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Uganda’s President of thirty years, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni wants to extend his rule by another five years.

[Africa: Commentary]

Stakes are very high in next year’s general election in Uganda because this is a transitional period where President Yoweri Museveni is dropping the old guards with whom they launched the five-year guerrilla war which brought them to power in favor of the younger generation.

The latest victim of this change is, his bush-war confidant and former Prime Minister, John Patrick Amama Mbabazi. He was stripped of his post as Prime Minister in September 2014 and later dropped as Secretary General of the ruling National Resistance Movement party.

Mr. Mbabazi has since joined the race to wrestle the presidency from Museveni as a preferred candidate for a majority of the parties that joined in collective opposition coalition- The Democratic Alliance (TDA). His TDA credentials have been questioned since the single flag-bearer was to be elected by consensus, per its protocol.
Although Mbabazi says he still belongs to the NRM party, he has decided to go against his party’s position of sole presidential candidature; that being Museveni.

There is no doubt that Uganda’s longest serving Head of State , Mr. Yoweri Museveni, is on his way out; either in 2016 if he loses the next election or, if he wins, in 2021 when he retires due to old age.

When his forces, the National Resistance Army/Movement (NRA/M), stormed Kampala on 25th January 1986 to overthrow Mr. Tito Okello-Lutwa, Mr. Museveni refused to recognize the day as the date on which he took over power in Uganda because it coincided with the date when Idi Amin overthrew Milton Obote; January 25, 1971. Instead he chose January 26th because he wanted to be a unique leader, not associating himself with anything to do with those from the northern part of Uganda who he said had dominated leadership in Uganda since Independence in 1962.

On the day of his swearing-in as President in January 1986, Museveni made memorable statements whose legacy has continued to bedevil Uganda to date and is likely to have everlasting effect on the political scene even when he retires in 2021 due to age limitation.

First, he said he was ushering in a “fundamental change” in Uganda from one which had been dominated by people from the northern part. It was now time for other regions such as the West to eat big.

The second thing he said was that he was “changing guards”. His NRA/M was historically dominated by people from Western Uganda, Baganda from Central region where the guerilla war was fought to overthrow Obote and Rwandese refugees. They formed the nucleus of the new National army and continue to dominate the command positions.

Besides banning political party activities, Museveni also diagnosed what he said was the fundamental problem of Africa; that leaders cling onto power for too long.  He promised to hold general elections within four years, a promise he never kept. He organized the first election 10 years later in 1996. Five years later, political parties were freed through a referendum and Uganda had the first multiparty elections in 2001, fully 15 years after he took over power.

A few months after consolidating power in Uganda, there emerged a document which circulated widely among the political elite which hinted that the NRA/M leadership had planned to rule un-interrupted for 50 years before Uganda would be able to see another political dispensation besides NRA/M politics.

Although many people have picked nomination forms to run for the presidency, the contest is likely to be between three aspirants; namely incumbent Museveni, Mbabazi and Dr. Kizza Besigye.

All three have something in common: they were all historical members of the NRM and participated in the war that brought them to power. All come from Western Uganda.

The question which should be on people’s lips now is whether it takes an NRM person to succeed an NRM person. When Kizza Besigye first came out from within the establishment to challenge Mr. Museveni in 2001, Mbabazi accused Kizza Besigye of jumping the queue on succession line.

The US Secretary of State, John Kerry has already cast his vote in favor of incumbent Mr. Museveni arguing that the US still needs him to finish the jobs in Somalia, South Sudan and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel. “We need to finish the jobs in Somalia, South Sudan and the LRA”. Perhaps more important than Kerry is his boss; speaking before the African Union (AU) this summer, President Obama ridiculed leaders who stay in power for too long in Africa. He mocked them by saying he too could win if he kept running: Museveni fits in that category.

Ugandans who want to see change in leadership will vote for either Mbabazi or Kizza Besigye. Voters within the NRM who also want a new face in the leadership of NRM will vote for Mr. Mbabazi.

Whether it is Museveni, Mbabazi or Besigye, there will be no major change on the table. This would be mere cosmetic transition. Real change could have come about if the president of either Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) or Democratic Party (DP) was competing against Museveni.

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