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From king to emperor

What the politics of People Power tells us about the nature of government they will preside over

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | People Power is the most trending political cult in Uganda. They are angry at the corruption of President Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Movement (NRM) government. While its followers carry a deep sense of victimhood, they are not resigned but energised. They want to get Museveni out of power – but what for? To that later!

The cult has a large following across Uganda’s urban social groups: young professionals, students, unemployed youth, boda boda riders, hawkers, taxi touts, lumpens (bayaye) and some respectable intellectuals. But for the most part, cult members are high on emotion and short on public policy, loud in rhetoric but lacking in organisation. While most organisations would see this as a handicap, People Power cult members see this as a virtue. Why?

It is because the cult does not seek power for high ideals or ideological goals. For all its self-righteousness, it seeks power primarily to give its supporters a chance at official loot. They are energised because they see the removal of Museveni as an opportunity get a chance at the trough. We see this in how they conceptualise political power. They think anyone who supports Museveni/government has been paid; there exists no ideological, historical, ethnic, religious or even emotional support for government.

If I share any sympathy for (and agreement with) People Power, it is that they are asking for something fundamental i.e. we need to give a chance to another ethno-regional or even demographic coalition to come to power and “loot” on behalf of its followers. That is all People Power offers. What I am not sure about is whether in their greed, cult leaders would pick a leaf from Museveni i.e. always ensure a continually growing economy to pay for increasing patronage demands.

NRM came to power promising to fight corruption but Museveni has presided over the most corrupt government in Uganda’s history. Museveni, however, is a much more sophisticated individual. He has some belief that the pursuit of power, while involving exchange of money, can also be motivated by high ideals and broader ideological goals. It is this nuance that is missing in the People Power cult.

I no longer hold the utopian belief in the virtues of term limits on presidents as a key to democracy and accountable government in a poor country. However, I am inclined to believe that governments, especially in ethnically fragmented societies like ours, need to change regularly. Presidential term limits are needed to ensure regular change of power. When a president retires, the new one should come from a different ethnic region. This way, ethnic elites can rotate at the trough, thereby ensuring an equitable distribution of opportunities “for loot” and most likely, political stability.

The fatigue and anger we see in Uganda towards Museveni is largely because of a deep-seated grievance that “Westerners” have been at the trough too long. Other ethnic regions need their turn too. Therefore, the best solution for Uganda (as a federation of ethnicities) is to rotate power among them. Many intellectuals would be horrified at my suggestion that patronage and clientelism (otherwise called corruption) is the real basis for order in poor countries and without it, the state could easily disintegrate. But this is largely because they are naïve and idealistic.

Museveni has ruled with the same corruption and patronage as Mobutu of former Zaire. However, he has done this while sustaining an impressing rate of economic and, therefore, revenue growth. This has allowed him to continually build the institutional capacity of the state and meet the demands for more patronage and a bit of welfare. By not sustaining economic growth, Mobutu ate the hen that was supposed to lay the golden egg of state consolidation. Museveni has demonstrated that patronage and clientelism (corruption) are not necessarily injurious to state building but are an important accompaniment to it.


  1. I really disagree with you Mwenda on some aspects and would be glad if you shade some light on the following issues:
    Firstly, you have consistently strongly accused the opposition of intolerance. Was M7 tolerant by going to the bush after rigged elections? Can you resist dictatorship by being tolerant? The conditions of intolerance can be blamed on the dictatorship as a reaction to the injustice meted out. When citizens are not fairly treated and are unequal before the courts of law, how can you have tolerance.

    Secondly you have bashed People power for not having policies: How many of the 10 point programs have been attained in 33 years? What were the policies of RPF before it took power? Were Land grabbing and connection based corruption with patronage and creation of safe houses part of the NRM policies?
    Uganda’s policies are the solutions to the current problems. As a learned comrade you are aware that leadership is about assembling the best possible team to deal with issues of national interest.

  2. ” Many intellectuals would be horrified at my suggestion that patronage and clientelism (otherwise called corruption) is the real basis for order in poor countries and without it, the state could easily disintegrate. But this is largely because they are naïve and idealistic.”

