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THE LAST WORD: Why Museveni will rule for life

How, barring a major surprise, the current power structure in Uganda makes lifting presidential age limit inevitable

By Andrew M. Mwenda

Those debating the succession issue in Uganda should refer to Rome in 44BC. Rome had been a republic since 509BC when the patricians rose in revolt and deposed King Tarquinius Superbus. For nearly five centuries monarchy was taboo in Rome. Whenever anyone exhibited signs of strong leadership, critics would, to discredit him, accuse him of trying to make himself king.

On March 15 that year, senatorial conspirators of the Roman Republic led by Marcus Brutus assassinated Julius Caesar a powerful general and politician accusing him of trying to make himself king.

But anyone who has read the history of Republican Rome, most especially from the end of the Third Punic War in 146BC to Caesar’s death, would see that the republic was unsustainable. Leadership by a divided senate had caused Rome to be engulfed in civil war for a century. Killing Caesar could slow but not stop the slide towards monarchy. There were underlying factors necessitating strong centralised leadership. That is why 17 years after Caesar’s assassination, Rome actually succumbed to monarchy when Caesar’s grandnephew and heir, Octavian, declared a Principate in 27BC, marking the beginning of the Roman Empire.

Yet Octavian never declared himself king or emperor although that is what he became. Initially, he only persuaded the senate to name him princeps senatus, which meant “first on the roll call of the senate”. It soon took on the dignity of a prince. In fact in 27BC he asked to be relieved of all his offices and powers and be allowed to retire to private life. Instead the senate begged him to stay and confirmed his princely title for life. Later it conferred upon him the religious title, Augustus, which meant  “Devine Augmentor” or “provider”, the name by which he came to be known in history.

Octavian (or now Augustus Caesar) understood both Rome’s hostility to and need for monarchy. Thus, he eased the death of the republic by keeping republican rituals and forms. He professed to be only chairman of the senate but no measure was proposed to it except at his instigation or consent. He ran for the consulate 13 times, campaigned and even paid for votes like the rest. Consuls and tribunes continued to be elected but actual power resided in him. The only important precedent he violated was to keep three cohorts of soldiers in the city and six near it to ensure his rule. After over a century of civil strife, Romans accepted this barely disguised monarchy with the humility of experience.

There is some similarity between Rome in the first century BC and Uganda at the end of the 20th Century and between President Yoweri Museveni and Augustus. Museveni campaigns in elections, spending oodles of money; his handlers stuff ballot boxes, beat up his opponents and even on occasion kill a few. Yet Museveni does not derive his power from these elections or the constitution. His power comes from his role in leading the NRA/M to victory through military conquest. Elections and constitutional rituals are only instruments to legitimise this power.

Consequently, this structure of power has led inevitably to a presidency for life. Yet Museveni does not seem to have planned it this way. Insiders say that when the NRA/M High Command met at Lubiri in January 1986 after capturing Kampala, Museveni insisted he preferred to be president for only two years of a transitional period, after which there would be peaceful succession. He was forced to accept four years. Yet when the four years expired, then National Political Commissar, Dr. Kizza Besigye, led a team to draft a resolution to amend the constitution to extend NRM’s life, and therefore Museveni’s presidency, for another five years.


  1. God Mwenda you really​ need to think twice before writing an opinion termed the last word as if you are God

  2. The problem here is that Museveni could face defeat in an election if he stands in 2021. The age limit can go, it’s not very important now.

  3. Fair assessment if you ask me. if you have read “in the footsteps of Mr Kurtz: Living on the brink of disaster in the Congo” i think its clear. The leopard lead the hyenas to the kill, and now he is surrounded by Hyenas who are only content to continue eating, and pretending that they are his subordinates. The fact is if the hyenas decided they could simply put him on the menu.

  4. These are just other irrelevant pieces of anecdotal evidence. There are so many countless instances when the [genuine] leader of the movement hands over power peacefully. The US is one such historically recent successful example. You needn’t have to go that far back in history to make such flimsy historically remote connections and claims. Relying solely on history for answers may result in a lose of an eye but looking too much to history for answers could result in a lose of both eyes. On top of the obvious ethnic divisions and because of it Ugandan politics got too militarized, and largely because Uganda never fought a hot war as many other countries did, to gain independence. It became independent because direct European colonialism was replaced by more preferred indirect modes of domination (mainly economic). Museveni is hanging onto power through coercive forces’ domination (he hand picks only easily pliant boys for support, never mind Besigye’s unusual doggedness) but that is bound to unravel soon or later. This has been possible because after long years of military civil wars and pogroms the country was exhausted. But you would be reading too much into history to think that this is going to last forever. Military regimes by their very nature are notoriously, precariously unstable.

  5. There are many good governance practices from the 1st world that can not work in Africa coz of the social,economic and political complexes.Up to now Africa is still staggering with democracy.

    Term limits has never been Africa’s biggest challenge and they know it;When you observe political trends in African countries,you will discover that once one challenge has been resolved another pops up e.g Ug ‘s main threat in the 70’s and 80’s was war no one thought that AIDS and poverty would give the govt headache in Nigeria, no body knew oil would be its blessing and curse;In South Sudan they thought gaining independence would resolve their problems; Zimbabwe has been politically stable for so long all her problems were caused by the West that was against them giving out white owned farms to the blacks this resulted to imposing a trade embargo if there was no trade embargo imposed on Zimbabwe,they would be doing well economically not Mugabe’s overstay in power..

    In the developed nations bad practices like slavery,social discrimination did not prevent the likes of Henry Ford from establishing Ford industry in USA what is stopping Africans from developing other than the usual song of our leaders are the obstacle…..

    Museveni is ahead of Uganda n terms of ideas recently; when he met the Prime Minister of Ethiopia he proposed construction of a railway line linking Karamoja to Ethiopia (This made me cry) we can even have electric trains in that area after all we have some many power projects being constructed besides that trains don’t need alot of land people think the terran will be a problem what are Engineering students studyiing at MUK? From England to Scotland it takes about 5 hours by train.

    Do you know that wheat is grown in Kapchrowa and the Ethiopians love eating cereals and chapati alot this would be another export for the country then oil would be another.

  6. Mr, so what is your point.Are you trying to prepare us for that or? I don’t see the moral in this.when will we stop relying on history?

    Americans, French and our Gambia have done it.We can do it too.

  7. But how could one possibly try to force an issue or argue against a people’s love for their leader? M7 is pro people, what else would a country need…the Donald Trumps of this world? He is loved! If M7 stood again in 2021 I and many other ‘blind’ ones would vote him as long as he carries forward the same ideals. Young or rather politically immature individuals or ‘leaders’ are greedy, proud, self-centered and tend not to care much for others. They thrive on creating illusions with word that aren’t. The Most vocal/Loud or educated aren’t necessarily right. Let him rule, after all, none lives forever. Who hasn’t benefited from this regime?

  8. Good analysis, I love your skinning of issues. Good or bad leaders are judged decades or centuries after their rule, and time is a constant factor in all aspects. Let’s watch space.

  9. museveni even if he loses elections he can still come back with his’s not easy to remove someone who came with a gun by elections.

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