Uganda: Museveni's Shifting Goalposts On Retiring

By Elizabeth Kamurungi

On November 10, 1980, Mr Yoweri Museveni told a Uganda Patriotic Movement fundraising in Kampala that "Africa is tired of leaders who cling to power against the wishes of the masses."

When the National Resistance Army rebels took power in 1986, President Museveni reiterated the statement.

"The problem of Africa in general, and Uganda in particular, is not the people but leaders who want to overstay in power," he said.

Mr Museveni said what they had brought was not only a mere change of guard, but a fundamental change.

He also promised to hand over to a civilian government after four years. But 35 years later, Mr Museveni is still in power.

Although he previously pledged to retire, he extended the four-year term to eight and by two more years until the 1996 elections.

Ahead of the removal of the age limit, President Museveni said his last term would end in 2006, but two years to the end of the term, he initiated a process that eventually removed the term limits.

During the 2016 campaigns, Mr Museveni told Ugandans that he could not leave before harvesting what he had planted.

"How can I go out of a banana plantation I have planted that has started bearing fruits?" the President said then.

Mr Museveni won the January 14 polls, and is set to extend his time at the helm of the country to four decades.

While campaigning for the 6th term, the President promised to secure the future of Ugandans.

Numerous reasons were advanced to explain his stay in power, some necessitating constitutional amendments.

In May 2001, The New Vision reported Mr Museveni's intention to retire after the end of his second term (2006).

"When I retire, as I will do in these five years," the paper quoted Mr Museveni, then 62 years, as saying.

However, after a meeting at the National Leadership Institute in Kyankwanzi in 2003, the NRM party initiated the process to amend the Constitution to remove the presidential term limits.

Each MP was paid Shs5m 'facilitation' to consult the electorate about the amendments, without which President Museveni would not have been eligible to stand again in 2006. At the time, some senior NRM members, including Cabinet ministers, opposed the move.

The Constitution was in 2005 - during the final year of Mr Museveni's last five-year elective term - amended, giving him leeway to stand again. "Longevity without democracy was what I meant ... if the people are renewing my mandate in a free election, then I wouldn't put it in that category. I was talking about dictatorship," Museveni said after the 2006 elections. He would go on to contest in 2011 and 2016 against his former Bush War comrade Col (Rtd) Kizza Besigye.

Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo in the October 14, 2020, issue of Daily Monitor said he regrets the removal of presidential term limits from the Constitution because the 1994 Constituenct Assembly did not entrench the safeguards to stop such amendments.

"What I wept for this country was for the removal of the presidential term limits. That is where we lost it. The mistake we made in the Constituent Assembly was not to entrench, not to make it difficult for anyone to amend the provisions of the term limits," Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo said.

Age limit cap removal

In an interview with NTV in 2012, President Museveni said he would not contest again when he clocked 75 years.

"I think there is some scientific idea that maybe the vigour is not as much after 75. I know there are some leaders who have been leading beyond 75 but I think if you want very active leaders, have the ones below 75," he said.

In July 2017, when reminded of this stand at a press conference at State House Entebbe, following rumours of a plot to amend the Constitution to remove the upper age limit cap, which he had dismissed at the time, Mr Museveni said: "We should continue our forward movement, we should not be diverted by diversions."

In 2017, the 10th Parliament voted to amend Article 102(b) that barred persons above 75 years form contesting for the highest office in the land.

This was viewed by some of Mr Museveni's critics as a ticket to grant him a life presidency.

While engaging his social media followers in August 2019, Mr Museveni said he would have retired long ago, but 'Africa and Uganda' still have so many challenges that he needs to confront.

At the launch of the NRM 2021/2026 manifesto at Speke Resort Munyonyo after his nomination, President Museveni, according Nile Post, said: "Some people have been saying Museveni has refused to retire. It is not that I don't want to retire or that I don't have where to retire but one of the reasons is that if Ugandans still want us to participate, I will continue making myself available."

But his former Cabinet minister Amanya Mushega said last year while appearing on NTV that as people who brought the NRM to power, they can't tire of reminding Mr Museveni to peacefully hand over power.

Associate Professor William Muhumuza, a don at the School of Social Sciences at Makerere University in his paper "From Fundamental Change to No Change: The NRM and democratisation in Uganda" states that Mr Museveni's determination to retain power in a pseudo democratic dispensation has culminated into many undemocratic practices.

"It has been driven by the motive to marshal enough political support in order to retain power. This objective has largely been achieved through different political manoeuvres that have included manipulating the laws and processes of the political transition," he says.

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