By Agatha Atuhaire
President is now 67 and cannot govern forever
Election year 2016 will be a turning point for Uganda, according to a report by the powerful American policy solutions provider, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
As a sign of likely instability, the June 30 report notes that “the NRM is on a long-term trajectory of decline, and thus its survivability by the end of President Museveni’s current presidential term is certainly in doubt.”
Titled “Assessing risks to stability in Sub-Saharan Africa”, the report was commissioned by the Unites States of America’s military Africa Command, AFRICOM, which plans for America’s strategic security interests on the continent. The US government often uses the CSIS reports to project the future and strategise for change. The report is based on events that have toppled regimes that appeared to have a firm grip on power in Egypt, Tunisia, and led to a western-backed armed rebellion in Libya.
It is designed to delve below the day to- day events, like social and political unrest, to explain how historical and structural issues like unemployment,frustrated educated youth, political sterility, corruption, and abuse by security forces cause governments to collapse. It notes that although there are fundamental conditions that the people might not necessarily be contented with and the likely channels of a conflict, the decisions that will be made by the President on whether to run again or leave office in 2016 might be a great threat to Uganda’s stability.
“Museveni is now 67 years old and he cannot govern forever,” the report says. “Things might look okay for a moment and his ground secure given his recent election victory, his firm control of the state apparatus and the political opposition that is a bit disorganised and underfinanced, but a difficult political transition is looming.”
“Two broad elements determine a country’s vulnerability to distabilising crisis,” the report says, “first is the depth, intensity, and cumulative effect of structural weaknesses and fault-lines. But equally important is the country’s ability to manage and mitigate those structural factors in a way that makes any shocks to the system less potentially dangerous.”
Uganda does not have a history of changing power peacefully. In 1966, the country’s first president, Sir Fredrick Mutesa II was ousted and exiled after a violent attack on the Buganda monarch. Milton Obote who ousted Mutesa was himself toppled in a coup in 1971, to return in 1980 and be overthrown in another military coup in July 1985. To become president, Museveni fought a bitter five-year guerrilla war that claimed thousands of lives. There is growing fear that unless the transition from Museveni to another leader is handled properly, it could lead to another bloodshed. The uncertainty of NRM or Uganda after Museveni is a big threat to the stability of the country.
The report is based on studies in 10 countries; Angola, Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal, Sudan, and Uganda, that it describes as “undergoing the growing pains of democracy”.
It notes: “In Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan, and Angola – democracy has little meaning beyond the ritualistic holding of elections in which political space is severely constrained and the winner is generally predetermined”.
Joel Barkan, a professor of political science at the University of Iowa and a specialist on politics and development policy in sub-Saharan Africa whose books about the politics of Sub-Saharan African countries are recommended readings in many universities, wrote the Uganda section of the report.
He notes that change is inevitable by all means either through anointment of a successor by Museveni himself or through the overthrow of Museveni or his chosen successor.
He says the style of Museveni’s governance has grave implications for the future stability of the country because it is highly personalised that the running of the country to a greater extent revolves around Museveni’s personal position.
At the centre of the report lies a big question on whether Museveni will run for a fifth elected term in 2016 at the age of 73 or who will be his successor if he decides to step down and how the succession will be managed not to create disputes both within the party and the country at large.
Although he seems to have an insatiable desire to remain in power, Barkan counsels, Museveni should be realistic enough to know he does not have much time left and the sooner he drafts his end game the better for him and his country.
Former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya, who had been in office since 2003, had been looked at by some as Museveni’s possible successor until the May cabinet reshuffle and his indictment before the courts of law over alleged corruption. Bukenya’s fall into disgrace is seen largely as a continuation of infighting within the NRM party between him and its powerful party Secretary General, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, who long ago announced that he was in “the queue” to be president.
With Bukenya out and the new VC, Edward Ssekandi, happily existing beneath Museveni’s wings, the report says it is likely the man who has ruled Uganda for quarter a century is lining up his eldest son, Lt. Col. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, to take over power. But, it notes, this is unlikely to go unchallenged by the party itself because the elevation of Muhoozi would largely keep power in current hands.
