THE LAST WORD: Why Museveni said he is not a servant of anyone and who may have been the target of his statement
By Andrew M. Mwenda
On the occasion marking 31 years in power, President Yoweri Museveni told the nation that he is not a servant of the people but a freedom fighter who works for himself and his beliefs. This let loose the dogs of social media war. But the debate focused on the message and the messenger but not the purpose. It seems to me Museveni intended his message as presented. We can speculate about whom (or even what) he had in mind when he made that statement. But it shows the dangers of speaking off script especially when the target of your message is not your audience.
Opposition leader Kizza Besigye has always touted the president saying he is a servant of the people. There is something about Besigye that rubs Museveni the wrong way. I would like to think, therefore, that the president’s message could have been intended for Besigye. Many analysts are likely to argue that in the fight against Besigye, Museveni has lost his sense of public relations and thereby handed his critics a rope with which to hang him.
For me, the question is: why does Museveni feel confident to speak like that especially given its political costs? Some may think he feels comfortable because he controls the armed forces. But the miss a point; Museveni has survived in power because he never feels confident in it. He is always willing to make the most extreme political compromises and avoid antagonising even weak social groups in order to protect his position. He strikes me as politically unsure of his support base, a factor that makes him a difficult enemy to beat.
It is, therefore, possible that Museveni had a different intention in mind. He may have wanted to reinforce Besigye’s narrative that he (Museveni) is in power by force of arms, not the will of the people. This means voting in an election is a waste of time. If this was Museveni’s strategy, many voters will be discouraged from going to the polls. Museveni’s best chance at winning is a low voter turnout. Therefore, it works for Museveni to reinforce Besigye’s narrative.
Wrong servant: President Yoweri Museveni’s message to the nation that he is not a servant of the people but a freedom fighter who works for himself and his beliefs should be scrutinised for purpose – and not focus on the message itself or the messenger as has happened on social media.
Many admirers of Museveni and Besigye may never realise that the political fortunes of these two leaders depend largely on each other’s actions. Holding all factors constant, it would be hard for Besigye to gather momentum without Museveni in the race. It would equally be hard for Museveni to rally his base without Besigye as his opponent. This is the main reason why Uganda political landscape is polarised around two axes that are impregnable.
On one side are Museveni and NRM. Over the years, they have graduated into a mature and fairly tolerant political force but equally an extremely corrupt and incoherent one. They are no longer held together by a shared ideology or policy preferences but by power and the social privileges and material rewards that come with it, undergirded by the armed forces. This has made them tolerable but not loved.
On the other hand is the Besigye faction of the FDC. It began in 2000 when Besigye broke away from the NRM as a centrist democratic force initially seeking to bring Ugandans of divergent views around a common purpose of democratic reform. It has transformed into an extremely intolerant radical faction built around the cult-leadership of Besigye. Compared to the NRM, it behaves like a millenarian cult, loved by its base but intolerable to everyone else. It is now a bigger threat to democracy than NRM.