    “Many intellectuals…………….. But this is largely because they are naive(sometimes read stupid) and idealistic.”

    This is what M9 is saying this week, or call it today, only having said this last week.

    “This realisation came in large part because I became deeply conscious of my own weaknesses. Once this happened, I felt liberated from self-righteous anger and what it leads to – the delusion that I am perfect and everyone else is incompetent and corrupt.”

    Here you are claiming you became “liberated” from “self delusion” and became deeply conscious of your own weaknesses. The delusion that you are PERFECT and everyone else is incompetent(naive) and yet here you are taking the high altar and looking down on everyone else.

  3. Andrew I agree with you on the people’s power cult failure to demonstrate to the citizen on whether they have the capacity to lead the country on the right direction should they win the election come 2021.
    They don’t have a clear campaign manifesto all I hear them shout is removing museveni out of power . Sometimes I ask my self why should we replace a dictator with another bunch of dictators.
    But you support to NRM is clear suspect because NRM has failed Ugandans very badly.
    Thirty three years down the line and ugandans are poorer than before.
    Our healthcare is hailing , no markets for our agricultural products, insecurity is hurting everyone, no jobs for the youth , the vice of graft is now a culture being perpetrated by all the big fish in gov’t and you still recommend NRM.
    I wish only the opposition could form a United well structured opposition then museveni will be force to hung up is boots and Live a peace full life in his village in rwakitura.

  4. 1. People Power is a non starter its just a gathering of people with bad luck; (Akisiraani)
    2. i wish Bobi Wine had just an itch of Andrew’s IQ.
    3.The youth take pride in being young just for the sake it they think that matters like Foreign policy and Fiscal Policy are meant for the old.
    4. Each time Bobi Wine says M7 does not make them speak freely i know its not true Ugandans speak freely untill they form at the corners of their mouth.
    4. Recently there was massive recruitment of LDUs i was shocked that most of the youth had forged PLE and O’level certificates yet these are the same idle youth who want to be appointed as CEO BOU.
    5.The youth of today are a Voluntary National Crisis; Girls as young as 15 years are having sex with old sick men,the boy are high on weed.

  5. Andrew Mwenda is trying to label the “people power movement” as a cult. It is for certain that he gets paid and not well any more to write such articles. This is a tactic used by bullies like Trump that seek to demean people that have a view different from theirs.

    Mwenda is being a bully by assigning a negative connotation label to the people power movement. Does Mwenda know what it takes to put one’s life on the line and risk being a leader of the people power movement?

    Andrew Mwenda is a Pseudo intellectual, who is trying to create some relevance to himself after losing credibility by being a political flip flopper. Mwenda sold his journalistic credentials and self respect a long time ago to the powers to be in Kigali and Kampala. And now has he no self respect and tries hard to conjur some psuedo political analysis which is so lopsided and bears no balanced views.

    Even the powers to be that he sold his soul to are acutely aware that Mwenda no longer has any pull. Mwenda is now just but a laughing stock within the circles in Kigali and Kampala.

    Its time for him to quit!

    • Cults last for 25 years unless there is a sense of right and wrong nrm is a cult as well and the strong sense of right and wrong monstrous to make volition political ly possible .
      En falsus uno en falsus omnibus .

  6. Cults last for 25 years unless there is a sense of right and wrong nrm is a cult as well and the strong sense of right and wrong monstrous to make volition political ly possible .
    En falsus uno en falsus omnibus .

  7. I like mwenda’s persistent labelling of anything/one who disagrees with his views about nrm/ M7 as being intolerant and cult followers. M9 forgets that as he fingerpoints at his so called opponents with one finger, the remaining four are pointing at him! I. e he is the most intolerant cult follower of his god M7, that’s why he prides in himself wearing his wrist watch on the right hand like M7.
    Andrew, remember that the higher the monkey climbs the tree, the more it exposes it’s naked s**thole!

  8. Wycliffee Atwine Muhangi

    We all agree that Uganda is currently handicapped by corruption, but am sure the leaf that people power officials have borrowed is that they aim to put their ethno group to the frontier and tap at the trough. But the controversy ahead is whether they will be able to maintain the economy running or stagnate it amidst their looting.

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