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After Moi, who’ll Museveni invite?

By Andrew M. Mwenda

Last month, the NRM National Executive Committee (NEC) passed a resolution adopting its everlasting leader Yoweri Museveni as the party’s presidential candidate for 2011 elections. The resolution was passed without debate. When two MPs challenged it, they were booed to silence!

Museveni is afraid of an internal democratic process within the NRM. One would think the president could be elected in a free and fair election to lead his party. Why does he exhibit such paranoia? He understands that his leadership of NRM is based on corruption, manipulation and deceit. Paranoia is an inevitable byproduct of illegitimate power.

Secondly, NEC met at the official residence of the president ‘ State House. By using official facilities for his party functions, Museveni is actually abusing his office ‘ an impeachable offence. Thus, the ruling party and the state have been fused. There is also no distinction between Museveni the man and Museveni the president i.e. the state has been personalised.

To confirm the slide towards Africa’s worst leadership traditions, Museveni invited former Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi as chief guest at celebrations to mark his 24 years in power on January 26. Moi was honoured with a medal as a freedom fighter. In return, Moi ‘campaigned’ for Museveni to remain in office. Gone are the days when the honoured guests at such a function were people like Thomas Sankara or Nelson Mandela.

Fate, Grace Ibingira once said, is a great joker; it always laughs last. For had they not died, we should have expected ‘statesmen’ like Omar Bongo of Gabon and Nansingbe Eyadema of Togo ‘ the two iconic dinosaur presidents of Africa ‘ as chief guests to be honoured with medals as pan-African freedom fighters. They have replaced Patrice Lumumba and Kwame Nkrumah as the inspiration behind the NRM revolution.

Since Moi’s appearance at NRM day, I have received many calls from NRM lovers and haters alike. Everyone is shocked (although no one sounds surprised) at the symbolism of it all; a discredited African dinosaur posing as the inspiration to the NRM! People ask: How did we come to this? Has Museveni changed or is the real him coming out?

The answer is as complex as the character of the man. Museveni seems to have a split personality: There is Museveni the freedom fighter; he is an internationalist, public spirited, intellectually minded and believes in democracy and development. But there is also Museveni the reactionary ‘ he is selfish, power hungry, a liar and corrupt. These two personalities live side by side. Demands of the moment appeal to either of these traits.

The euphoria of liberation in the late 1980s and the early 1990s gave Museveni overwhelming legitimacy and therefore appealed to his progressive traits. This produced Museveni the reformer and the enlightened leader. But the negative traits of his personality ‘ cunning, egotism; the monomania to rule and dominate others remained.

It is here that we can trace the roots of Uganda’s current agony. For throughout this time, the reactionary part of Museveni did not rest; it manifested itself in areas where his legitimacy was questioned. The Acholi refused to buy into his story and were thus subjected to constant war and concentration camps where rape and murder were routine.

Yet for most Ugandans, the late 1980s to the mid 1990s were a period when circumstances allowed Museveni the hero to flourish and thus tended to disguise his reactionary persona. But these negative traits continued to manifest themselves in many instances and were inevitably destined to undermine his achievements and his freedom-fighting credentials.

Thus, as we moved towards the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections, Museveni’s personal paranoia for electoral competition became apparent. Where he once claimed to stand on principle, now he was willing to make any compromise, even sup with the devil to win votes. This immediately revealed the power-hungry animal in him thus rendering hollow his claims and pretentions about a possible retirement.

For example, he short-circuited the constitution making process by restoring the monarchy in Buganda. Why not wait for the constitution-making process to settle such a vital issue? He was caught flat-footed when some army generals from Ankole crowned Prince John Barigye as king. His tendency to rule by decree was exposed when State House usurped the powers of the courts and declared the coronation null and void.

When the Constituent Assembly began discussing Buganda’s demands for federo, Museveni got scared. Federo meant creating an alternative centre of power. But the desire for absolute power in Museveni could not tolerate such an arrangement. So he began secret negotiations with UPC for an alliance against Mengo. Part of the deal was that Cecelia Ogwal would become vice president ‘ the VP offer being person to holder. Although UPC was willing to accept the deal, Ogwal refused the VP job. The deal collapsed!

As the 1996 presidential elections came and passed, Museveni’s reactionary traits became more manifest. Corruption in privatisation and government procurement became endemic. In the case of the privatisation of UCB and the purchase of junk military helicopters, he was personally involved. His son Muhoozi Keinerugaba began recruiting soldiers secretly. There were many question marks about these developments. The layers of deceit began to unravel.

These developments led senior NRM leaders to begin discussing how to re-direct the revolution. Kizza Besigye was a product of this internal debate. Yet, Museveni was already irrevocably depraved. There was therefore no way to initiate a new agenda for reform from within. However, all these occurrences did not completely extinguish his past show of public spiritedness and intellectual obsession with modernisation.

It is this redeeming part of him that makes Museveni still look better than Moi. Museveni retains some charm and moral credibility among those who are ignorant. On NRM day, he needed a devil beside him to exhibit whatever good is left in him. Imagine if he had invited Nelson Mandela or Paul Kagame, he would have looked the beleaguered African dinosaur he is.

As Museveni sinks further into the morass of corruption, nepotism and tribalism, even Moi ‘ who accepted a peaceful and graceful exit from power ‘ may begin to look better. Then, Museveni will invite Robert Mugabe for NRM day.

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