How the renegade general’s antics demonstrate the poverty of opposition politics in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa
The return of Gen. David Sejusa aka Tinyefuza from exile in the
United Kingdom on Dec.14 was sudden and, for most people, unexpected.
Tinyefuza has been a consistent disappointment to those who believe he
is worth anything. He blows hot and cold. He has a habit of raising
hopes and then disappointing them at the very last minute. I admit that
each time I have talked to him; I have found him a very intelligent,
articulate, and thoughtful intellectual. However, it seems that all too
often, his emotions overpower his reason. Consequently, his most
important actions, even when driven by legitimate grievances and
reasons, are influenced by a reckless impulse, a factor that renders
them unproductive or even counterproductive.
For example, when he left Uganda last year, he made a series of
outlandish outbursts and accusations against the government. At one time
I wondered whether he was sane. How can a former chief of intelligence
reveal the dirty laundry of the government he served so easily and
lightly? Perhaps this was the reason the UK authorities denied him
asylum; they recognised that he is not reliable.
In his bombast, Tinyefuza reflected a lack of political maturity.
Street pundits and mobs on social media can cheer you for such reckless
statements (even if they were true) but they reflect a lack of
leadership qualities. If you were part of a government and occupying a
strategic office, you don’t go yapping about its secrets so loosely. You
behave like a man who is thrown out by a pretty girl he has dated for
seven years and begins accusing her of having a smelly mouth. But why
did he stay so long with her?
There are many people in NRM who held sensitive jobs and later either
disagreed with Museveni (or the system generally) or found themselves
at the wrong end of his/its stick – Eriya Kategaya, Amama Mushega, Jim
Muhwezi, Mugisha Muntu and today Amama Mbabazi. But they have not gone
out there shouting and revealing all the secrets they knew. This has
made me realise that Uganda has many mature leaders. It is a basic mark
of maturity that when you serve a system and fall out with it, you don’t
go shouting its secrets on the streets. If you disagree with a system,
state the reasons for the disagreement and resign. You do not carry out
all its evils deeds and later denounce them.
Tinyefuza’s wild allegations provided considerable grist to the
anti-Museveni mill. This was especially so among the mindless, angry lot
on social media. These frustrated and angry anti Musevenists are as
much a source of opposition strength as they are its major weakness. For
them, their agenda is simple – Museveni agende (Museveni must go)
regardless of the quality of the alternative. I have argued this point
for 14 years - that the “main aim” of the opposition cannot simply be
regime change. That is too narrow an objective around which to inspire
people to sacrifice for change.
Thus, when Tinyefuza went to London, he began to speak with bombast
about his plans to “liberate” Uganda by all means including armed
warfare. I was shocked but not surprised by how much sections of our
chattering classes began to cling onto his rhetoric like a drowning man
clings unto a straw. Uganda’s mindless opposition in the diaspora
embraced him and all of a sudden he became their hero. Now he has
returned to Uganda, I am sure with a rich bag of information about their
activities or lack of them, which he will gladly hand over to the state
for its future operations.
Tinyefuza’s behavior is indicative of the crisis Uganda and most of
Sub Sahara Africa (SSA) generally faces especially in the struggle for
improved governance. How do you structure an opposition message and back
it with organisation to appeal to the masses? How can such a movement
capture power and produce real change rather than reproduce the same
politics of patronage? One movement that achieved this has been the
Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). This is because their cause – reclaiming
citizenship for Tutsi refugees – was a powerful mobilising agenda.
Museveni and his NRM failed to bring about a fundamental change in the
governance of Uganda precisely because they lacked a core organising
ideology. Many, not all of them, had only personal animosity towards
Milton Obote and ethnic hatred for northerners.
I know it is easy for me to sit in my study at home or office and
criticise opposition leaders for their inability to craft an alternative
message to Museveni’s. It is possible that the practice of opposition
politics is much more complicated than what an armchair theorist with
abstract notions of political organisation can appreciate. Those who
have been on the streets, villages and towns trying to organise people
face myriad obstacles that only they can fully comprehend. Yet even with
these caveats, I think the opposition in Uganda – and elsewhere in SSA –
suffers a fundamental lack of a serious aim.
What is the overall aim of the opposition in Uganda? Who are the
social forces that stand to benefit from its agenda? How can the
opposition credibly demonstrate to Ugandans that it is the best
representative of their interests? If Ugandans are really oppressed and
mismanaged, they are likely to invest in the movement that seeks to
improve their lot. But they have to believe that the opposition
represents a better alternative to Museveni to do that.
President Paul Kagame of Rwanda once told me that over 60% of the
resources RPF raised to prosecute its war came from contribution by
refugees in camps in Uganda and elsewhere. These were very poor people
but they surrendered the little they had to the movement because it
represented their cherished hopes and dreams – to go back home and live
as citizens again. Can the opposition and its hecklers state what
attractive proposition they have that will make people invest everything
in it to make them come to power?
The “main aim” of the opposition in Uganda seems to be to remove
Museveni. Yet it should to be social reform; regime change can only be a
means to that end, not the end itself. Selection and maintenance of the
aim (a core principle of military strategy) would allow the opposition
to know when to engage in dialogue with government and when to fight it
on the street. Many aspects of the main aim can even be achieved without
clinging onto unreliable actors like Gen. Sejusa in a bid to capture