How Museveni, Besigye and Bobi Wine are birds of a feather that only fly apart
THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | This week, the state brought out the full power of riot police to bear on opposition activist, Dr. Kizza Besigye. Using water cannons, they took direct aim at him during a procession, nearly yanking him off the roof of his car. It provided considerable grist to the anti-President Yoweri Museveni mill. I wonder whether Museveni sees these videos and what he thinks of them. For instance, do they make him feel comfortable in the presidency, seeing that he has power to subdue his opponents? Or do they make him feel embarrassed that he is acting brutally like Idi Amin?
Museveni’s long tenure has been good for Uganda because it has demystified his claims to promote democracy. It has given us an opportunity to see him repeat everything he criticised in his predecessors to wit Amin and Milton Obote. Except for variations in degree or detail, Museveni has ruled using similar strategies he accused Obote and Amin of using – violence, brutality, corruption, tribalism, nepotism etc. The longer he has stayed in power, the more he has helped rehabilitate the image of both these leaders. Yet Ugandans have learnt little from this experience.
Power is inherently corrupting; so its abuse is inevitable. Besigye and Bobi Wine, just like Museveni before them, think it can be tamed. They are wrong. Power cannot tame itself. It can only be tamed by those who are not exercising it; therefore the democratic impulse in Uganda has to be sought in those social forces and political struggles that do not seek power, but rather seek to place limits on how it is exercised – like this, your newspaper.
It is possible that Besigye and Bobi Wine are genuinely convinced that their struggle is to improve the way power is acquired and exercised. They are deluded. Power is addictive. Besigye and Bobi Wine think if they got power they would use less of it. Yet power has dynamics that are beyond the control of individual leaders. Most things we consume have a point of satisfaction: for instance the more bananas you eat, the less you will need because you reach a point of satisfaction. After that, any extra bananas you eat are likely to lead to a stomachache. In economics this is called the principle of diminishing marginal utility.
With power, just like with money, the more you get, the more you need. Therefore, whoever seeks power is on a treadmill. Museveni came to power promising to leave after four years. He is now in his 34th year as president and continuing. Consequently he has to employ ever more brutality and corruption to cling to it. Many people may think the problem is the personality of Museveni. Instead, Museveni is actually a victim of power, caught in a game whose rigid logic he cannot escape.
The same applies to Besigye. After every election he has promised not to run for the presidency again. He has thereafter changed his mind and run again and again and again. Besigye and his acolytes find many reasons to justify his continued presence at the helm of opposition politics. The more they find strong and convincing reasons why he should be the only one to battle Museveni, the more they look and sound like Museveni’s choir. Restraints on power require forces outside of power and the state. Such forces would hold both values and interests that require limits on power. For now I do not see these forces in Uganda.