Observers say Muhoozi is a soldier and not a politician and would face considerable opposition even from NRM. Apart from the president’s son and Mbabazi, the other contender would be Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa. However, both men have unusually little support in and outside the party. They are also in their 60s something that might not go well with many younger politicians in the party who would like to see party leadership passed to a younger generation. The fight to succeed Museveni was publicly exposed in March when a leaked Wikileaks cable showed Mbabazi’s daughter, Nina Mbabazi, to have said in 2009 that Museveni was “too tired” to seek re-election in 2011 and that her father was the likely successor. Nina reportedly told a US embassy official that Kutesa was not a “serious contender” but was working to “sabotage Mbabazi”.
Another contender not mentioned in the report is Museveni’s younger brother, Gen. Caleb Akandwanaho aka Salim Saleh. During a Kfm radio interview in June, Saleh said he personally felt Museveni should hand over power to another person in 2016. He said he could take over the mantle of president if “necessary”.
It is not unusual for Museveni’s inner team to throw such sentiments around in order to gauge the public reaction. Sources close to State House have also told The Independent that Museveni is consulting widely about leaving power in 2016.
Renowned historian, Prof. Ndebesa Mwambutsya of Makerere University said the issue of Museveni’s succession should be every one’s concern and not only NRM party members. He said the names the report puts forward as possible successors have high chances of being challenged considering Uganda’s regional and religious differences.
“Muhoozi, Mbabazi and Kuteesa all come from the western part of the country and other regions especially the Baganda will not take that,” he says
He says the Baganda have waited far too long for an opportunity of one of their own leading the country and the Catholic community will not like that as well.
“I agree with Barkan that there is an alarming problem and I think the president has created a vacuum that he needs to fill before things get out of hand,” Ndebesa said.
Initial indications were that Museveni’s drive to run in 2016 was mainly because the NRM fears that if leading opposition figure Col. Kizza Besigye decides to run for a fourth time in 2016, no other candidate can defeat him.
Recently, Besigye has announced that he will quit as president of Uganda’s leading opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) before 2016. He has, however, not ruled out running for president of the country in 2016.
Besigye is a close ally of British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party. However, he is yet to secure an endorsement from US President Barack Obama, which is usually crucial in African politics.
The report notes that by sending troops to Somalia, Museveni has positioned himself as an essential ally of the west, especially the US, in the fight against terror. But the US continuing to support his stay in power puts it “in an increasingly awkward position in Uganda”.
“The United States thus faces a classic dilemma in Uganda – continuing its current policy of accommodating and working with an authoritarian ally, or encouraging democratic reform to secure long-term stability,” the report says and adds: “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s address to the African Union on June 13, 2011, suggests that the United States will henceforth emphasise democratic reform, though she did not mention Uganda by name”.
This is not the first time that the US is pledging to support a democratic transition of power in Uganda. At the start of the 2011 presidential election campaign, the US Congress ordered Clinton to closely monitor and report on the conduct before and after the election. Although most observers of the Feb. 18 general elections said they were far from “free and fair”, the US has not taken any action publicly. However, that does not mean the US and other pro-democracy western government will not act on this latest report.
The US embassy in Kampala was involved in forcing the Uganda government to allow Kizza Besigye to fly to Nairobi for emergency treatment after he was brutalised by the security forces to near blindness in April.
Soon after, Besigye flew to the United States where made a point of showing his bandaged arm in a style similar to that of Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai after he was brutalised by dictator Robert Mugabe’s security forces.
Too early to speculate?
Prof. Mwambutsya says there might be chaos in Uganda’s politics when Museveni leaves power because there is no signal whatsoever that Museveni wants a successor yet.
“If you look at South Africa, Mandela prepared Thabo Mbeki as his successor but Museveni has not done anything that suggests any one as his successor and he is wise enough not to leave abruptly,” he said.
The opposition party FDC Publicity Secretary, Wafula Oguttu, says “for sure there will be some sort of a clash whether Museveni decides to stay or imposes any person on his party or the country”.
“He might end up like Gaddafi or Mubarak because Ugandans will not sit back and watch one man drive the country to destruction,” he said. Hosni Mubarak was kicked out as president of Egypt by violent protesters while Gaddafi is battling a popular western-backed armed rebellion against his regime.
Wafula said Museveni is likely to stand again in 2016 “because it’s in his nature that he does not care about what Ugandans think or feel”.
