On May 4, President Yoweri Museveni held an emotional last meeting with his outgoing cabinet at State House Entebbe. Its high point was a group portrait taken on the main front porch. The photo exposes, in an amazing way, the changes coming in Museveni’s next government.
As the photo has been analysed over and over again, three common motifs have emerged. The most easily noticed but least important is that Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda should have sat on Museveni’s right after Vice President Edward Sekandi to reflect their constitutional hierarchy.
The other is that the only historicals in it – Jim Muhwezi and Kahinda Otafiire stand desperately directly behind Museveni, as if fearing that they could be swept out of it at any moment. The campaign period is over and none of the ministers wore yellow, the NRM party colour, except Sam Kutesa who also stood behind Museveni like his ADC and Muhwezi who wore yellow ties. Finally, that the average age of the front row where Museveni is seated with six others – his wife, Janet Museveni, Ssekandi, Rugunda and his three deputies – Kirunda Kivejinja, Moses Ali, and Henry Kajura – is 75 years. Museveni who is 71-years old is among the younger half; which includes his wife at 68 years and Rugunda at 69 years.
Although Museveni, whose swearing in on May 12 for the fifth five-year term is being heralded as a mark of his political invincibility,he faces a tough next term as it is clear that over 80% of the faces in this last portrait will not be in the 2021 portrait.Selecting a brand new team will not be easy for a President who often favours continuity over change when selecting his cabinet. That is why Museveni’s next cabinet is being anxiously awaited.Who is replacing Ssekandi, Kivejinja, Moses Ali, and Henry Kajuraon the front row?
Even if he wanted to, Museveni can no longer cling to his aging comrades. The age spots and wrinkles on their faces, the dyed hair and wigs, and the creased brows show how long Museveni has been in power since he tookthe oath of president for the first time on the steps of the Parliament building on January 29, 1986.
Back then, the 42-year old Museveni was mobbed by enthusiastic crowds and was glorified for freeing Uganda from autocratic regimes. The revolutionary fervour of his ragtag army, which had just overrun Kampala, made the crowd believe Museveni when he vowed to end dictatorship, wipe out corruption and also when he took a swipe at African leaders who overstay in power and blamed them for Africa’s myriad problems.
Today, after 30 years in power, Museveni has stayed in power three times longer than Idi Amin, who had ruled longest before him. Corruption is rife. Police brutality is being compared to the era of Amin as they face off with an indefatigable opposition. Museveni also has to battle with a struggling economy, succession battles, and the occasional standoffs with a money-minded parliament and schisms within his ruling NRM party.
The designate Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, and her deputy, Jacob Oulanyah, have clashed openly and are likely to have a tense working relationship. The NRM Secretary General Justin Lumumba Kasule is under pressure for alleged poor performance of her job and the embattled Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) Lord Mayor, EriasLukwago, after winning an overwhelming re-election, is likely to remain a pin in KCCA Executive Director, Jennifer Musisi’s seat.
Amidst the whirling challenges, Musevenihides behind mazes of bullet-proof glass when addressing gatherings and ensures that the police and army block his opponents from leaving their homes or holding meetings. He is under scrutiny from Ugandans and the international community, especially since his election victory remains heavily disputed by his opponents and discredited by international observers.
Lukwago says that all signs indicate that “Museveni’s time could be up soon”.
“I am yet to come to terms with the fact that Museveni is going to be in charge of the state for the next five years; it is one thing I am yet to recover from.
As Museveni extends his 30 year rule over Uganda, he will have to contend with growing opposition forces and intense pressure for his government to deliver
“Museveni has created a monstrous situation where he approaches everything with a bush war mentality,” he said.
He predicts that Museveni’s new term will be a very difficult one.
He said Museveni’s contemporaries have left the stage, and more fallouts with the remaining ones will eventually take a toll on him. “He is now dealing with these young ones who are excited about power, they are just reckless and eventually they will be forced to jump ship.
“Many of his comrades have deserted him. The Johnny-come-lately like Tumwebaze, Todwong, Anite do not know what they are doing. They have no respect for people like Kyaligonza, Amama, Besigye, Otafiire. I don’t see any strong ally he has, I doubt Kayihura is even comfortable with him, it is only his son Muhoozi and his brother Gen, Saleh who are with him 100%.”
“We are likely to see the family rule take centre stage. The likes of Rwabogo and Karugire are going to come out of the background; Sam Kuteesa will play a central role in this country”.
The next scheduled presidential election in 2021 will find Museveni at the ripe old age of 76, not only will he have surpassed the constitutional age limit for which one can stand for President (unless –as expected- the constitution is amended to remove this bar) but he will be also be slowing down in terms of activity even by his own admission in an earlier interview about reaching the age of 75. It is from here that the complex question of who succeeds Museveni will come into sharp focus.
“NRM has no idea who is going to succeed Museveni,” says renowned political scholar and researcher, Dr Frederick Golooba Mutebi. He adds, however, that as a country, Ugandans need to seriously think about who will succeed Museveni and that the NRM leaders have not discussed the succession issue at length.
The succession issue culminated into the epic fallout between Museveni and long-time comrade, former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi who was also NRM secretary-general. Mbabazi accused Museveni of reneging on an agreement to hand power to him in 2016. After the fallout, Mbabazi contested against Museveni in the presidential election and lost dismally.
The fires around this subject have in the past been fuelled by people like Gen. David Sejusa aka Tinyefuza, the maverick UPDF general who insists Museveni is plotting to have his son, Brig. Muhoozi, succeed him. Sejusa even claimed that Museveni had hatched a plot to eliminate all opposition to Muhoozi’s succession.
Although Brig. Muhoozi has been mentioned a lot in the perceived scheme of him succeeding his father, he has not commented on it publicly. Museveni, meanwhile, reacted sharply and sent Sejusa scampering into exile in Britain three years ago.
But Golooba says such handling of the succession issue tends to blow it out by the media and international community.
“For Museveni, it is not an issue. I think it is something he will eventually have to work on because he will have to go,” says Golooba.