Why the removal of age limits may be the best way to get a peaceful succession in Uganda
THE LAST WORD | Andrew M. Mwenda | There is consensus among Ugandan, African, and even global elites that presidents who rule for long make peaceful succession impossible. This informs the current debate on the attempt by the NRM to amend the constitution and remove the age limit so that President Yoweri Museveni can run for the presidency in 2021. After 31 years in power, allowing Museveni to run in 2021 gives him a chance to extend his rule to 40 years. This turns Uganda from a republic to a monarchy.
The NRM party enjoys a huge majority in parliament and our legislators are broke and indebted. I suspect 90% would desire Museveni to retire. However, over 350 out of 436 MPs will vote for removing the age limit. It is, therefore, naïve to think noise in mass and social media can decouple his plans. And even though over 70% of the country thinks the age limit should be maintained, Museveni will most likely win the 2021 elections.
I think Museveni should retire. This is not because he has ruled for long or because he is old. Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore ruled for long and grew old in office yet retained energy and dynamism. Museveni should retire because, while he commands a lot of power (more than any successor will ever marshal), his policy ideas and management ability cannot take Uganda to another level. Put simply, he has too much power but very little leadership left in him. Uganda’s tragedy is that his opponents are even worse in both management credentials and policy ideas.
But what does his presidency for life portend for our desire for a peaceful succession? Human affairs cannot be subjected to a controlled experiment in a laboratory. So it is difficult to see how our actions today will shape outcomes tomorrow. However, history is a very good guide for us to make a reasonable prediction. Thus, we need to look at the character of NRM and compare it with similar regimes across time and space.
NRM came to power after a protracted armed struggle. Beginning small, it challenged a state funded by donors and backed up by 30,000 Tanzanian troops. Without an international power to bankroll it or a rear base where to hide when the going got tough, it dismantled the state from below. This demonstrated exceptional organisational and leadership ability.
Therefore, the best way to predict the future of NRM and Museveni is to look at other groups that came to power by similar means – in Cuba, Vietnam, China, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, North Korea, Cambodia, former Soviet Union, Angola, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Algeria, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Guinea Bissau. This covers all continents spanning 100 years from the capture of power by the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917 to today. This history provides considerable grist for our intellectual speculation.