27 December 2017

Uganda: Museveni Still Has a Chance, He Shouldn't Blow It


There is an outcry in Uganda. Except that one man doesn't seem to hear it. Or has he chosen to stuff fingers in his ears? President Yoweri Museveni seems to be within reach of what his critics accuse of him of plotting all this while.

What the ruling party National Resistance Movement (NRM) started as a big joke has, apparently, turned out to be a well-calculated plot.

Rumours that the Ugandan strongman, not looking to retire anytime soon, is eyeing life presidency have become a reality with the controversial scrapping of the age limit clause from the constitution.

The bickering and fist-fighting over the plan took a more definite turn last week when Ugandan lawmakers voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to remove presidential age limits, paving the way for the 73-year-old leader to serve a sixth term in office. The controversial bill passed with 315 votes, two abstentions and 62 against.

The voting process itself was after three days of chaotic debates. Some opposition MPs were suspended, while others walked out. The bill will pass into law once it is signed by Mr Museveni.

For many a political observers, it's a done deal. What this basically translate to is President Museveni running again in 2021 - he will be 76 years old - and he may (will) serve two more terms - by the time he is done (if he will be done at all) he will be in his early 90s.

I have personally been an admirer of Mr Museveni for years - he strikes me as a wise man from the east - and his sense of humour makes life difficult even for many of his critics.

Since taking over the reins at the end of the armed conflict in 1986, he's run the economy, a critical ingredient for political survival, in an arguably much better way than many of African peers.

The World Bank singles out the "various structural reforms and investments", most of which led to a "sustained period of high growth and poverty reduction between 1987 and 2010", and the ambitious public sector reforms in the past two decades as some of Mr Museveni's major achievements.

Within the East African Community (EAC), he remains a towering and very influential figure. In a way, his story sounds much like that of former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, whose dramatic ouster last month quickly shifted the spotlight to Kampala.

Political soothsayers warned President Museveni may suffer a similar fate to that of Mr Mugabe, who was forced out of office in an army-led 'soft coup' after 37 years in power. That, however, has been a subject of debate.

In fact, there are many who still believe that Mr Museveni is smart enough to not allow that. Interestingly, he once said leaders "overstaying" in power were the root of Africa's problems. Posterity will tell.

Still, the reality is that President Museveni - a known wily politician - may not have it his way, not always. The Zimbabwe case says it all.

This is why the fall of Mugabe is a very good chance for the Ugandan leader to slowly begin that uncomfortable yet inevitable trip towards the exit door. He must be smart enough not to allow some "criminal minds" surrounding him to engage the overdrive in their own pursuit of power and easy money.

Mr Museveni may be making the big mistake of banking on the perceived goodwill of his people (and the army). It's not too late for him to rethink and reconsider.


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