Clash of political parties is the sound of freedom for Uganda


In later 2015, an emboldened group of social and liberal political parties realized that electorates were listening to their views after decades of neglect.

Most were new and had not been scarred by the multiparty struggle in the 90s or wedded to the social democratic agenda that had swept the political landscape.

They disliked the current government policies, which they equated with centralized government, with its planning and regulatory apparatus.

They saw Uganda as an increasingly restricted place, where investments, employment opportunities and income were flowing in some regions and not others.

They argued that unless government, in particular, rolled back the securities, tax holidays and tackled corruption;

Youth unemployment would rise, economic growth would slow down, investments would flow out and poverty would escalate.

It is a sobering assessment. They want drastic measures, and in politicians like Kizza Besigye and Amama Mbabazi they have the sort of leaders willing to go along with their analysis.

The tragedy is that, while their diagnosis makes partial sense, their prognosis is yet to sink in the mind of electorates who are demanding removal ‘unfreedoms’, such as preventable maternal mortality.

For some political parties, freedom comes from being part of a community. It is revealed through actions, not something granted from on high or divined in stone tablets.

For others, they are free to compete against each other, to participate in debates but not to win an election and replace the incumbent.

It is easy to understand the sources of these political parties agony, particularly the removal of unfreedoms and insecurities of human life,

Even, if we may have to ponder more about their subsequent analysis of the ultimate nature of ‘unfreedom’ in Uganda.

In assessing citizens lives, we have reason to be interested not only in the kind of lives we manage to lead, but also in the freedom that we actually have to choose between different styles and ways of living.

Indeed the freedom to determine the nature of our lives is one of the valued aspects of life that we have reason to treasure.

Their recognition that freedom is important can also broaden the concerns and commitments we have.

The opposition political parties argue that freedom is valuable for at least two different reasons.

First, freedom gives us more opportunity to pursue our objectives – those things that we value.

It may help, for example, in our ability to decide to live, as we would like and to promote ends that we may want to advance.

This aspect of freedom is concerned with our ability to achieve what we value, no matter what the process is through which that achievement comes about.

Second, we may attach importance to the process of choice itself.  We may, for example, want to make sure that we are not being forced into conformity because of constraints imposed by others.

Allow me to illustrate the distinction between the two aspects of freedom.

Wedgwood decides on Thursday, 18th February 2016 that he would prefer to go out to vote for change rather than stay at home.  If he manages to do exactly what he wants, we call it ‘scenario X’.

Alternatively, some unknown armed men arrive to interrupt Wedgwood’s life and drag him out and force him to vote otherwise. This terrible, indeed repulsive, situation may be called ‘scenario Y’.

In a third instance, ‘scenario Z’, the unknown gunmen restrain Wedgwood by commanding that he must not go out of his house, with the threat of severe punishment if he violates this restriction.

It is easy to see that in scenario Y the freedom of Wedgwood is badly affected: he cannot do what he would like to do (to vote for change), and his freedom to decide for himself is also gone.

So there are violations of both the opportunity aspect of Wedgwood’s freedom and the process aspect (he cannot decide for himself what to do).

What about scenario Z? Clearly the process aspect of Wedgwood’s freedom is affected (even if he does under duress what he could have done anyway, the choice is no longer his).

If the opportunity that electorates enjoy is to be judged only by whether they end up doing what they would respectively choose to do if unrestrained in the upcoming presidential elections,

Then it must be said that the clash of political parties is the sound of freedom.

Walter Ochanda, the author is an International Development Specialist


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