Why NRM doesn’t want to talk about it
Kampala, Uganda | HAGGAI MATSIKO | In 2021 when Uganda goes to the next polls, President Yoweri Museveni will be 77 years. At the next polls in 2026, he will be 82 years and possibly one of the oldest state leaders in Africa and the world.
Despite such clear indicators, the President’s ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party appears determined not to talk about succession or life without Museveni at the helm of the party and country.
“There are no discussions in the party on who should succeed President Yoweri Museveni,” said the NRM Secretary General Kasule Lumumba recently when cornered by journalists.
“The NRM Central Executive Committee-CEC; the top party organ has never discussed succession,” she added. The question is why?
According to politicians from opposition parties, it could be that the NRM is planning to spring a surprise constitutional amendment as early as this April.
While Museveni does not appear to have serious challengers ahead of 2021 and 2026 appears far off, insiders say he is already planning ahead.
The plan, according to those knowledgeable about the inner workings of the NRM, Museveni’s handlers intend to eliminate presidential elections and instead have the party with the majority in parliament select the president. The idea is to save an ageing Museveni from a grueling election campaign.
With a near-70 percent majority, the ruling NRM and its chairman Museveni would be the immediate beneficiaries. The ruling party would easily retain power and Museveni who by that time will be too old to campaign would just stay in office.
But when opposition politicians publicly spoke about such plans in January this year, the NRM dismissed the same as mere speculation. Of course such NRM denials do not mean it will not happen. The plot to remove the constitutional 75-year age-limit to allow President Museveni to run again started as a rumour, was dismissed by NRM, but was eventually pushed through parliament by Museveni.
It is not unusual for ageing leaders to adopt coping strategies that ensure they stay in power.
The 93-year old Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain in April 2018 allowed her son and heir apparent, Prince Charles, to take over the grueling role of leader of the Commonwealth.
Africa’s oldest leader, 87-year old President Paul Biya of Cameroon has been dubbed an “absentee president” because he rules through the prime minister and spends most of his time in Geneva, Switzerland.
The oldest person to ever head an African state, the late President Hastings Kamuzu Banda, before he was removed in 1994 at the age of 97 had left the country in the hands of his companion Cecilia Tamanda Kadzamira.
Museveni is comparatively young. But the cross country electoral campaign, which is already underway – two years before the election in 2021 – can be draining.
As a result, even though President Museveni still appears stronger than his challengers, observers say that more than ever a conversation about his successor –meaning someone clearly designated from within his circle succeeding him or a transition – meaning a switch to any leader other than him – is unavoidable and must be planned for.
In 2017, Workers MP Sam Lyomoki even came up with “The Museveni Succession, Transition and Immunities Bill, 2017” saying he wanted to ensure smooth transition of power.
This planning is critical because Uganda does not appear to even have a proper succession plan in case of an emergency. The constitutional provisions have never been tested and the only precedents are too diabolical to think about – another military takeover.
Between Muhoozi and Salim Saleh
In the past, whenever talk of succession or transition has arisen, political punditry has focused on four areas; members of Museveni’s family, top members of the NRM party, top generals in the army, and finally an opposition politician.
Currently, however, talk of succession or transition is easily dismissed because Museveni either appears too strong or the would-be successors appear too weak.
Within President Museveni’s family, possible successors have been seen as his wife, Janet Museveni, son Lt.Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, and brother Gen. Caleb Akandwanaho aka Salim Saleh.
By 2026, however, Janet and Saleh will be 77 and 66 years respectively. While they are all popular amongst supporters of the ruling party; a combination of the Museveni brand fatigue (he will have spent over 40 years in power) and their age could make either Janet Museveni or Salim Saleh hard to sell as successors.
Gen. Kainerugaba, who will be 51-years old, is a different proposition. He could also face the challenge of the Museveni fatigue but he would offer youthful hope. He could also have the backing of the army.