Some, like prominent political researcher and analyst, Dr Golooba Mutebi of the Makerere Universities Centre for Basic Research, it is too early to speculate on Museveni’s succession or whether he will run in 2016 or not.
“I don’t think the issue of succession is a debate within the party now, I think it will come up maybe two years or two and a half to the election,” he says.
Makerere University Political Science Associate Professor, Yasin Olum says “there might not be any need for succession” because Museveni will come back in 2016.
“Even if he decides to step aside, his succession will be determined by internal party democracy,” Olum says.
But others disagree.
“Any election in NRM will be façade,” says Mwambutsya. He said the appointing will largely, if not wholly, depend on Museveni and the ‘big men’ in the party. “They might put a ‘window dressing election which will have little or no influence at all concerning the matter,” he added.
“We all witnessed how fair the NRM elections could be during last year’s party primaries. It would be naïve therefore for party members to think they will have their chosen successor through a non- manipulated, free and fair election,” another commentator said.
Ndebesa said Museveni himself might be in a crisis and we might have a Zambia situation where Kenneth Kaunda left with his party. “If I were him, I would prepare a peaceful succession so that the situation does not turn out bloody,” he said.
Other causes of instability
Golooba says unrest might not necessarily emanate from Museveni’s succession. “There are many other factors that are likely to create instability in the country. People are not happy with the current economic situation and that has been manifested through the various strikes we have witnessed. That in itself is an unrest that might exacerbate, ‘’ he said.
While the report agrees with Golooba by highlighting other possible catalysts of a threatening crisis like the falling government revenue, rising inflation, rising corruption and a transition to an oil economy, it holds the president largely responsible for this situation by increasingly relying on patronage to remain in power.
The report highlights two forms of patronage namely the tolerance of corruption especially by cabinet ministers who use their offices for personal gain and the handing out of both offices and cash to willing takers.
The latter is held fundamentally responsible for the awful present economic situation where the president allegedly pumped a lot of money in the public to get votes.
The report traces the habit to way back in 2005 when members of parliament were given Shs5 million each to chang the constitution and repeal presidential term limits so that Museveni could run in 2006. Before this year’s general elections, the MPs were this time given much larger packets of Shs20 million each.
The report says the president himself was photographed handing out “envelopes” on numerous occasions at political rallies and says a rough figure of $300 million given out in campaigns would not be unrealistic given the magnitude of the practice.
This has been held largely accountable for the current inflation and the central bank’s failure to avert the situation because foreign reserves were exhausted to finance campaigns.
“Expenditures by the office of the president have clearly risen as Museveni has sought to meet the rising demands of patronage as well as the cost of running for re-election in the multiparty era,” the report says.
The report also says that the discovered oil which most people look at as solution to Uganda’s problems might be a source of crisis itself. The government has already refused to release information about the existing and future agreements between potential producers citing “national security” for its lack of transparency.
Barkan projects that the advent of oil revenue is likely to raise the public’s expectations for services and exert pressure on Museveni’s government. There is also a possibility that oil will ignite debates about federalism and the rights of oil producing communities to a greater share of the national revenues.
Other possible causes of instability in an already shaken state, the report says, are security factors. The report still considers the LRA rebels and the consequences of their operations as a threat given the decline of governance in most sectors. It says if the government does not do something about the disparity of living conditions between northern and southern Uganda, there is likely to be conflict.
It also says there might be hostilities between North and South Sudan and a possibility of a civil war in the world’s newest country arising from a scenario of factional fighting between the leaders of the principal ethnic groups across the south could create a conflict that might spill over into the impoverished northern Uganda. There is also a threat from the Al-shabaab in Somalia where Uganda has contributed 6,000 of the 8,000 of the African Union peace keepers there. The militant group has already shown its fury by last year’s July 11 bombings in which about 80 people were killed in Kampala, something that many Ugandans blamed on Museveni.
According to the report, all these other conditions could be there and Ugandans tolerate them like they have always done with all the other issues that have unfolded in the current regime but the issue of Museveni’s succession might not leave the NRM together and might strengthen the weak and scattered opposition. Prof. Ndebesa said however that the projected crisis will do the country a lot of good“ The crisis, if it happens, will cause troublebut it will be good for democracy,” he said.