Our Man In Africa: Why A U.S.-Backed Dictator In Uganda Clings To Power After 29 Years

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Gen. Museveni -- is that Washington calling?

[Uganda: Analysis]

The U.S. once had Augusto Pinochet in South America, Ferdinand Marcos in Asia and Mobutu Sese Seko in Africa. Those despots who could be relied on to perform as U.S. agents are long dead. Yet in Africa, Gen. Yoweri Museveni still plays the same role, as a regional sheriff in Somalia and South Sudan -- it comes at a tremendous human cost in terms of the millions of lives lost in Uganda, South Sudan, and Congo due to the dictator's militarism. Writer Okot Nyormoi explains that Gen. Museveni has to remain in power at all cost in order to save his ow neck.

Suicidal For Gen. Museveni Not To Be Ruler

The year 2014 saw Gen. Yoweri Museveni set in motion a series of action to pave the way for the 2016 presidential election.

In April, members of Parliament from the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM)’ were forced to sign a document proclaiming the sole candidature of President Museveni in the 2016 election. Next came the precipitous dismissal of his long-time ally the then Prime Minister John Amama Mbabazi on September 18.

Not long after, while he was forced to go on leave, Mbabazi was removed from his position as the Secretary General of the NRM at a hastily organized national conference attended by carefully selected delegates. While the conference to re-organize the party was going on, the unexpected happened. The supposedly rebellious General David Sejusa, a.k.a. David Tinyefuza, returned from London after 18 months where he allegedly fled for fear of his life.

He was the coordinator of Intelligence Services before "fleeing" Uganda in April 2013.

While in exile, General Sejusa did everything to break President Museveni'’s military rule. He not only absconded from his duty as the coordinator of Intelligence Services, but he also repeatedly accused the president of rigging elections, corruptions, and even murder of political opponents. In an apparent act of defiance, he formed a political party while still serving in the military. Yet when he returned, he was not arrested, unlike Dr. Kizza Besigye, Museveni’'s bush war personal physician turned political foe, who was locked up in 2001.

Gen. Sejusa even reportedly dictated conditions under which to meet with President Museveni. Finally, the president agreed to grant his wish to retire from the military and he was reportedly freed from house arrest.

For those who know the politics of Uganda since 1986, this sequence of events raises a lot of questions and it may seem utterly confusing. However, a careful look at them reveals a common thread. What President Museveni is doing is geared towards one and only one goal: clinging onto power by corruption, deception, coercion and suppression of dissent.

So far, President Museveni used coercion to orchestrate a successful move to proclaim his sole presidential candidature for the 2016 election. At a carefully planned party retreat, members of Parliament were coerced into signing a "pledge" for President Museveni’'s sole candidature -- sort of an oath of allegiance similar to what used to occur in the old Soviet Union.

Next, Gen. Museveni suppressed dissent by dismissing the Prime Minister who was also the Secretary General of the party, John Amama Mbabazi, allegedly on suspicion that he was planning to challenge him for the presidency. To pre-empt any rebellion from Mbabazi'’s camp, the president nominated Mr. Mbabazi to serve in the Central Executive Committee (CEC) of the NRM. However, on Jan 9th, the CEC rejected his nomination. The nomination appears to have simply been a public relations gimmick to show that Mr. Mbabazi was rejected by the Central Committee and not the president.

In the aftermath, speculations are brewing that there is really no quarrel between Museveni and Mbabazi. Instead, Mr. Mbabazi is designated for the highly coveted vacant position of Chief Justice. Again, the apparent dispute between them is orchestrated merely to make Museveni look magnanimous. If so, it will confirm the belief that Mr. Mbabazi is not really opposed to the regime in any way, shape or form.

General Sejusa’'s situation makes an interesting case of deception.

The straight forward possibility is that the general was really on a spy mission in the guise of a refugee fleeing from a plot to kill him. If so, he simply returned after accomplishing his mission. What is happening is an effort to cover up the mission by making it look like the President is being conciliatory towards a rogue officer with the hope of earning the goodwill of the people. So far the effort has raised more questions in the court of public opinion. However, in the opinion of one senior presidential adviser, the President succeeds by not following the rule.

A more likely possibility is that General Sejusa has had genuine disagreement with his boss going back to 1997 when President Museveni refused his request to retire from the military. Instead he was put on “"katebe”," allegedly for criticizing the regime in Parliament in 1996. “"Katebe"” is a tool President Museveni uses for controlling soldiers who may question his authority. Under this scheme, targeted soldiers are isolated and are kept in the military without any particular deployment, which amounts to a psychological imprisonment. During the earlier incident, after about a year on "“katebe”," the general supposedly repented and was re-deployed as the coordinator of Intelligence Services.

This time, in spite of breaking military rules by not only absconding from his duty but also by declaring his intent to topple the regime by any means possible, President Museveni so far has surprisingly handled General Sejusa with velvet gloves. This is most likely a deceptive tactic to lure the general back into his grasp while he puts out potential fires elsewhere before the 2016 vote. The President'’s decision to allow the general'’s application for retirement may simply be meant to make him seem conciliatory while he directs the military to use the law to silence him.

If the President does not tolerate the utterances of lesser critics, it is unlikely that General Sejusa has the freedom he claims is his right to have.

The application to retire may not be considered or approved until his reckless babbling is dealt with. The military could court martial and lock him up. The only person who would then come to his "rescue" would, of course, be non other than Museveni --  the same person he accused of plotting to kill him. Sejusa's choice would be either complete silence or long term imprisonment.

Before too long, another big project will emerge; the bill to remove age limit for the president. This will then allow Museveni to cling onto power indefinitely beyond the additional five years he wants having already completed 29. Having stepped on too many toes, Museveni probably does not relish the thought of going to Uganda's Luzira Maximum Security prison where he's sent many of his foes or going to the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

Therefore, he and he alone in power can guarantee his security. To this end, Gen. Museveni is regularly accused of using whatever means possible: corruption, intimidation, imprisonment, elimination of opponents, to stay in power.

Therefore, no matter how conciliatory or magnanimous President Museveni may appear while dealing with his seemingly rogue military or party members, his actions have nothing to do with the promotion of democracy, justice and fairness. He is merely rearranging the same pictures on his wall without entertaining any intention to vacate the power room.

A dictator by any other name is still a dictator and he will not willingly pursue democracy because it is suicidal.


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