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Behind Museveni’s political kissing and makeup: A president searches for his legacy

I had suggested in my article that in Mogadishu, the UPDF had finally developed some smart urban warfare skills. Museveni wanted to disabuse me of my ignorance, but he seized the opportunity to acknowledge a very long list of NRA bush commanders in three short paragraphs, many of whom he has skipped over even in his book, “Sowing The Mustard Seed”. I will quote at some length to make the point:

“Besides, this is not the first time NRA/UPDF is fighting in the built up areas.  Obbo needs to be reminded that Kampala is a city.  How was it captured in 1986?  1st battalion, under Mugisha, assaulted Lubiri, Bakuli, Kampala Road and Radio Uganda, 3rd battalion, under Lumumba, was my tactical reserve in the battle for Kampala.

“11th battalion, under Chefe Ali, assaulted Nansana, Makerere, Wandegeya and, eventually, Summit View.  7th battalion, under Kyaligonza, assaulted Ndeeba and it took a whole day to capture Makindye barracks.  5th battalion, under Kashillingi blocked Entebbe Road at Kisubi. The Entebbe UNLA group, however, broke through the Kashillingi force because of some mistakes he had made in deployment.

“The UNLA group was 900 strong.  I deployed my tactical Reserve, 3rd battalion, under Saleh and Lumumba, who stopped them at Zana.  The whole group surrendered at 2100 hours.  13th battalion, under Ivan Koreta, blocked Bombo road. A special battalion, under Jet Mwebaze, captured Bwaise after clearing Sentema.

“Both the 19th battalion, under Peter Kerim and the 15th battalion, under Samson Monday [Mande] were on the Western axis under Tinyefuuza.  21st battalion and 9th battalion, under Benon Tumukunde and Kihanda respectively, were part of my strategic Reserve”.

This reads like a list of medal honorees on [UPDF] Heroes Day, but it goes deeper. Samson Mande, it will be noted, is in exile. He has been accused of being the commander of the People’s Redemption Army (PRA), a rebel group allegedly formed after the 2001 election fiasco that pitted Museveni in a monumentally nasty contest with Besigye. The government also alleged that Besigye was actually the RPA leader.

Why would Museveni recognise Mande’s role today? Equally significant, is that – at least as far as I have read – Museveni also acknowledged Tinyefuza’s role for the first time in something he has written. The common view, for which I don’t have independent proof, is that Tinyefuza, who was quite stubborn in the bush war and spent as much time in the field fighting as in an underground bamboo prison for “insubordination”, was edited out of “Sowing the Mustard Seed” last minute. Again, Museveni – while firmly giving himself credit for leading the bush war – took opportunity in the article to divide the glory among other commanders he had blanked out until two months ago.

I will pick one more point from the article. Museveni wrote:

“Otherwise, with enough means, we encircle the enemy on four sides to fight decisive battles of annihilation. It is not correct to say that no African Army has ever done this.  The TPDF [Tanzania People’s Defence Forces], in our fight with Amin [in late 1978/79) was, mainly, using encirclement.

“That is how we captured Gayaza hill on the 26th of February, 1979, under General Mayunga. That is how Entebbe town was captured by General Maarwa.  He blocked the Libyans from retreating from Entebbe, at Bwebajja.  That is why that area is called Kilibya. Very many Libyan APCs were destroyed there and prisoners taken.

“That is how Brigades 208, 207 and 201 of TPDF destroyed the Palestinian Force that had come to support Amin at Lukaya. Maarwa, coming from Kanoni, Kabulasoke, encircled them at the Equator while they were busy fighting 201 Brigade which was coming from Lukaya”.

One of the first acts of the Museveni government when it came in 1986 was to scrap April 11, which used to be “Liberation Day” to mark the day on April 11, 1979, when the TPDF and a motley of Ugandan exile groups including Museveni’s Front for National Salvation (FRONASA), defeated Amin.

The NRM was angry because if felt that Tanzania’s support for Obote enabled UPC to rig the election of December 1980, and without its support in 1981 and 1982, the Obote regime would not have survived to 1985. It is partly petty anger that Liberation Day was scrapped. However, in terms of the political narrative, the NRM wanted its triumph to be the only liberation. There could be no other.

While variously Museveni has acknowledged the TPDF, he had never, again as far as I have read, specified the courage of individual Tanzanian commanders like Maarwa. While we have been one happy family in the East African Community, Tanzania never could quite forgive or fully accept Museveni because it felt, just like Museveni felt in the past with Kagame, that he had belittled their sacrifice. I am sure Tanzania did not miss that offering.

Clearly, then, Museveni is evolving in what one might call a “serial reconciler”. In all these cases, however, he is making up with individuals, like a man compensating personal injuries, and battling to heal a troubled soul.

He is not reconciling NRM with FDC or UPC. He is making good with Miria Obote, who was the last woman to cook for him in 1972 and 1978 when he visited their home before he went off to war.

He is not arranging a big sleep-in between Rwanda’s ruling RPF and the NRM. However, he and his family are visiting, hugging, and exchanging cattle with his bush buddy Kagame.

I think in all these things, we are seeing the emerging shape of how Museveni wants to shape his legacy. It also could be his way of telling us that he sees the clock ticking, the light being switched off slowly on his rule; that his time of leaving the stage is now approaching.

He is smart enough to realise that with the time left, he has few options in shaping his legacy in any other way – or at least his last years, which is what most people will remember (Obote’s story teaches us that).

Look at Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki, an aloof man who shuns the limelight, he was plunged into a crisis with the controversial election of December 2007 that plunged the country into its worst political violence ever. Kibaki does not have the back-slapping charm and wise cracking of Museveni, so he could not overcome his crisis with charisma.

He decided to be the infrastructure president. His government had been spending money on infrastructure from when he took power from 2003. But post-election in 2008 he ramped things up. Between 2003 and 2011, Kenya had spent on roads, fibre optic cables, airports modernisation, more than Kenya Shs1 trillion (Approx. UShs 28 trillion before you even adjust it for inflation) That is more than the country had spent in all the 30 years before 2003 combined. The product of this are the widest highways in East Africa, and that Kenya is now referred to internationally as the “Silicon Savannah” because of the way the technology aspects of this Shs28 trillion has driven innovation.

Then, to ice the cake, he threw his weight into a new constitution, which Kenya had tried and failed to get for 25 years. Among other things, it has the most progressive Bill of Rights in Africa, by far. Some say in the world.  As a result, today many are shy to talk about the 2007 election debacle.

The farewell parties for Kibaki have already begun. When he leaves in March next year, there will be tears in Kenya. Museveni surely must have taken note. But he can’t do a new constitution, and because he has been trapped by his own patronage politics, cannot reform the economy or drown Uganda in new infrastructure investment.

However, he can still shape his legacy as a man who did the honourable thing by his friends and people who helped him. The man who reached out and rebuilt bridges, a gentleman former rebel leader who rediscovered his honour before the curtains came down. The kind of bloke who offers you reason not to give up on the humanity of the men of power. In other words, Museveni might be schmoozing with old foes and kissing and making up with people he threw under the bus in the past, like Mzee Byanyima, so that we can remember him as the kind of person he used to speak about in the early years of his presidency – a good man. Even if he fails, it will not be denied that he tried.


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