Why Besigye can only govern using Museveni’s politics of corruption and patronage
The discussion of a post President YoweriMuseveni Uganda tends to be programmatic rather than analytical. It is built on false hopes based on textbook theories rather than the actual social dynamics of Uganda. This problem is perverse in nearly all Africa. It explains why our continent has seen many changes of government without much qualitative change in governance. Museveni governs in a particular way more out of the dynamics of power and politics in a poor multi ethnic country than out of his personality.
Precisely because of the above, whoever succeeds Museveni will most probably adopt his governance strategies. The person/party with the best chance to defeat Museveni/NRM in an election is KizzaBesigye/FDC. Many Ugandan elites believe that such change will improve governance in our country. But to change from Museveni’s politics of corruption and patronage needs a political party that is fundamentally different from the NRM. Yet FDC is a replica of the NRM, and this makes Besigye another Museveni – most likely without the president’s finesse.
Let us begin with Museveni’s NRM. From its founding to this day, it has never evolved a nationally centralised structure backed by a coherent ideology. Instead it has largely been a confederation of powerful elites from Uganda’s diverse social spectrum of ethnic and religious elites. These elites are involved in a competition for control over the allocation of state patronage in order to enhance their own power and influence among their constituents; and of course to build private economic fortunes.
Museveni’s power is derived from his ability to act as an effective referee of these diverse and conflicting interests within the party and country. His inability to get out of power is also linked to the fear that without him, this unruly coalition can lead to the disintegration of the party with dire consequences for the country, the state and the president himself and his family. Of course this may mean that he is not solving but postponing the final reckoning.
There is a misperception that NRM’s social base is the mass of peasants in rural areas. Yet NRM is not an egalitarian political party. True it is connected to peasants who form its largest voting block. But this connection is not built on an institutional and ideological base. Rather it is through ethnic and religious intermediaries – traditional elders, successful businesspersons, accomplished professionals, articulate youths, religious clerics, and prosperous farmers, etc. who command respect in their communities. It keeps the support of peasants, not necessarily by serving their needs, but largely by placating the interests of these elites.
How do these elites gain and retain such influence in their communities? It is by exhibiting hospitality and exaggerated generosity to their people. But where do they get the resources to do this? They can (and sometimes do) get it from their private incomes, which is expensive. But most times, because they are in government, they use public resources; which means corruption. Therefore, corruption is the political currency used to build constituencies of support.
The alternative is to build a centralised national organisation, backed by a coherent ideology and spreading its tentacles to the grassroots. It would have to bypass powerful elites at the local level who act as a bridge between the party and the masses. We find this in post genocide Rwanda. Yet RPF did not begin this way. Rather this evolved in response to a specific experience, something hard to replicate.