The Observer (Kampala)

30 December 2012

Uganda: Why Museveni Age Matters

President Museveni is 68 years old, officially. But Democratic Party youth say he is 75.

Twice (last year and last month) the cheeky youth have organised a "party to celebrate his birthday" and twice they have been scattered and arrested. The DP president, Norbert Mao, has since joined the drama, saying they would seek a court order to compel Museveni to reveal his real age. So, what makes DP so obsessed with the President's birthday when he, his family and his party don't seem to be interested? It's the politics of age, stupid.

It has been clear for a while now that Yoweri Kaguta Museveni will stand for an unprecedented fifth term (some say seventh if you consider 1986-1996) in office in the 2016 elections. Some pretenders to his throne have since come to terms with the reality that there's no vacancy at the number one address in Entebbe come 2016, and are slowly beating the retreat.

Museveni's opponents both within and outside NRM realise that beating him in an election is a tall order, given his monetary power and coercive civil-military machinery, which he is not afraid to unleash when required. Former FDC president Dr Kizza Besigye admitted as much after his third loss to Museveni following last year's elections. So, other ways have to be found to stop Museveni.

Besigye is looking to a popular uprising. Mao and his youth are looking to a technicality in the law to disqualify him. NRM opponents are hoping and praying he says, 'I've had enough', one of these days. Of these options, the technicality could yet prove the most effective. But it won't work in 2016. Its target is really five years later, in 2021. That year offers an opportunity to knock out "the old man with a hat" on the basis of his age.

He will be 77 years and therefore ineligible to stand for president again, according to the Constitution which demands that candidates must be below 75 years. DP youth have smelt an opportunity to claim credit for pushing Museveni out on account of his age. The DP youth probably know too well that Museveni is not yet 75.

But if they can make his age an issue, eight years before it is meant to become one, they are putting Museveni on notice that there will be vigorous resistance if he attempts to tinker with the Constitution to get around the age restriction in the run- up to 2021.

DP the leader:

Until 2001 when Besigye's Reform Agenda was born, DP had led the struggle against Museveni in the courts, on the streets, in election campaigns, etc. The restoration of multiparty politics in 2005 was a huge victory for the party that had struggled for it for two decades, but it proved hollow when supporters realised that it had not necessarily taken Museveni out of the equation. In fact, it had given him a new lease of life.

Unable to take him out through elections (especially Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere in 1996) or term limits in 2005, DP, which all along saw the removal of Museveni as its key responsibility, has looked on as he consolidated his power while its fortunes waned. But having failed to take power from him, the party wanted at least to keep the position of 'vanguard of the struggle' against Museveni.

That explains why there has been an acrimonious relationship with FDC, which DP sees as threatening or usurping that position. Now Museveni's age has provided another opportunity for DP to reclaim its place as the political party which led a long and hard battle against Museveni until it 'succeeded', one way or another. Apart from elections, which many in the opposition admit may not remove Museveni as of now, age remains the stumbling block standing between him and ruling well into his 100th birthday in 2044!

Aware that his age has become an issue, Museveni has addressed it in a few interviews. The clearest sound bite so far was with NTV in May this year. He said: "After clocking 75, I will not support the lifting of the age limit to allow me to contest for another term of office." Museveni added that there are good scientific reasons for not remaining in office at such an advanced age.

If Museveni seriously believes that, we might see, in the 2016 campaigns, a repeat of 2001 when his key campaign message emphasized the need for him to get the last term to organise his succession. If he does that, about two years from now, DP youths will claim victory. What they would do with such victory is anyone's guess.

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