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Who will succeed Museveni?

By Ian Ortega

Gazing into the crystal ball after Nagenda says this is his last election

Despite all the pessimism, the myth of invincibility, many would probably believe that 2016 is the time that may see President Yoweri Museveni leave power and see Uganda have its first peaceful transition. Senior Presidential Advisor on Media and Public Relation, John Nagenda, hinted on this in a speech at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation Young Leaders Forum. The presence of long-time confidant, and former Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi has re-affirmed this belief. Is there evidence to support this in the 2016 race? Will Museveni jump or will he be pushed?

The uniqueness of the 2016 race lies in it being a three horse race. Not the usual two horse race between Museveni and his perennial opponent Kizza Besigye. This time there is former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi. The three-horse race is crafted on the assumption, as postulated by Andrew Mwenda, that when divided, the opposition stands a chance to dislodge Museveni. Mwenda wrote; “The best case scenario for the opposition is therefore a three horse race where Museveni runs against both Besigye and Mbabazi. Here, Besigye can hold the opposition base and Mbabazi can appeal to NRM moderates and independents. Only then can the two have a chance of forcing Museveni into a second round. Clearly, united the opposition falls; divided it stands.”


Mwenda’s argument is hinged on a belief that Museveni would disintegrate when forced into a second-round. As a person, this view argues, Museveni has cultivated the image of a powerful man who wins all elections. A second round would poke holes in his bubble of invincibility. The outcome here is that the voter turnout in the second round would increase as many who would have chosen to stay home in the first round, would now be convinced that their vote counts.

The other side to the three-horse race lies in Museveni having to face a two-headed opposition, making him seem like Heracles in the fight against the multi-headed Hydra. In previous campaigns, Museveni only needed to traverse an area once to undo what he terms as “lies” of the opposition. This time round, Museveni is required to leave his campaign agents behind to be sure of sealing his victory. This may be Museveni’s hardest test.

What would happen if Besigye is the opposition candidate in the second round? Besigye succeeding Museveni is the biggest threaten to the status quo. Many would oppose it. Mbabazi is possibly more acceptable to Musevenites. Would Besigye then sacrifice the Messiah in him and stand down for Mbabazi in the second round? If Besigye stuck in there, would the Opposition unite around him? If so, is there a possibility that Museveni can concede defeat and see Besigye rise to power? Does the current power structure allow the ascent of Besigye to power? Those are questions that we cannot answer conclusively because so much can change in the most unexpected and random manner.

The Role of Chance

In 2010, the only probable names for the post of Secretary General in NRM were Amama Mbabazi, Kahinda Otafiire and Gilbert Bukenya. Four years later, it was the silent Justine Kasule Lumumba who would rise to the post of NRM Secretary General, much to the surprise of many.

When Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the Lebanese-American intellectual wrote his famous book; `Fooled by Randomness:-the hidden role of chance in life and markets’, he forgot to mention that this could as well apply to succession politics in countries.

In the case of Justine Lumumba and the NRM, what had really changed? Did anyone see this coming in 2010? Anyone who would have dared mention Lumumba in 2010 as one of the potential Secretary generals would have been thought by many to be nothing but a fool. With this in mind, we thus attempt to ask, who will succeed Museveni? Could it be his son, Brig. Muhoozi Kainerugaba or his wife Janet? Could it be Mbabazi or Besigye? Or could it be that we can never really know?

Uganda the outlier?

Although Uganda has had four constitutions since its Independence in 1962, it is one of those countries that have never experienced a peaceful transition of power. Only the transition from Paulo Muwanga’s Military Commission to Milton Obote’s government in 1980 could count as a transition. But was it one anyway? Many beg to disagree.

For now the option appear that either Museveni will pick a successor, die in power, or be ousted in a coup. However, he has a grip on the army which makes the possibility of a coup less likely. One of the critical prerequisites for the success of a coup is the existence of a national crisis. For the past 25 years, Museveni has presided over the 11th fastest growing economy in the world, and a growing middle class. On every possible indicator, Museveni’s presidency has been a success, if he has any threats of a coup, they are threats as a result of his successes not his weaknesses. That leaves two possibilities; that he will die in power or he will pick a successor.

To die in power or to pick a successor?

It is very unlikely that Museveni will pick a successor, unless he wants to join the solitary class of Fidel Castro, who voluntarily left power in Cuba and handed over to his brother. This was after 48 years in power, Castro was forced to retire not out of his will but because his health had required.

All other Revolutionary Movements that captured power have had their leaders die in power. Here is a table to bring the illustration home:

If we are to take history, the laboratory of politics as our informer, we can with confidence state that Museveni is more than likely to die in power than get replaced through a ballot system. That then rules out the possibility of Kizza Besigye or Amama Mbabazi succeeding him directly by defeating him in an election. It’s possible but there’s no evidence in history to support the loss of power of a revolutionary leader through a ballot.

What if  Museveni’s died in office?

According to the constitution, “If the President dies, resigns or is removed from office under this Constitution, the Vice President shall assume the office of President until fresh elections are held and the elected President assumes office in accordance with article 103(8) of this Constitution.” In this case, we see Edward Sekandi replacing Museveni in the event of death.

Sekandi’s chances are further increased by his personality. In politics of succession, a powerful leader is never replaced by an equally powerful president. The possible successor to Museveni is one with two characteristics; does not threaten the status quo, and his/her light dims in comparison to Museveni. Sekandi has those two characteristics.

The Case of Moi and Mwinyi

In 1978 when President Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya died in office, Daniel arap Moi who was long-despised went on to succeed him. For many, Moi’s humility was mistaken for weakness. Those in support of his leadership felt they could easily manipulate him when at the helm. On the whole, he didn’t threaten the status quo despite differences in ethnicity.

In Tanzania, Prime Minister Salim Ahmed Salim and Party Secretary General Rashidi Kawawa were both considered as more likely to succeed President Julius Nyerere. However, it was the innocuous Ali Hassan Mwinyi who was nominated by the ruling party. These examples show that the person who will succeed Museveni might be a shock, a surprise, and a very unlikely figure.

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