23 March 2019

Uganda: Sole Candidacy Is a Travesty of Democracy


Democracy rests on the critical pillar of competition. Without open competition, you cannot have democracy. Democracy is the struggle for the people's vote. Therefore, the idea that an incumbent ruler can be declared the 'sole candidate' for his party is fundamentally undemocratic. It is a travesty of the very idea of democracy. Yet this is what has become of Uganda's ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) and its three-decade long ruler, Mr Museveni - the Sabalwanyi.

But why would an incumbent be so fearful of competition yet he has unrivalled control over the levers of State power, enjoys vast advantages of incumbency and, at any rate, always ensures there is no particularly strong and credible challengers around him? This is puzzling, but in fact, has some ready answers. It is a function of two -related dynamics: Insecurity and illegitimacy. The latter tends to fuel the former.

The more illegitimate a ruler becomes, the more insecure they feel. The longer they stay in power, the more they resort to dubious methods like manipulating constitutional changes through bribery and unleashing violence, which only deepens the illegitimacy.

Museveni has phobia for civil, political competition - it is not his thing. He betrays an extraordinary sense of insecurity when he comes up against anything close to credible and competent opposition, both internal and external.

On any day, Museveni can readily embrace a challenge to armed fighting, an area where he believes he has mustered prowess, but not a contest for political office in a free, fair and transparent process, and where it's not him dictating the terms and directing the course of events. There is something related that comes into play here: He also sees competition as an irritant, an unnecessary inconvenience when he should instead have free latitude to do as he pleases. After all, he sees Uganda more as a personal real-estate than a country of 40 million citizens, who on paper, have an equal constitutional stake and whose will he has to legitimately win.

The feeling of insecurity is paralleled by, and in fact often fuelled by, the legitimacy deficit which in the case of Museveni, has become deeper the longer he has maintained a grip on power.

Legitimacy derives from the genuine will of the citizens to be governed by the governors for purposes of implementing their wishes and aspirations. Government is a delegated institution that works on behalf and for the good of the governed.

Where the people's will is procured through force and finance, as has become the case in Uganda, the legitimacy to rule sits precariously because it's difficult for the ruler to know the extent to which he can count on the people's genuine support. This is compounded by Museveni's personal attitude towards Uganda and his deluded sense of messianic mission to liberate Uganda and Africa.

In the main, the idea that the will of the governed has to be obtained fairly and through a competitive process, is alien to the calculus of Museveni's rulership.

In his calculus, the supposed higher mission he arrogated to himself, should not be subordinated to the motions of electoral competition. Thus, campaign time is not about persuading voters that he is the best candidate, but to lecture them on how he has sacrificed to liberate them from past problems and only him knows what needs to be done about present difficulties.

Everybody else is unserious and undisciplined.

Therefore, the ongoing machinations to crown the ruler the 'sole candidate,' which started at the ruling party's Central Executive Committee that the ruler himself chaired, should surprise nobody; it is to be expected. It is a function of political insecurity on the part of the ruler and political sycophancy by the hangers-on.

Museveni has some support, largely among the rural poor. But the support sits on quicksand. He is not super sure that if he didn't control and manage the process himself, he can keep his position. Therefore, he has to rent support by dishing out state largesse and relying on the state's coercive and financial apparatus to subdue challengers while shoring up his support base.

This politics of regime survival (in fact personal survival), writ large, invites an army of hangers-on and opportunists to cash in from an insecure ruler who's anxious and desperate to cling onto power.

Thus the political sycophancy displayed at Chobe a few weeks ago and at Kyankwanzi last week.

The positive side of such charades is that they fully expose Mr Museveni's and the NRM's hypocritical pretensions to being democratic. The façade is lifted when a ruler cannot subject himself to the basic and necessary process of electoral challenge, and instead has to stage-manage being presented as the 'sole candidate.'

You can't have it both ways.

You can't claim to be a political party, the most important vehicle of modern democracy, but at the same time shield the most important office from internal competition. What you have then is not a political party but a private company.


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