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Thinking succession in Uganda

Why the failure of a third force has locked us in a choice between Museveni and Besigye

THE LAST WORD | Andrew M. Mwenda | In debating whether President Yoweri Museveni should go or stay we are not indulging in an abstract theoretical exercise but a challenge of practical politics. We can say Museveni’s government is performing badly, we need to improve it from within; or that it is dysfunctional, we need to change it from without.

It can be improved from within if Museveni chose a successor, which has failed (for now), the last gasp being Amama Mbabazi’s attempt. Alternatively, reformers can join government and help the president perform better. This is problematic. Museveni has been president for 32 years, and is growing old and rigid. He is used to certain ways, which have served him well. That is why he has been in power this long. Asking him to change is futile, except for minor adjustments. This would please few.

The only viable option for real reform is change from without. This leads inevitably to seeking an alternative to Museveni/NRM. But which person/group is best organised and positioned to take over from Museveni/NRM? What are the values, competences and aspirations of this leader/group?This is a troubling question that Ugandan pundits always ignore/avoid.

The leader/group best organised and positioned to take over from Museveni/NRM is Dr KizzaBesigye and his radical extremist wing of the FDC.

Some people talk of a third force! However, the 2016 failure of Mbabazi’s presidential candidature and the defeat of Mugisha Muntuin the 2018 elections for president of FDC are evidence that a third force, however morally appealing this idea feels, has limited appeal in the current circumstances. So dissecting Besigye and his group is a critical factor in the succession debate, however much many want to avoid it.

Like Museveni, Besigye has refused to leave leadership, becoming an opposition presidential candidate for life. Also like Museveni, he says there is no one else to lead the struggle as well as he does.And like Museveni, he has side-lined all the enlightened and moderate leaders of opposition such as AmanyaMushega, Augustine Ruzindana, Abdul Katuntu, Morris Ogenga-Latigo, etc., surrounding himself with people of questionable credentials –Ingrid Turinawe, Wycliffe Bakandonda, Doreen Nyanjuraetc.

It is possible that Museveni and Besigye are outcomes, not architects, of this particular style of leadership; that their conduct reflects the nature of our society and its politics than their individual character. I am inclined to believe this. But it also means that the struggle for change is a struggle to replace Museveni the person but not his system of rule. If this is the case, thenI find Museveni the better man and NRM the better party compared to Besigye and the radical extremist wing of the FDC.

Compare the competences of the two men. Museveni confronted worse odds trying to remove Milton Obote from power than Besigye is confronting to remove him. He triumphed because of superior leadership and organisational ability. He was able to build a coherent organisation, rally political and diplomatic support, mobilise logistical supplies, cultivate alliances with powerful social institutions in Uganda like the Catholic Church and the royal families of Toro and Buganda and inspire both elites and the masses to a higher goal and induced them to make huge sacrifices for the cause. That is why he won.

Besigye faces less risks and handicaps. He has freedom to traverse the country and globe to raise money and rally diplomatic support for his cause. Yet he has failed in all his efforts. He has tried elections four times and lost. He claims his votes are stolen and promises it won’t happen again. It happens and he does nothing. He tried armed rebellion and it failed. He has attempted mass insurrection and was defeated. He failed to build FDC into a viable institution. Why should we believe he can build institutions of state and run a successful reformist administration?

The ability to organise people and make them do great things (like bringing down a government) is the best evidence that once in power you can mobilise them to reform the state and make it an effective instrument to serve the common good. If you cannot organise a political party how can you organise a state? Based on this experience,Museveni has much better skills in managing the state and its politics than Besigye.


  1. Sad to see an educated man such as Andrew with this kind of narrow thinking. Education and exposure are supposed to widen people’s horizon but the reality is for some, the benefits are hardly realized. Another side of the coin

