights, including the right to free speech and assembly. That is the profound nature of our struggle.”
He added: “That is the act of treason I have been charged with—that I dare, in the face of corrupt power, to say that Africans are citizens. That is my act of treason. And to that I plead guilty. It’s an honour to plead guilty. And I carry that charge, as an African and as a human being, as a badge of honour. In the face of oppression and injustice, one must bear witness. Today in Uganda I am a witness. The second treason charge levelled against me is about the outcome of the February 2016 presidential elections.”
With almost no exception, all election observers declared that the elections were deeply flawed and comprehensively rigged.
For example, the Commonwealth Observer Group, the European Union Election Observer Mission, and United States Government declared as “deeply inconsistent with international standards and expectations for any democratic process.”
Besigye said a thoroughly compromised National Electoral Commission (NEC) declared the loser to be the winner.