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Museveni, theory and practice

By Ian Ortega

To love the President, we must close one eye to his failures and open both to his achievements

Every person has a utopia that they create in their minds. Deep in their minds though, it doesn’t seem one, it seems achievable. Yet, when the winds of reality collide with the ideals of the mind, there must be a winner, time and again, that winner is reality. And in that one moment, the walls of the utopia come crashing and the gap between theory and practice becomes inevitable.

President Museveni has been greatly criticized for turning back on his word as spoken in the famous inauguration speech of 1986. He spoke of ‘a fundamental change and not a mere change of guard.’ In the same speech however, he made allowances for errors whether knowingly or unknowingly. “Of course, we may have some bad elements amongst us – this is because we are part and parcel to Ugandan society as it is, and we may, therefore, not be able completely to guard against infiltration by wrong elements,” said the young president.

To become a President requires a fairly different tact as to keep that presidency. Surely, to earn something may prove much easier than to keep that very thing. For the past decades, Museveni has found himself at the crossroads of theory and practice. He knows how to turn around Uganda in the abstract yet the implementation of the ideal has proved to be quite different.


I always subscribed to the school of thought that judged leaders on the promises they made. And, Museveni didn’t survive the torch that I lit upon every leader. My own life however generated points of reflection. I began to recognize differences between the things I said and the things I did. It was a constant struggle to align my audio to my video. Thus, the gap between theory and practice is something that is inescapable. But at what point does the gap become too wide? How wide is wide enough and how narrow should this gap be?

History dictates in its humble confines that the wider this gap gets, the further away we begin to fall into the yawning sinkhole of hypocrisy. We could also get to a point where the gap becomes unbridgeable, where we make a complete turn on every word we said. Observing the life of Museveni, we are forced to pose a moral question; “at what point does the hypocrite label get attached?”

To understand Museveni, we ought to look and make a parallel comparison as that of Plutarch when he compared Greek and Roman leaders. One interesting subject that may offer an understanding of Museveni is the philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca. His life could provide us with some answers.

Seneca remains a controversial figure. Quintus Curtius writes about the philosopher: “He hailed the virtues of a simple life, yet collected mansions and mountains of money. He advised the quiet of country living, yet craved the intrigue of the palace. He advised sexual restraint, yet took full advantage of his position for his extramarital gratification. He praised honesty and sincerity, yet flattered the emperor Nero and his cronies as often as he could.”

Once again, let’s take an excerpt from the Museveni speech of 1986, at the point where he makes a case for unity. “Our Movement is strong because it has solved the problem of division: we do not tolerate religious and tribal divisions in our Movement, or divisions along party lines such as UPC, DP, UPM and the like.” When Museveni criticized Obote for nepotism, it was only a matter of time before he fell in the same trap. Today, the top generals are from one region, the top CEOs, a recent study shows, are also from one region. The equal sharing of the national cake that Museveni visualized in his utopia has not materialized. NRM as a party has not been spared by the divisions. The only unifying factor in the party, for many, is not the ideology, but the man himself.

How then does Museveni score on his ideals? Has he crossed the gap to a point where it is the irreconcilable of the irreconcilable? His 1986 speech was fat on rhetoric and malnourished when it came to content. In verse and prose, strong it was, in content and ideology, it stood at a lower bound to judge him by it. Kevin Aliro in 2004 offered a treatise on what would happen if Museveni went ahead and made a bid for a third term. He wrote; “after 25 years (in 2011), Museveni would have made so many mistakes. After 30 years (2016), Museveni would want to stay president for life because his cumulative mistakes would be unforgivable.” The sole candidature is an immiscible idea to the Museveni who summarized Africa’s problem as leaders who overstayed in power.

It’s interesting for Historians and philosophers alike to make an analysis of Museveni, his ideals and his reality. To judge Museveni by his negative traits would be a stone too big for him to carry. To his balance sheet, his positive traits must be added, and complemented by the country he inherited. Then another moral question would arise; “did the situation cause him to do the things he did? Did he underestimate his problem and overestimate his capacity?”

Overall, we can make one conclusion. All men are figures of contradiction. It is only a matter of degree. Those who seek and serve power inevitably find themselves forced to make daily compromises that erode their ideals. Undoubtedly, Museveni falls short of his professed doctrines. Yet which of us can claim to be any better? As he matures to his life presidency, we begin to recognize a part of ourselves in his life, his faults a magnified version of our own vices as the Ugandan society.

The life of Museveni, the life of Obote, and the life of most African leaders gives us a lesson. It should be imagined that all men who occupy positions of power feel some sort of inner conflict. To translate high ideals into practice: is this not the most difficult thing in history? How many leaders have been able to do this?

Above all, we genuinely should hope that Museveni himself can see the divergence, recognize that every ill that he diagnosed in the life of Obote, he can as well diagnose in his own. All that Obote did was to hold up a mirror unto Museveni to get a reflection of his. Life is not black and white. We will fall short of our ideals more often than we will attain them. What matters is a consistent, sincere effort. The gap between theory and practice is only bearable by our honest attempts to bridge the intervening space. To ask for more would be to set ourselves up for failure. If we accept man as he is, and not as he ought to be, then we must love Museveni. To love Museveni, we must close one eye to his failures, and open both to his achievements. And for Museveni to love us back, he ought to close both eyes to his achievements and widely open them to his failures. Then perhaps, we will awaken to the fact that not even 100 more years will enable him to achieve his utopia. He will then realize that the gap gets wider as the years accumulate, the only way to inhibit the growth of that curve is to pass on the mantles of power.

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