    • The rebuttal from Dr. Bossa is an example of an exchange between two Ugandan “elites” that tend to follow the narrative that in every “political nonsense” there is “political strategic sense.” They try to follow an illusion that there is a “Presidential political notebook” ever written. This is further from the truth. In reality, Uganda is following an unprecedented political roadmap which is being rolled out (primarily if not largely), by the ongoing by-elections. This roadmap is following a social paradigm shift that if effecting political outcomes. The election of Robert Kyangulanyi a.k.a Bobi Wini could be instructive. Bobi Wine’s victory wasn’t only against the incumbent FDC official candidate but also over NRM’s “mass party” candidate. This was a defeat at the feet two fairly organised political parties. This can only be an indication, that outside Uganda’s political superstructure, there is an informal movement that is “not complying” with the misrule/disorganisation within the political parties. This is the very point that Mwenda in so many words has tried to recognise in these pages but is only undoing, is that he does not want to accept and realise its roots- Besigye. Having failed to realise his dreams within the FDC early enough, Besigye broke the rigid walls of party politics and decided to build bridges with well meaning political players who were focused on regime change. In his efforts, he has teamed up with 4GC, SUUBI, TJ, JEEMA and Ken Lukyamuzi’s CP but no one of which has paid him handsomely or, immediately as the partnership with Bobi Wine. Bobi Wine has a non-structured “command” of the youth. The youths are most troubled demographic segment of the Ugandan population. They constitute more than 70% of the Uhandan population and not less than 83% are unemployed. This is the “New Resistance Movement” (NRM). And as for now, Robert Kyangulanyi is its “de facto” president. The problem with reality is that it lacks “intellectual connotations” and, therefore, it lacks the praxis of the elites theories.

  2. 1.You know what?There will be no oderly political sucession in Uganda instead there will be a coup which i think is fair coz Ugandans have invested alot in the the economy.
    2. I think a coup just happened in Uganda although it was not noticed and fortunately it did not materalise why do i say so KB has been abnormally silent and was the Brain behind all the chaos in parliment,decline in tax reveune collection and the sacking of Kahyihura.
    3.Was the consitution of Uganda under test with those clowns of Judges in Mbale i dont think so why do i say so?One key role of parliamnet is to pass laws but the Judges think otherwise me thinks that; its a test on Laws and morals and how to deal with minority and majority views for example;(i) Laws and morals all lead to obidence/compliance(ii)Laws apply to all while morals is a matter of opinion(iii)Morals are not subject to change while Laws are ammended or even annulled.
    3.Business could not be conducted in parliament for 3 days coz of rowdy MPs so what was the Sergent at Arm and Speaker supposed to do?
    4.MPs have the biggest say in matters of the consitution they actually represent our views.
    5. The issue of conflict of interest will always araise when MPs are performing their roles ; it would be foolsih of them to shoot themselves in the foot and propose amendments that are not in their favor may be some jugdes of the consitutional Court should be elected as MPs.
    6.In the UK minority issues were dealt in the follwing ways(i)The Obsence Publication Act of 1959 was enacted to cater for those who enjoy pornograhy(ii)Punishment of Incest Act,1908 to deal with incest(iii)Race Relation Act,1996 to deal with racism.
    7.KB is not healthy for Uganda coz both KB and his wife have an axe to grind with M7 i hear Anselm is a student at Harvard Univerity because Muhoozi also attended Sandhurst a pretigious Military Academy in Britain do you know the amount of tution for Havard or MIT university?

  3. …”in an ideal world, I would like to see Museveni go…” Very feeble logic Mr Mwenda. In any world Museveni will go, nobody lasts forever.
    so if you are “thinking succession” there are several levels of analysis. The quality of one opposition candidate is by no means the most important. Even an ideal replacement candidate can become irrelevant if the institutions of the nation are rotten beyond repair.

    The levels can be read as:
    -the inevitable; at some point Museveni will no longer be president.

    Then the desirable or the possible
    -policy changes: many poor policies will have to be changed; the domination by an ethnic minority should be ended. the bloated administrative structure should be rationalized.
    -structural changes: the presidency is too powerful in comparison to the legislature and and judiciary, this should change. Kampala is too powerful compared to the countryside. The districts are simply absurd; too many, too small, too poor.

    Then the undesirable; the possibility of these is what makes the question of succession important
    -constitutional collapse, whereby the nation fails to put together a viable government (Somalia, Congo)
    -Geographical collapse, whereby the nation fails to continue functioning as a unit (Somalia)

