24 March 2017

Uganda: Museveni Scoffs At Succession Debate

President Museveni has dismissed calls to discuss his successor or even the age limit in the constitution, saying it's a small matter whose time will come.

Speaking in Luweero district on Tuesday, Museveni said Ugandans should focus on eliminating poverty rather than debating who leads. With four years left of Museveni's presidency and an age restriction in the constitution that forbids him from seeking another term in office, having clocked 75 years by 2021 when the next election is to be held, succession has been a hot topic in Uganda's political discourse and promises to gain more traction.

Museveni's son-in-law, Odrek Rwabwogo, recently galvanized the debate with a series of articles in New Vision in which he called for economic reforms and internal democracy in NRM.

His intervention has since drawn in more voices, with Museveni's private secretary for political affairs David K. Mafabi, Media Centre boss Ofwono Opondo, and Trade minister Amelia Kyambadde, among others, sharing their views.

On Tuesday, President Museveni himself weighed in, telling journalists at Kawumu state lodge in Luweero district that he is only concerned about the future of Africa and what needs to be done - rather than "small things" such as the age limit in the constitution.

"Right now our focus, my focus, is eliminating poverty," said Museveni, who turns 73 this year, in a mixture of Luganda and English.

"When the right time comes, we will talk about those other things. Not that it [succession] is not important, but there is a time for it. We will get time and discuss it."

ENTER NADDULI

Museveni's stance was supported by Abdul Nadduli, the NRM vice chairman for Buganda and minister without portfolio, who argued that succession is for NRM as a party to decide, and asked the president to prevail on his outspoken family members such as Rwabwogo.

"Now, can I start asking who you [Christians] are choosing as a bishop? I, a Muslim?" Nadduli told Uganda Radio Network.

Speaking in Luganda, Nadduli warned Museveni's household against fanning the succession talk.

"That's why I appeal to Mzee Museveni to put put his household in order, because that could be the source of chaos," Nadduli said.

Appearing to refer to Rwabwogo, who has no position in NRM party structures, having attempted to become vice chairperson for western Uganda without success in 2015, Nadduli said: "Now they have started discussing proposals from someone who has absolutely no locus to bring up such a proposal, asking us about succession."

Unlike Nadduli who would rather opposition supporters left the succession debate to NRM organs, Norbert Mao of the Democratic Party said Museveni wants the debate shelved because he plans to remain president for life.

Mao told URN that NRM has no alternative to Museveni, and is therefore plotting to remove the age restriction from the constitution to enable him stay on beyond 2021.

The question of who will succeed Museveni as leader of party and country has been a subject of discussion since the country adopted a new constitution in 1995, which limited a president to two five-year terms. However, the clause on term limits was done away with in 2005, leaving the 75-age limit as the only stumbling block to a possible life presidency.

FAMILY MEMBERS

The succession debate has recently been given impetus by the prominent involvement of a family member. In his controversial writings, Rwabwogo has suggested that what needs to be developed is a mechanism for orderly transfer of power from the first generation of NRM to the younger generation.

Some analysts believe Rwabwogo could be speaking on behalf of other first family members who fear to come out. Dr Sabiiti Makara, a senior lecturer of political science at Makerere University, said Rwabwogo has exhibited a certain kind of confidence that pre-supposes he is on reasonably firm ground.

"We all know that when people like Dr Kizza Besigye came out, they were hounded. But for Rwabwogo nothing has been done to him so far. This speaks volumes," Makara said.

It is possible that Rwabwogo's position is shared by other first family members, particularly his wife Patience and other daughters of the president, or their mother.

According to a source close to the family, some of the members of the president's household are of the view that Museveni has sacrificed enough for Uganda and should therefore call time on his reign.

Besides wishing to see Museveni spend more time with his grandchildren, these family members also harbour a fear that clinging onto the presidency beyond 2021 comes with the risk of a possible violent end that would destabilize family and country.

"When they were growing up, the president was in the bush fighting and did not have time for them. After he took power, he has been occupied with national duties. They think he should reserve some time for the grandchildren," said the source.

Defending his views, Rwabwogo maintains that as a Ugandan he is entitled to making a contribution to the wellbeing of his country. But political scientist Makara sees a hidden ambition in Rwabwogo that he says might in future end in a presidential bid.

"It might not happen in 2021 but someone who is targeting something has to start somewhere," Makara said.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Rwabwogo's views have been welcomed in some NRM quarters. Appearing on a TV talk-show, Trade minister Amelia Kyambadde, a former principal private secretary to President Museveni, said:

"We need to think about succession in the party and continuity. It is high time we started thinking about it. Otherwise we can drive this country into anarchy."

Rwabwogo has also found a supporter in Ofwono Opondo, the executive director of Uganda Media Centre, who recently wrote in New Vision that voices of dissent within NRM should not be stifled.

Ofwono criticized David K. Mafabi, President Museveni's private secretary for political affairs, for trying to silence Rwabwogo under the pretext that he had used the "wrong forum".

SETTLED DEBATE?

In one of his articles, Mafabi accused Rwabwogo of failing to point out specific flaws in Museveni's leadership despite describing the president as a strongman.

But writing in New Vision, Moses Byaruhanga, a senior presidential advisor on political affairs, said the constitution settled the succession issue.

"The process is through a presidential election every five years and that election takes place during the first 30 days of the last 90 days of the term of the president," he wrote.

Other senior NRM members such as Maj Gen (retired) Kahinda Otaffire, the minister for justice, have argued that the Museveni succession debate is misplaced because "Uganda is not monarchy where the president can choose a successor."

Yet from his remarks in Luweero on Tuesday, Museveni admits that that the issue of succession and age limit are not settled. If it was settled, there would be no discussion to hold - even "at the right time" - because the constitution is clear.

Raising the possibility of a discussion "at the right time" points to Mao's assertion that the man who has ruled Uganda for 31 years perhaps has no plan to go away.

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