By Andrew M. Mwenda
How the renegade general’s antics demonstrate the poverty of opposition politics in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa
The return of Gen. David Sejusa aka Tinyefuza from exile in the United Kingdom on Dec.14 was sudden and, for most people, unexpected. Tinyefuza has been a consistent disappointment to those who believe he is worth anything. He blows hot and cold. He has a habit of raising hopes and then disappointing them at the very last minute. I admit that each time I have talked to him; I have found him a very intelligent, articulate, and thoughtful intellectual. However, it seems that all too often, his emotions overpower his reason. Consequently, his most important actions, even when driven by legitimate grievances and reasons, are influenced by a reckless impulse, a factor that renders them unproductive or even counterproductive.
For example, when he left Uganda last year, he made a series of outlandish outbursts and accusations against the government. At one time I wondered whether he was sane. How can a former chief of intelligence reveal the dirty laundry of the government he served so easily and lightly? Perhaps this was the reason the UK authorities denied him asylum; they recognised that he is not reliable.
In his bombast, Tinyefuza reflected a lack of political maturity. Street pundits and mobs on social media can cheer you for such reckless statements (even if they were true) but they reflect a lack of leadership qualities. If you were part of a government and occupying a strategic office, you don’t go yapping about its secrets so loosely. You behave like a man who is thrown out by a pretty girl he has dated for seven years and begins accusing her of having a smelly mouth. But why did he stay so long with her?
There are many people in NRM who held sensitive jobs and later either disagreed with Museveni (or the system generally) or found themselves at the wrong end of his/its stick – Eriya Kategaya, Amama Mushega, Jim Muhwezi, Mugisha Muntu and today Amama Mbabazi. But they have not gone out there shouting and revealing all the secrets they knew. This has made me realise that Uganda has many mature leaders. It is a basic mark of maturity that when you serve a system and fall out with it, you don’t go shouting its secrets on the streets. If you disagree with a system, state the reasons for the disagreement and resign. You do not carry out all its evils deeds and later denounce them.
Tinyefuza’s wild allegations provided considerable grist to the anti-Museveni mill. This was especially so among the mindless, angry lot on social media. These frustrated and angry anti Musevenists are as much a source of opposition strength as they are its major weakness. For them, their agenda is simple – Museveni agende (Museveni must go) regardless of the quality of the alternative. I have argued this point for 14 years – that the “main aim” of the opposition cannot simply be regime change. That is too narrow an objective around which to inspire people to sacrifice for change.
Thus, when Tinyefuza went to London, he began to speak with bombast about his plans to “liberate” Uganda by all means including armed warfare. I was shocked but not surprised by how much sections of our chattering classes began to cling onto his rhetoric like a drowning man clings unto a straw. Uganda’s mindless opposition in the diaspora embraced him and all of a sudden he became their hero. Now he has returned to Uganda, I am sure with a rich bag of information about their activities or lack of them, which he will gladly hand over to the state for its future operations.
Tinyefuza’s behavior is indicative of the crisis Uganda and most of Sub Sahara Africa (SSA) generally faces especially in the struggle for improved governance. How do you structure an opposition message and back it with organisation to appeal to the masses? How can such a movement capture power and produce real change rather than reproduce the same politics of patronage? One movement that achieved this has been the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). This is because their cause – reclaiming citizenship for Tutsi refugees – was a powerful mobilising agenda. Museveni and his NRM failed to bring about a fundamental change in the governance of Uganda precisely because they lacked a core organising ideology. Many, not all of them, had only personal animosity towards Milton Obote and ethnic hatred for northerners.
I know it is easy for me to sit in my study at home or office and criticise opposition leaders for their inability to craft an alternative message to Museveni’s. It is possible that the practice of opposition politics is much more complicated than what an armchair theorist with abstract notions of political organisation can appreciate. Those who have been on the streets, villages and towns trying to organise people face myriad obstacles that only they can fully comprehend. Yet even with these caveats, I think the opposition in Uganda – and elsewhere in SSA – suffers a fundamental lack of a serious aim.
What is the overall aim of the opposition in Uganda? Who are the social forces that stand to benefit from its agenda? How can the opposition credibly demonstrate to Ugandans that it is the best representative of their interests? If Ugandans are really oppressed and mismanaged, they are likely to invest in the movement that seeks to improve their lot. But they have to believe that the opposition represents a better alternative to Museveni to do that.
President Paul Kagame of Rwanda once told me that over 60% of the resources RPF raised to prosecute its war came from contribution by refugees in camps in Uganda and elsewhere. These were very poor people but they surrendered the little they had to the movement because it represented their cherished hopes and dreams – to go back home and live as citizens again. Can the opposition and its hecklers state what attractive proposition they have that will make people invest everything in it to make them come to power?
The “main aim” of the opposition in Uganda seems to be to remove Museveni. Yet it should to be social reform; regime change can only be a means to that end, not the end itself. Selection and maintenance of the aim (a core principle of military strategy) would allow the opposition to know when to engage in dialogue with government and when to fight it on the street. Many aspects of the main aim can even be achieved without clinging onto unreliable actors like Gen. Sejusa in a bid to capture power.