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.