About me.

Andrew M. Mwenda is the founding Managing Editor of The Independent, Uganda’s premier current affairs newsmagazine. One of Foreign Policy magazine 's top 100 Global Thinkers, TED Speaker and Foreign aid Critic

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The logic of Besigye’s claims

What psychology tells us about FDC’s claims to have won last year’s presidential election

This column is a logical thought experiment. Recently, opposition presidential candidate, Dr. Kizza Besigye, claimed on a television show that he won the last presidential elections and that he has evidence to prove it. This was a very vital revelation, which Besigye has actually made many times in the past. I was surprised the moderator did not ask him to table his evidence.

Indeed I have always wondered why Besigye can possess such critical evidence and keep it to himself. He claims he was blocked from presenting it to the Supreme Court last year. Fine. He can give it to the media. Well, he could say the media have been “bought” or are intimidated (or both) by the state, which is presided over by his rival, President Yoweri Museveni. Although this is an absurd claim (since most media houses and journalists are very critical of Museveni and openly biased in favour of Besigye) let us also accept it – at least for argument’s sake.

There is social media where Museveni and the state have little or no influence. Besigye can post his evidence on his Facebook page, on the FDC website or on a blog or website of one of his friends and allies or better still post it on a What’s App group chat and it would spread like wildfire (in today’s language, it would go viral). Why has someone who won a presidential election, is also in possession of evidence of his victory, spent the last one year making this claim but has not presented the evidence to the public?

It is possible that Besigye knows that he lost the election and has been looking for a way to spin his loss in order to please his supporters. That would be understandable. Yet whenever I watch him, I get the sense that he is sincere in his assertions. I learnt from psychology that if you tell yourself a lie very many times you grow to believe it. Therefore, the logical conclusion from this is that Besigye is a victim of his lies i.e. he is delusional. But given that delusion is not a virtue, this would suggest that Besigye lacks the basic qualities that make an ideal leader.

Here is where psychology astounds us in its analysis of politics. While being delusional is a sign of poor qualities of an ideal leader, it is a basic, if not necessary, quality that makes a successful politician. To lead people, one has to convince himself that he is a person of exceptional leadership ability i.e. he/she must be egotistical and delusional. One has to listen to the “Yes We Can” speeches of candidate Barack Obama in 2008 to see what I am talking about. But this is not a criticism of Obama alone, but most politicians.

The evolutionary psychologist, Robert Trivers, makes this argument in his book, `The Folly of Fools’. He argues that the worst victim of your lie is yourself. You have to lie to yourself first that you are a truly great leader. It is only when you have internalised such a lie that you can transmit it to others in a convincing manner. This is because you will speak with total, complete and absolute certainty, a factor vital to convince the hordes that you are the guy. Most voters look out for confidence in a candidate. So delusion is the stuff that makes successful politicians.

Yet most issues of a public policy nature are complex. But the masses lack the patience or discipline or even cognitive ability to understand them. John Keynes suggested that the masses understand complexity through narratives – an oversimplified version of a complex subject. For example the problems that bedevil our healthcare and education system are multifaceted – low revenues leading to low wages which attracts low skills, corruption, incompetence, apathy, indifference, absenteeism etc. But these issues are structurally obdurate, an argument difficult for voters to digest.

So in comes the politician. He must simplify reality for voters to digest. The best way to do this is to identify a villain. This cannot be an abstract thing – like structural circumstances. It works best when you put a human face that can be blamed. So you say the education and healthcare in Uganda is bad because Museveni is an evil man, who is greedy and selfish for power and diverts resources meant for the public good to his private use and that of his cronies. Nothing works the hordes than an oversimplified view of reality.

If nations are angry with their leaders this is the source of the problem. We are seeing it in the Western world – America, France, UK – everywhere. Leaders come and go but the claims and allegations against them remain the same. Obama came to power accusing George Bush of all the misdeeds of America in invading Iraq and ended by invading Libya and creating a worse mess there. Museveni came denouncing Idi Amin and Milton Obote but has ruled by repeating many of their deeds. Of course this only shows that after all, the problem was neither Obote nor Amin.

Hence systems of government change, but the problems of nations remain. Technologies change, but complaints remain the same. We should not blame politicians like Besigye. We should blame ourselves. This is largely because in spite of our claims of desiring honest politicians, we prefer sweet lies to bitter truths. Besigye is able to lie about his election performance without censor because his supporters want to hear good news from him. If he was reasonable, like FDC president Mugisha Muntu who appeals to reason and not emotion, he would not attract the fanatical following he gets.

Finally on logic again: Besigye believes that gaining the presidency is the only way he can save Uganda from its ills. This means that the skills to grab the presidency are the most important quality for anyone seeking to build a better future for our country.  But if Besigye has failed this first huddle (gaining power) in spite of four elections all of which he claims to have won, how can he convince anyone that he has the capacity to govern effectively?

By failing to grab the presidency, Besigye has proved that Museveni is the better leader. Because if Besigye wins elections but cannot stop a corrupt and incompetent Museveni from stealing his votes and retaining power, how will he as president protect the interests of Ugandans from the even more powerful forces in the international community – like multinational capital?


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