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

Monday, April 23, 2018

Thinking succession in Uganda

Why the failure of a third force has locked us in a choice between Museveni and Besigye

In debating whether President Yoweri Museveni should go or stay we are not indulging in an abstract theoretical exercise but a challenge of practical politics. We can say Museveni’s government is performing badly, we need to improve it from within; or that it is dysfunctional, we need to change it from without.

It can be improved from within if Museveni chose a successor, which has failed (for now), the last gasp being Amama Mbabazi’s attempt. Alternatively, reformers can join government and help the president perform better. This is problematic. Museveni has been president for 32 years, and is growing old and rigid. He is used to certain ways, which have served him well. That is why he has been in power this long. Asking him to change is futile, except for minor adjustments. This would please few.

The only viable option for real reform is change from without. This leads inevitably to seeking an alternative to Museveni/NRM. But which person/group is best organised and positioned to take over from Museveni/NRM? What are the values, competences and aspirations of this leader/group?This is a troubling question that Ugandan pundits always ignore/avoid.

The leader/group best organised and positioned to take over from Museveni/NRM is Dr KizzaBesigye and his radical extremist wing of the FDC.

Some people talk of a third force! However, the 2016 failure of Mbabazi’s presidential candidature and the defeat of Mugisha Muntuin the 2018 elections for president of FDC are evidence that a third force, however morally appealing this idea feels, has limited appeal in the current circumstances. So dissecting Besigye and his group is a critical factor in the succession debate, however much many want to avoid it.

Like Museveni, Besigye has refused to leave leadership, becoming an opposition presidential candidate for life. Also like Museveni, he says there is no one else to lead the struggle as well as he does.And like Museveni, he has side-lined all the enlightened and moderate leaders of opposition such as AmanyaMushega, Augustine Ruzindana, Abdul Katuntu, Morris Ogenga-Latigo, etc., surrounding himself with people of questionable credentials –Ingrid Turinawe, Wycliffe Bakandonda, Doreen Nyanjuraetc.

It is possible that Museveni and Besigye are outcomes, not architects, of this particular style of leadership; that their conduct reflects the nature of our society and its politics than their individual character. I am inclined to believe this. But it also means that the struggle for change is a struggle to replace Museveni the person but not his system of rule. If this is the case, thenI find Museveni the better man and NRM the better party compared to Besigye and the radical extremist wing of the FDC.

Compare the competences of the two men. Museveni confronted worse odds trying to remove Milton Obote from power than Besigye is confronting to remove him. He triumphed because of superior leadership and organisational ability. He was able to build a coherent organisation, rally political and diplomatic support, mobilise logistical supplies, cultivate alliances with powerful social institutions in Uganda like the Catholic Church and the royal families of Toro and Buganda and inspire both elites and the masses to a higher goal and induced them to make huge sacrifices for the cause. That is why he won.

Besigye faces less risks and handicaps. He has freedom to traverse the country and globe to raise money and rally diplomatic support for his cause. Yet he has failed in all his efforts. He has tried elections four times and lost. He claims his votes are stolen and promises it won’t happen again. It happens and he does nothing. He tried armed rebellion and it failed. He has attempted mass insurrection and was defeated. He failed to build FDC into a viable institution. Why should we believe he can build institutions of state and run a successful reformist administration?

The ability to organise people and make them do great things (like bringing down a government) is the best evidence that once in power you can mobilise them to reform the state and make it an effective instrument to serve the common good. If you cannot organise a political party how can you organise a state? Based on this experience, Museveni has much better skills in managing the state and its politics than Besigye.

Third, we must ask ourselves whether Besigye and his radical extremists represent better values for progressive change than Museveni and his corrupt NRM. This can be deduced by looking at both the leadership and follower-ship of Besigye’s radical extremist wing within the FDC. Its leaders are NEITHER drawn from the economically productive segments of our society NOR are they linked to it by interest or association. Instead they are drawn entirely from the professionalclass. It should be obvious,therefore,that their interest in power is for opportunities it offers them as salaried employees of the state.

Besigye’s followers are a virulently intolerant, angry and abusive army of radical extremists. Unemployed and perhaps unemployable, their best skills are at hurling insults and abuses at anyone and everyone who dares express a view contrary to their own. Once in power, they would most likely transfer this intolerance into the government and use security forces to stamp out dissent, thereby turn our country into a fascist dictatorship. So they are not agents of the liberal democratic values that we would like to see.

The desire for change is admirable but its practical implications cannot be ignored. In an ideal world, I would like to see Museveni go. I am intimately aware of the failures and limitations of Museveni as president and of NRM as a government. But I do not agree that we hand Uganda to radical extremists simply because we are tired of Museveni. Surely we cannot be blind to the risks of the most likely alternative.

Those who supported change without thinking about the quality of the alternative – George Bush in Iraq, Barack Obama in Libya, the warriors in Somalia and Yemen etc. have created outcomes worse than the problem they sought to solve. Aspirations without plans inevitably turn into tragedies.

Uganda needs a transition. But this must be led by a third force. This should attract moderates in NRM and FDC and independents. It should also distinguish itself from NRM’s incompetence and corruption and from the intolerance of FDC’s radical extremist wing. Only then can Ugandans feel confident that a post Museveni political settlement offers a better future. Short of that, Museveni will rule for life.


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