From Locke-Rousseau to Hobbes: the shift in our govt

Museveni in the bush during the NRA struggle

Museveni in the bush during the NRA struggle

The philosophical triad comprised of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau are considered as the initial thought-leaders of the social contract theory.

According to them, early members of a community decided to enter into an agreement in order to be protected from the treacherous and unforgiving environment around them. In the process, they chose a legitimate head to protect them and in exchange, they would forego certain things like the right to just go to a neighbour’s garden and plunder it.

The differences between the three philosophers in regard to the theory is stark and clear. For instance, whereas Hobbes believed that man’s inherent nature was evil and that human nature was selfish hence the need to be controlled, Locke and Rousseau on the other hand believed that man was inherently good and rational and was merely corrupted by the environment around him.

Hobbes believed in monarchism because of man’s selfish and evil nature. Hobbes must have thought that man ought to be treated with an iron hand and denied rights and only needed a king, who could not be overthrown to protect him.

His colleagues on the other side of the divide thought it prudent for man to live under a democratic dispensation where he was allowed to vote and was given certain inalienable rights.

To Locke and Rousseau, government was needed in order to benefit the people and its tenure was merely conditional upon upholding this social contract.

Since 1986, Uganda has become a battleground through which these theories have thoroughly competed. Before the National Resistance Army (NRA) war, it could be argued that life was indeed “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” owing to a number of civil wars that had torn to the very core of the country.

Life expectancy was at a paltry 50 years while the country struggled with poverty, ignorance and disease. As the NRA marched to Kampala, they carried with them a promise that never again would Ugandans find themselves impoverished and betrayed by their leaders.

Our social contract would be found in the preamble of the Constitution that was promulgated in October 1995. Indeed, Ugandans recalled their history that had been characterised by political and constitutional instability and committed themselves to a Constitution that was based off the principles of unity, peace, equality, democracy, freedom social justice and progress.

Initially, the NRA leaned towards the Lockean and Rousseauan versions of the social contract theory. President Museveni derided African leaders who stayed in power for so long and indeed promised that his own revolution was not a mere change of guards but a fundamental change in the politics of the country.

On the steps of parliament in 1986, the president promised the restoration of democracy as well as the protection of the security of individuals and their property.

Indicators did improve. Life expectancy was enhanced despite the stubborn scourge of disease. Ignorance dropped through the introduction of universal free primary and secondary education. Economists claimed through their statistics that Ugandans were much better off. Kilometres of road networks snaked deeper into the motherland. Everything looked promising. The social contract was being upheld.

Behind the gleaming statistics and American praise for a new democratic dispensation that was blossoming on the continent, worrying signs started to show. The promise of democracy was quickly followed by extrajudicial arrests like the 2005 siege of the High court – the one that justice James Ogola, as he then was, referred to as the Rape of the Temple of Justice.

The country witnessed different pushes to amend the Constitution in order to remove the imposed term and age limits. We also witnessed annual rites to muzzle the press and stifle civil society.

The fine lines between the different arms of government quickly became blurred through various tokens of appreciation handed across them. The rotten underbelly was further exposed through elections that observers questioned and oftentimes these resulted in loss of life or limb. So then, the shift was complete. From Lockean to Hobbesian. From the desire to return to democracy down to the toying of it.

Perhaps, Hobbes was right. Maybe, man was inherently selfish and needed to be contained. Perhaps instead of democratic institutions, the way to effective governance was through sitting kings.

Maybe the concept of rights was too burdensome to abide by. That perhaps, government should be too powerful and unquestioned in order to effectively rein in on the excesses of man.

The author is a lawyer.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd