By Onghwens Kisangala
Prof. Patrick Rubaihayo was MP for Mbarara Central and Minister for Agriculture and Forestry in the 1981 “ 85 Obote government. He currently trains junior lecturers and supervises post-graduate students at Makerere University’s Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry. He has been around both as an active player and critical observer of Ugandas political trends in the entire post independence era. The Independent’s Onghwens Kisangala asked him what he makes of the present times. Excerpts:
When President Yoweri Museveni came to power in 1986, he promised ” fundamental change, not a mere change of guard” but today under the same man, history is repeating itself and to others,and new records of misrule are being written. What is your take on that?
I was there when President Museveni was making those pronouncements of “fundamental change” at the steps of Parliament. I was standing very close to him that day so I will not speculate. The Museveni of that day is not the Museveni of today. He has been in power for so long and therefore he has to do everything possible to stay in power and die in power. If for any reason he leaves power, it will not be on his own will; it is not possible because now he is scared and he told us that day that the problem of African leaders is overstaying in power and he was not going to do that. As you know, he has done just that and is competing for continental record. So he is an ordinary African leader like the one he was talking against, whom he went to the bush to fight.
So you said President Museveni fears to leave power. Why should he?
Well, he has stepped on many people’s toes. He has put in place many unpopular principles that he may think could follow him. But I think the biggest fear is that he thinks people will follow him when he leaves power. You see he is destroying all the structures of state that had been put in place by the bazungu [colonialists]. In fact even before the colonialists, there were some functioning institutional structures. Today Museveni is the state and the state is Museveni. Now anybody in his right mind should be scared to leave power in such a situation because it will catch up with him. The other is colossal corruption that he has superintended deliberately; also where individuals have committed crimes and he protects them. You remember the case where this soldier at Bulange shot and killed people amidst a crowd in broad daylight and then they turn and say there is no sufficient evidence to prosecute him.
How do you justify the claim that the President is the state and the state is him?
Oh, if he has destroyed all the structures and he has become the structures then what is that? Can you imagine even something like putting up a market you find people saying they have to go to Museveni for the final resolution; he is the giver and taker of everything. A cabinet that does not decide on anything but Museveni being the Minister for everything makes all the decisions. So what is that if not Museveni being the state?
The situation you are describing paints a grim picture of the future of the country, but how much more do you think Ugandans are going to be willing to take this?
Well, Ugandans have no choice because what Museveni did first time when he got to power was to remove the co-operatives. That has left the larger sections of Ugandans getting impoverished. They went into the demonetisation where a few people acquired all the money. Then came corruption. They are all corrupt, especially at the top. In the countryside, people are wretchedly poor. So what do you do when you are very poor? You have no chance. When anything like an election comes, they give you a few shillings. Besides, they have the coercive capacity and will to intimidate people. You can’t do anything when you are poor.
But looking at the 1996, 2001 and 2006 election results, it is apparent Museveni’s popularity in on the wane. Isn’t their a chance now to get him out of power through a democratic exercise?
I am sure many people are going to run for president and he may prepare for the second round of elections as none of them may score the required 50+1 percent. It is in the second round that he will do anything to find victory. You have heard people, including the army commander, saying that they are not going to hand over power to anybody. Well, they may also change the constitution, you know we have the most educated Parliament in the world; no other Parliament“ not even the American Congress “ has that academic limit of ‘at least’™ level or its equivalent but you also know that they are the most impoverished so any little money can make them do anything.
Where is Uganda headed in that respect?
You know when any President over stays in power, it turns out very problematic for the country. I personally was there in Somalia in 1982 as an observer minister from Uganda, trying to find out what was the problem in that country that was threatening to tear it apart. What I and the team saw was that the system was not working, the government was about one man “ the President and many of his cronies were busy positioning themselves for succession any time. The President was ousted from power in 1991 and ever since, there has never been a government there to date. This, unfortunately, is what I see befalling Uganda. Because I don’t expect him to leave power willingly, God forbid anything happens now and you hear that the guy has ‘packed’ then what? Someone may also come to do peace-keeping in Uganda tomorrow.