By Gaaki Kigambo
Of what relevance is the death of Africaâ€™s longest serving president Gabonâ€™s Omar Bongo to Uganda? It is sure to stoke a running debate about the state of President Yoweri Museveni even as he invests every effort to cling to power, which he has already held for 23 years now.
Omar Bongo died on June 8 in a hospital in Spain reportedly of cancer. He had presided over his country for a record 42 years.
The debate was recently triggered by none other than Museveniâ€™s senior presidential advisor, John Nagenda, and the soon retiring Supreme Court Justice George W. Kanyeihamba also emphatically pronounced himself on it.
In his weekly column in The New Vision on May 9, 2009, Nagenda wrote, â€œâ€¦To those, myself included, who consider Museveni to be indispensable to our country today, it is absolutely crucial that he be dispensed (not dispensed with) in the best dosage commensurate with his continued existence…What is indisputable is that the ferocious pace he has set himself over the last 30 years, could be injurious: to himself, to his cause, and therefore to those he serves and leads…â€ Nagenda then contemplated over what he termed â€œinevitable wolvesâ€ that would move to fill the presidentâ€™s place in the absence of a â€œtried and tested successorâ€ and what the consequences of all that would be in the event Museveni is indisposed or dies. President Museveni is known for working long hours. His press secretary Tamale Mirundi confirms that the presidentâ€™s typical day doesnâ€™t end until the early hours of the morning, about 2 a.m.
In a June 3, Daily Monitor interview, Justice Kanyeihamba declared Museveni is past his â€œsell-by dateâ€ and should stay away from the 2011 elections to guarantee the countryâ€™s political stability. Daily Monitor quoted him thus: â€œI must be honest and say President Museveni is exhausted. I wonâ€™t talk much about his exhaustion but the evidence is clear; when you see him on TV, when he is in meetings, you see the man is totally exhausted.â€Â
The job of any countryâ€™s president is both prestigious and demanding because of the myriad of responsibilities, unrelenting pressures, high-stake decisions, constant criticisms and the fluctuating public opinion that comes with it. In mostly western countries, even as the president tackles all these, he must also worry about the legacy of his leadership long after he has gone.
Most, if not all, these western leaders, however, have strong institutions to support, as well as check, their presidency. Yet it has been found that continuous stress accruing from the position they occupy still takes a big toll on their lives. In the United States for instance, an analysis of public medical records of previous presidents dating back to the 26th president Theodore Roosevelt determined that US presidents age approximately two years for each calendar year in office. It is a theory advanced by Michael Roizen, chair of Wellness Institute who has also designed an online tool of how to find out oneâ€™s real age. In an article first published in US News & World Report, Roizen calculated the biological age of previous US presidents based on factors including physical activity, diet, blood pressure, and lifestyle habits.
Leading researchers with the American Psychological Association (APA) have established that age may be more related to reactions to stress and the absence of disease rather than to a personâ€™s chronological age. The research released in 2006 indicates how acute stress seems to enhance immune function and improves memory but chronic stress has the opposite effect and can lead to disorders like depression, diabetes and cognitive impairment in aging. The research also adds that cumulative stress effects are showing up in people who are under constant stress. A number of medical doctors The Independent spoke to confirm stress has effects on oneâ€™s age. Although none would comment specifically about the job of president, almost all say high level jobs exert a lot of pressure and anxieties on those who hold them and deprive them enough time to relax and take away their minds from their jobs. A continuous exposure to suchÂ a lifestyle could cause a number of complications including chronic headache and ulcers and make a person feel older than they actually are.
While there is no way to scientifically determine the extent to which the presidency is stressful, very few people can dispute it is a high level stress job. More so in a country like Uganda, and many others like it. In many of these countries, most presidents, by design, govern their countries with nothing more than paper tiger institutions. Deluded to believe every first and last word on any affair of the state must be issued by them, they have enlarged their burden of responsibility and have in turn increased the stress they have to endure.
In a June 3, Daily Monitor interview, Justice Kanyeihamba declared Museveni is past his â€œsell-
Access to top-notch medical care is one among many factors medical personnel identify to counter effects of stress on oneâ€™s age. Indeed Museveni, like his American counterparts, has more access to medical care than he would ever need. Moreover, he is on record as saying he does not trust any Ugandan doctor with his health, or any of his family members. Yet the continuous stress of office still affects the lives of those who occupy these presidential positions. Even when doctors advise taking time off, exercising and spending time with close friends, for presidents this is not easy to do. Not only canâ€™t the nationâ€™s business wait, they also live under unrelenting public examination that limits what they would do as normal, ordinary people. Only recently when Museveniâ€™s right hand ring finger was sore, members of parliament expressed concern over his health and some questioned whether he was in a right state to govern or needed to take leave until he recovered.
Museveni has been on record saying he has no friends, just colleagues, meaning one of the two recommended stress relievers is off for him. However, as Tamale confirmed, to relax he exercises every morning, reads, writes, meets with his family and other guests, and goes to inspect his cows. Thus, given that Museveni endures similar, if not more, pressures and challenges as the studied US presidents, and if the same determinant, which shows that for each calendar year they stay in office they age about two years more than their biological age, were applied to him, then he has actually grown 46 years over his 23 year presidency. Add this to his estimated age of 42 when he assumed the presidency in 1986, he is 88 years old now.Â In 2011 when his current term runs out, he will have ruled Uganda for 25 years, which makes him 50 years old since taking over power, which then translates into actual 90 years. If Museveni stretches his incumbency to 2016, seven years more, this translates into 14 years more meaning he will actually be 102 years old.
The death of Gabonâ€™s Omar Bongo robbed Africaâ€™s exclusive club of big men of its most senior member in terms of holding power. Now the title of Africaâ€™s longest serving head of state has fallen to Libyaâ€™s Col. Muammar Gaddafi. The 68-year-old eerie colonel has now ruled his oil-rich country for 40 years. If the hypothesis that presidents age twice for every year they spend in office were to be applied to him, it means Gaddafi is at 107 years old. But then how about other club members?
Zimbabweâ€™s octogenarian Robert Mugabe has ruled his one time Africaâ€™s food basket for 29 years, which translates into 58 years, which makes his total 112 years.
Angolaâ€™s 65-year-old Eduardo Dos Santos has been ruling his oil and mineral rich country for 30 years now. Apply the theory, and Santos stands at 95 years old.
How about Egyptâ€™s Hosni Mubarak? The 79-year-old has been president for 28 years now. Presidentially, he has grown by 56 years, making the total 107 years.
From North Africa comes another one, Tunisiaâ€™s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. The 71-year-old has presided over arguably the healthiest and best educated nation in North Africa for 22 years now. If you applied the theory, that would presidentially come to 44 years old and 93 in total.
Â Cameroonâ€™s 74-year-old Paul Biya has been president for 27 years. Presidentially, he is 54 years old, making him 101 years.
Then thereâ€™s the Congo Republicâ€™s Denis Sassou Nguesso. Aged 64 years, he has ruled this central African country for a cool 30 years. Apply the theory and it comes to 60 years, and ultimately 94 years overall.
Also in this big menâ€™s club is Swazilandâ€™s King Makhosetive Mswati III. Famous for parading young virgins every year from which he picks a new bride, even as his tiny southern African kingdom retains with one of the worldâ€™s highest HIV/Aids prevalence rates, Mswati is the youngest of them all at 39 years, two thirds of which he has spent as king.