THE LONG MARCH TO NATIONAL FREEDOM

By Okot Nyormoi, Editor

It was with a heavy heart that I learned of the passing of Dr. Obyara David Anyoti last month. I first met David in the early 1980s when he was Minister of Information and Broadcasting in the Milton Obote II government of Uganda. The last time I visited him was in 2011 when I passed through Nairobi. Since then, I acquired his book titled, “The Long March to National Freedom, Popular Self Governance and African Self Becoming in Uganda/Nile Africa” published in 2017 by Alawi Books Ltd. The book is available at Amazon.com.

Among the Acholi people of northern Uganda, “Ange” is a figurative creature that walks slowly, but once it overtakes you, you can never catch up with it. The adage means that sometimes we plan to do something and suddenly events overtake our plans such that we can never carry them out. I had planned to ask Dr. Anyoti some questions before writing a review of his book. Now that he is gone, I can never ask him my questions. Nevertheless, I will still do the next best thing, write my review of the book which is now a legacy he has left us.

Those who have been students at Makerere University or visited the campus after Uganda became independent from the United Kingdom in 1962, can vividly remember the image on the cover of the book. It is a sculpture designed by the late Professor Gregory Maloba, commissioned by the then Prime Minister Dr. Milton Obote. It is the image of a child being held up symbolizing the birth of a nation.

Why this book when there are already many books about the struggle for freedom and democracy in Africa? The simple answer is that the struggle itself is ongoing until the end, but the specificity differs in terms of when, where, how and by whom the struggle is waged. In this book, the author focused on the long march to national freedom in Africa in general and specifically in Uganda.

The author approached the topic from a historical perspective, which is entirely appropriate because without knowing the history of a problem, trying to solve it is like throwing a dart in the dark hoping that it will hit the bull’s eye. In chapter one, Dr. Anyoti acknowledged that Uganda’s lack of national freedom and democracy is rooted in its colonial history and subsequent developments: military dictatorship, fascism, oppression, corruption, poverty, and marginalization. Before colonialism, there were many separate ethnic polities with their own governance system. Apart from occasional inversions, they co-existed with each other. However, when the colonialists came, they brought the various entities under the indirect colonial rule, but they used separate but unequal to prevent Ugandans from mounting any united effort against their common enemy, colonialism. The mistrust sown among the various groups has continued to the present time.

In Chapters 2-4, the author discusses how indirect colonial rule worked and the legacy it has left. Basically, after independence, the different Ugandan leaders operating under various political or military configurations continued to govern according to the colonial model of indirect rule. Various struggles by different ethnic groups for power after independence appeared to have been driven by the desire to establish ethnic hegemony over the other ethnic groups. Such struggles were always aided by the former colonialists and their allies with the intent of maintaining the same exploitative relationship as before. Instead of the former colonialists being in direct control of the former colonies, they now use the new leaders to manage the farm for them so to speak.

In chapter 5, the author defines the task for the way forward to a new, just, and national democratic Uganda. This task is the struggle for national liberation which must be based on the consent of the masses of people. He believes that the masses have waged similar struggles against colonialism and fascist and military autocratic regimes before and therefore, they can do it again. However, the task of liberation must start with addressing the national question. How should the new state look like and how can it be formed without running into the same problems of the past?

Once the task is understood, then a political strategy and the form of struggle must be designed. Whatever the plan is, it must galvanize the whole country to be capable of defeating undemocratic forces that will stand in the way of the people’s long march towards national freedom and popular self-governance. 

The author says that the struggle is a dynamic process that depends on the power relationship between the people, the tyrannical regime, and its outside enablers. The process will be hastened by the mounting crisis in the political, social, economic and security areas of life. It will be in the context of this struggle that new leaders and appropriate organizations shall emerge to permanently defeat imperialism, neo-colonialism, and its local agents.

 In Chapter 6, Dr. Anyoti discusses various theories of transition from dictatorship to popular self-governance. He covers the whole spectrum of theories of social transformation from poet T. S. Eliot, novelist Ngugi wa Thiongo, liberation theoreticians such as Thomas Jefferson, Vladimir Lenin, Amilcar Cabral, Ernesto Laclau, Karl Marx, and the revolutionary educationist Paulo Freire. All these deep thinkers presented various models of social transformation from dictatorship to democratic self-governance.

The question of transition is particularly timely in view of the upcoming presidential election in Uganda in January 2021. It is also important because Ugandans have been struggling with the question of how to decolonize the nation for the last 59 years, 35 years of which the political community was dominated by one man, President Museveni. The pressing question is about how to create a new political community in which the ruling majority does not continue to treat the opposition as a permanent minority and that legitimate political demands are not treated as criminal acts punishable by state violence.

The last chapter, 7, is devoted to the question of how to guarantee national freedom and to build popular national democracy. In this task, Dr. Anyoti also looks to important figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Frantz Fanon and Chairman MaoTse Tung for political guidance, or Pope John II for moral guidance in crafting a way to secure national freedom and national popular democracy.

Dr. Anyoti unexpectedly left us to join the ancestors and we shall obviously miss him. However, he left us his legacy of struggle for freedom and national democracy in the form of a book. He also left us hope for possibilities of a better future in the conclusion of the last chapter of the book when he said, “Popular memory and consciousness, native genius and imagination stand as popular factors with which Ugandans/Nile Africans can leverage themselves to freedom, a new beginning and a new history of open possibilities. It is the experience of humankind in history that all things that have a beginning, logically must have an end”.

The struggle continues.