    • Sserukeera, you sound so young, if not in age,then in mind. We elders who have the benefit of hindsight know that no successor of a Uganda president was known prior to assuming office; not even by the successor himself.
      1. Start with Obote: Despite his bragging that he had Mutesa in his pocket, Obote never thought even in his dreams that he would be any bigger than a premier who was being kicked here and there by the deadly DP guys,let alone his own UPC internal underminers a la Grace Ibingira, Magezi and other headache causing politicians who were just unmanageable. Mtesa blundered by stoning government vehicles and an excuse was availed which made the invasion justifiable. Obote was therefore His Accidency till his successor;
      2. Gen Amin: This one was forced to be president. People will not agree but that does not change the facts. I personally, while in the Boy Scouts served President Amin a beer in Rock View Primary school at night when there was a sort of social evening with the Asian community. He was telling people in the hall where we all were (while the DC(District Commissioner) was on the stage chairing everything)that he wants people to elect a good president because the bad one has ran away. The DC who was like an MC sort of said “will everybody in the hall shut up so I can announce what I want to say” It is Amin himself who whispered to we who were near him that “we should all keep quiet because the DC is angry with this disorderly noise and first listen to him” The DC proceeded to say what he wanted ‘ that a harmonica team was coming to perform…..Gen Amin was compelled by Ugandans to be president. He said people should prepare fpr elections and he was told we already have a president YOU.
      3.Come Prof Lule…. the gentleman did not expect he would be president…this I won’t waste time on. I know all readers will find out how and why how was instated and removed….
      4.Come Godfrey Binaisa… He personally said, “I was walking on Buganda when a landrover that was passing stopped and I saw Museveni and Mpambara in. They parked, came and called me that they have been looking for me. They did not give me time to ask and I boarded and went with them to Entebbe. When we reached there they told me they want me to be president, I agreed” Do you think Binaisa knew,expected or wanted to be president?
      5. Obote might have been maneuvered into the presidency but chances were slim that he would ever be reinstated. Another Langi or Acholi soldier, maybe Oyite Ojok could easily have made himself the interim president,then get Muwanga or some other muganda puppet to enforce a guaranteed-results-elections whereby he would be now endorsed by the people. So Obote’s second presidency is also an accident.
      6. Gen Lutwa was His Accidency to boot. i won’t say much about him, leaving the discretion to readers.
      7. Visionary:He himself told a journalist that ‘for every morning that finds him alive, it is a victory’ Ruzindana and some other compatriots I don’t recall swear the visonary had deserted to Scandinavia and are surprised he returned. Did such a person expect even in his widest dreams he would ever be president? Sserukeera, whether you believe it or not those are the facts as were.
      8.It is a fact which is disputed by many but nevertheless true that a president is appointed by God. So pray hard another His (impossible Her)Accidency comes tolerable and give him all cooperation. It is a know fact that the more opposition and hostility a president meets, the more hostile he becomes.

  4. In conclusion, I can authoritatively assert that the next president is now not known by anyone including HE himself.

  5. Of course Museveni ruling for life is your burning desire, Mr. Mwenda. You, Tamale Mirundi, and others will find it hard to live comfortably once the old geezer goes.

  6. All said and done, the topic of succession is still (as i write) debatable. Many theories will arise to arrive to who the next president of Uganda will come to be. Off course the incumbent is entrenching and still perpetuating his leadership even when some Ugandans have written him off. Evidently, the current president has the power to manipulate the politics to favor himself as a competent leader much as this will utmost never benefit Ugandans if not by coincidence.
    The current system seems to have arrived to the destination while most Ugandans have not only started the journey but are on try and error for where to begin. Most Ugandans including myself still have confidence in Museveni but this trust he has abused accidentally or has been overtaken by events beyond his control.
    Politics will definitely determine our future because as always, the laws of nature and or even demand and supply determine the market prices.
    If Ugandans are ready for any change, the next president should not be a politician but a leader who will rule by law

    • A leader who will rule by law? But that’s what Museveni is doing already. He uses the law to his own advantage and creates laws which help him prolong his shelf life. He uses law as his regulatory tool to direct our behaviour towards his policy goals. We need a leader who will be subject to the rule of law.

      • None of you is venturous enough even by educated guesswork to presume a name,tribe,profession or even generalise a region whence the presumed successor will come ? Even the daredevil prophets of ours who outdo each other to predict things?
        If you can’t; then it proves my theorem that even “the successor does not know himself”.

  7. Even if the oft claim made by him and his supporters about Museveni having excelled in organizing (the bush war) were true, for whose benefit and interests was he organizing? The ants, the bees, the mafia, the criminal syndicates, you name it, too, are organized. Succession in Uganda has always been through a putsch, why would it be any different this time around? That is how Uganda rolls. Mark you Uganda is not Cuba, neither is Museveni Fidel Castro.

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