All Eyes Are On Uganda’s Own ‘Kim Jong-Un’
On November21st,2017, Robert Mugabe resigned as a president due to pressure from the military, from the public, and from his own party, the ZANU-PF, a position he held since Zimbabwe’s independence in 1987. Mugabe has anadmirable history; As an African nationalist, he was imprisoned from1964 to 1974 for calling an independent black-led state,a nd he fought a guerilla war against the white minority rule in what is known as the Rhodesian Bush War. The British government had brokered an agreement which called for a general election and Mugabe’s party, the ZANU-PF, won the election. He assumed power in its entirety followed by a roller coaster type adventure that had its own mishaps over the years. Many accused him of an economic mismanagement, fraud etc., which may be so but perhaps the predicament is, like most African head of states, he clung to power a bit too long.
Unlike Mugabe, Museveni was not repelling white colonial powers and the motivation was not to lift Uganda out of depravity or to revive democracy in its fullest sense, he was driven by the desire, like Amin and Obote, to be a president. With Tanzania at his side, he formed an armed rebel group that was involved in overthrowing Idi Amin (1971–79) and Milton Obote (1980–85)under the guise of democracy. Having weathered the Amin and Obote days, there were an anticipation of political change, the presentiment of insecurity and confusions in the air, and Museveni emerged out of the forest on time with phrases that promised a better and prosperous country. His impressive paramilitary skills along with his uncompromising courage had paid off. Herose to power on January 29th, 1986 and a wave of hope and fleeting admirations wept throughout the country, a relative peace prevailed by means of punitive laws and suppressive rules that deprived Ugandans of their civic rights. On oath, he affirmed that the people of Uganda “… are entitled to a democratic government…”, and after almost 31 years, that declaration still remains unfulfilled. As he consolidated more power, it became apparent that he is in quest of the very element that led to his predecessors’ deposing: greed, and as a result, he fell short of what people had expected of him.
In his early days at the office, capitalizing on Uganda’s miserable past, Museveni rode a wave of popularity but as time progressed, the disappointment was too much to bear. He banned all political parties except his, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), with an unsubstantiated theory that worked in his favor“…multi-party democracy works in Europe where social divisions are horizontal, based on class. In Africa the divisions are vertical, based on tribe. Multi-party democracy in Africa leads to tribalism and division.”After almost 15 years of authoritarian rule, multi-party system was introduced in 2005, it had enriched the environment with new slogans but the reform neither entails a political danger to him nor hindered Museveni’s ambition as a life-time president. Yes, people were entertained with shambolic elections letting them believe that supreme power is vested on them but the Mzee (Elder in Kiswahili) is well rehearsed in this political game of chess: the NRM is a majority in parliament, the electoral commissioner, head of police, and supreme court judges are all presidential appointees, and he possesses money and powerto keep his dream alive within the so-called democratic perimeter. Like North Korea’s Workers’ Party, the NRM is the heavyweight in Uganda’s politics, and it indoctrinates the masses with esoteric cult-like concepts and practices that are entirely alien to politics. For example, Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) soldiers must pledge an allegiance to the president creating a strong emotional attachment that compromises their sound judgements and their perceptions, and such affections are hardly swayed by intellectual reasoning – the very concept that Kim Jong-Un uses to brainwash the masses. In brief, Museveni runs Uganda as Kim Jong-Un does North Korea except he has shrewdly done it within the sphere of democracy. In a way, he can be characterized as Uganda’s own Kim Jong-Un.
The West had verbally disapproved Museveni’s repressive measures but he is an important ally in the war on terror and the west’s obsession with Islamists in general. War against Al-Shabab gives him a free-pass that outweighs all violations and as along as UPDF’s service is needed in Somalia, a war that has no end in sight, Ugandans will suffer. Sympathetic? Yes, but at the moment, it is not the West’s best interest to disrupt the beehive because they have a bigger fish to fry. Perhaps Mobutu’s cordial relationship with the US would serve as a lesson in how such interest-based relationships work. Mobutu enjoyed a warm rapport with the US because of his standpoint against communist USSR.He was showered with financial assistance as a sign of an appreciation and his brutal human rights record was ignored. In fact, in 1983 Ronald Reagan praised him as “…a voice of good sense and goodwill.” After the fall of the USSR, Mobutu’s service was no longer needed, democracy resurfaced on top of theUS’s priority list and the relationship deteriorated to the point where he was denied an entry visa to the US, and that was the beginning of the end.
