28 February 2013

Uganda: Why Museveni Should Have Given Idi Amin a Medal


I was surprised and amused by the explanations given as to why former President Idi Amin did not get a medal during the National Resistance Movement victory anniversary events at Kasese.

Medals were given to, among others, five former Ugandan presidents, in recognition of their services to the country. Whatever reasons that were advanced, these two leaders alone, Idi Amin and Yoweri Museveni ? who also gave himself a medal - have ruled Uganda for up to 35 of the 50 years of its independence.

They make an interesting, almost identical, pair. To start with, Amin came to power through the barrel of the gun and stuck to the grabbed power. Museveni also captured state power after a guerilla war and though he has so far ruled for 27 years, he is likely planning to stay longer.

Amin used to sing about how he was the most loved president - the "Big Daddy" ? whose regime was "the best for Ugandans." Today, Museveni and his cohorts are doing a rendition of the same song. They claim it is only Museveni who understands what is best for Ugandans.

Amin assumed state power on January 25, 1971, after overthrowing Milton Obote and 15 years later (January 25, 1986) Museveni captured Kampala, but chose to announce it the next day (January 26). Amin ruled using his own dreamt-up 'Decree Number One.' For the first ten years, Museveni ruled using 'Legal Notice Number One' of 1986.

Amin promised to hold elections within five years after his coup. Museveni had promised to do so within four years. But none of them honoured their promises. Amin ruled for eight years without holding elections while Museveni held elections after ruling for nine years. Amin declared himself life president at the end of his first four-year term of office. Museveni also declared his continued presidency at the end of his first four years in power.

Both Amin and Museveni acquired as many titles as possible and occupied as many national leadership offices as possible. Amin held the titles of President, Commander-in-chief, Al-hajji, Doctor, Chancellor of Makerere University, and was decorated with medals such as VC, DSO, MC, and Conqueror of the British Empire.

Museveni is also president, Chairman NRM, Chairman of the Defence Council, Commander-in-chief of UPDF, Ssabagabe, Ssabalwanyi, nnyinimu and, for sometime, Chancellor of Makerere University, etc. Amin held the topmost military rank in the country - Field Marshal ? and today Museveni has the rank of General, one rank below Amin's.

Amin tried to win Buganda's support by bringing the body of the late Kabaka Muteesa II from Britain. Museveni also appealed to Buganda's sentiments by making it possible for Kabaka Ronald Mutebi II to become king and gave Buganda back some of their 'ebyaffe' which Obote had taken from them. Amin ruled in a 'no-party' regime. Museveni too had a 'no-party' regime known as the Movement system for some time.

Amin used to say that he feared nobody but Allah, while Museveni on one of the graduation ceremonies at Makerere University, said he was 'next to God.' Amin believed in civilians getting military training in order to demystify the gun. And he trained his ministers and other chiefs in military tactics, including using the gun.

Similarly today, Museveni has set up a national military training school at Kyankwanzi where a number of people have been trained and indoctrinated. These 'Chaka Mchaka' courses have also been held at lower administrative levels throughout the country. Amin wanted his young son, Mwanga, to be a soldier and used to dress him in army uniforms at official functions.

Museveni's son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, is not only a high-ranking soldier but also commands an elite unit of the army. However, the major departure between Museveni and Amin's regimes is the fact that Uganda has registered the highest level of economic growth during Museveni's rule, declining support for social services notwithstanding.

Amin believed he had the strongest army. Museveni too once told Makerere University students that he had one of the strongest armies in the world. Finally, many Ugandans at one time or another have believed that the two men were not Ugandans. Whereas they claimed Amin was a Sudanese, some to this day, still claim Museveni is a Rwandan.

So, before denying former president Idi Amin his due recognition, I would have President Yoweri Museveni taking a good look in the mirror and interpreting what he sees.

The author is a journalist on The Observer.

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