Why Museveni is not the cause of the problems of Uganda but rather their product and reflection
THE LAST WORD | Andrew M. Mwenda | Last week, I accepted to join a whatsapp chat group of Ugandan “intellectuals”. The administrator told me that it discusses “serious issues.” I therefore thought here was an opportunity to engage Ugandan intellectuals on the challenges facing our country and continent. Uganda’s ills are closely interconnected with Africa’s. Indeed the whole of sub Sahara Africa suffers a similar development predicament – a common condition of poverty and poor public goods and services. So discussing any one country’s problems in isolation does not provide a clear picture.
But alas, except for a few people, perhaps five or six, the rest of the posts were the usual pedestrian arguments. Our “intellectuals” explain every problem of Uganda as caused by President Yoweri Museveni. For activists and partisan political warriors, this is understandable. In politics, it makes sense to identify a villain in form of a person to whom one can attribute all the problems to. This is because the aim is clear – to get rid of him. Not for intellectuals.
For example, the problems that bedevil Uganda are common across most nations on our continent and Museveni is not president in all of them. Besides, a lot of the criticisms we make of Museveni – his penchant for militarism, the gross corruption and incompetence of his government, his nepotism and tribalism, suppression of his opponents, and his desire to cling to power till death etc. are the very ills he used to accuse our former presidents Milton Obote and Idi Amin and other African leaders of. How and why did he come to repeat the very ills he saw in his predecessors?
It is not only Museveni. Any one of the aforementioned problems has been recurrent in almost every government over the last six decades. Yet since independence our continent has had 278 heads of state and government in 46 nations. Governments have come and gone; political systems have changed from civilian to military rule, single party to multi party or no party, one strong man to collegial governments, revolutionary armed struggle to popular insurrectionist governments. But these problems have remained.
Almost every African leader – whether democratically elected politician, nationalist leader for independence, revolutionary hero of an armed struggle, successful civil insurrectionist, military coup maker or peaceful successor to the death of an incumbent president – has come to power promising to fight and end these problems. At the risk of being accused of painting Africa with too broad a brush, each one of our leaders, with a few exceptions (which are themselves contested by their opponents), has ruled and left power being accused of practicing them.
Therefore, the problem must be much more than the character or competences of individual presidents, the nature of the political system or the way leaders come or leave power and the length they serve. If only 20% of our countries for 20% of the time were characterised by these ills, we would say our continent has a political problem. If 30-40% of our countries for 30-40% of the time suffered from these ills, we could say Africa has a serious political crisis.
But when 85-95% of the nations for 85-95% of the time are burdened by corruption, tribalism, dictatorship, incompetence, nepotism etc. and when the problems remain persistent in spite of 278 changes of presidents, and when these problems seem impervious to changing political systems, then the causes must have deep structural roots.