Perhaps Museveni is a good man but fame and fortune do stimulate dormant personalities. He was charismatic, ingenious and far-sighted but he lost it largely because of the blinding gush of lavish lifestyle,an unimpeded power and a glorified self-confidence that comes with the job title. However dim and corroded these virtues may be, he still possesses some but not enough to recapture the flicker of his old spirit. Remember, he even wrote a book titled, What is Africa’s Problem? in 1986, and the answer is bizarrely ironic, ” The problem of Africa in general and Uganda in particular is not the people but leaders who want to overstay in power,” 31 years is surely a prolonged overstay. He gained the power by the sword and relinquishing it bloodlessly via ballot box is beyond Mzee’s comprehension. So, what are the choices?
Option1: The Super Coalition Of the Fearless (SCOF), UK based group that calls for armed struggle against Museveni’s 31-year reign. SCOF presents itself as people’s champion that is ‘in pursuance of a true democratic state…’who plan to ‘wage war against the despotic, corrupt…” accusing the regime a mile long of atrocities. Uganda’shistory is littered with violent power transitions and SCOF’s agenda is familiar politics that is obvious to those who are acquainted with the country’s grisly past. For example, to form a rebel group all you need is: 1) Media to rally the masses with an impressive choreographed speech and a catchy name that has D in it. 2) Financier, a group or a party that would benefit from the chaos politically or otherwise. 3) Foot soldiers who are not smart enough to know that their enthusiasm is being used for political gains, and there are plenty of such people around. In Uganda, the quest of personal power has always been the motivation for the violent coups, and in this turbulent setting, democracy is ambiguous by definition, amorphous by structure and it is like a gas which assumes the shape of its container.
Option 2: A non-violent option proposed by the president himself in his swearing in speech: “ The people of Uganda should die only from natural causes which are beyond our control,” So, people should pray and supplicate for a swift Godly interference though prayers alone had shown a fallibility and futility against Idi Amin’s butchery days.
Option 3: A soft coup gave the Zimbabweans freedom that had been absent for decades without a single drop of human blood. Like Uganda, the change was already there in form of a simmering dissatisfaction. Zimbabweans took to the streets overshadowing the looming political uncertainty, the military vehicles began to move towards the presidential palace, and a new dawn was slowly emerging. After few days of political arm-twisting behind the scene, the bitter, broken but composed old eagle gave in followed by a nationwide celebration that displayed unbounded emotions and vibrant moods that divulge felicity. A new day, an interim president,and an election date. And, a soft coup has a new nomenclature as Piers Pigou of International Crisis Group hadstated: “a military assisted transition.”
According to an article titled, “Why African rulers are watching Zimbabwe’s ‘soft coup’ “on November 27, 2017 by FT’s Africa Editor, David Pilling, ” Zimbabwe’s soft coup was not condemned internationally, largely because its object was pushing out Mr. Mugabe. ” That means a green light “…to other militaries” that are in similar conditions.The unfolding situation got Ugandans’ attention who are longing for political reforms; the enchantment of Zimbabweans along with the exotic jubilations from Harare had inspired many. And perhaps for the first time, Museveni was shivering with insecurity; he quickly announced a salary rise to the UPDF knowing that only military intervention can unseat him. While democracy brings hope to the doomed, it also brings death to the tyrants who solely see the world through spectacles of power and glitter and glamour. It is becoming clear that the day that Ugandans will not identify themselves with Museveni as a president is perhaps sooner than expected, and hopefully, there were won’t be ‘Public Order Management’ for that day’s celebration. Dream on!
By Abdinasir M. Hashi
Abdinasir M. Hashi is a policy researcher in Mogadishu, Somalia
You can Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org