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Ruling for long is good - Museveni

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Mr Museveni (C) and Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga (L) are shown paintings by an artist outside Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Museum in Bondo in Kenya on Saturday. Photo by Jacob Owiti  

By Tabu Butagira

Posted  Monday, February 20  2012 at  00:00

In Summary

The President on Saturday swallowed his 1986 words of despising long-serving leaders, saying the experience offers mastery in governance.

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President Museveni has, in an about-face, told Kenyans that it is beneficial for one person to rule a country for a lengthier period, citing his own 26-year tenure that he said has helped him morph into an “expert on governance”.

A State House statement issued yesterday quoted Mr Museveni, who was chief guest at the inauguration of Great Lakes Universities’ Education Trust Fund in Kisumu, to have said: “African problems are a result of lack of proper research and wrong advice from outsiders.”

The statement emailed to this newspaper by Deputy Presidential Press Secretary, Ms Lindah Nabusayi, read: “President Museveni has defended his long stay in power, saying that it has helped him to learn many things, and he is now an expert in governance.”

Details of Mr Museveni’s speech, but one omitted in the official summary, offer a glimpse into reasons underpinning his reluctance to relinquish power even after being at the helm for slightly over a quarter of a century. He is also one of the longest-serving African leaders, having captured power in 1986 after a five-year guerrilla war.

“Some people think that being in the government for a long time is a bad thing,” this newspaper’s sister publication, Sunday Nation, quoted Mr Museveni as having said. “But the more you stay, the more you learn. I am now an expert in governance.”

Itching word
This is the second time in less than a year that Mr Museveni has publicly hinted about his motivation to cling to power and how that has enhanced his ability to lead more effectively.

At the height of the walk-to-work demonstrations in April last year, he told a press conference at his country home that he has “been around for some time”, helping him understand how to deal with Western powers. Some members of the international community had at the time been cited in intelligence dossiers as responsible for instigating the demonstrations as a blind to effect a regime change.

Mr Nandala Mafabi, the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, last evening criticised the President’s U-turn, saying it manifested his “greed for power”.

“He is now greedy for power and becoming a dictator worse than Idi Amin,” he said. Mr Nandala said the unchecked theft of the nation’s wealth by bureaucrats, collapse in social services coupled with worsening brain drain due to topsy-turvy remuneration in public service expose Mr Museveni’s “self-centredness”.

Looked another way, Saturday’s declaration shows the President, whose present term ends in 2016, is not about to give up power and worse reflects that he is a betrayer of his former reformist self. When Mr Museveni allegedly engineered removal of the constitutional provision on two-term limit, each of five years, for an incumbent president before it was even tested, critics accused him of plotting to rule for life.

Contradiction
Yet in what now smacks of self-contradiction, Mr Museveni, then a younger revolutionary, had in his widely-quoted 1986 victory speech, said: “The problem of Africa in general and Uganda in particular is not the people but leaders who want to overstay in power.”

Juxtaposing this statement with the President’s weekend pronouncement raises questions about how much politicians should be trusted on their words.

Mr Museveni has often dodged debate on his succession, leaving the country in suspense over the future.

tbutagira@ug.nationmedia.com