President Museveni inks his name in the history books today as East Africa’s longest serving leader on a day that marks 24 years since his ruling National Resistance Movement overthrew the rogue regime of Tito Okello Lutwa.
The NRM leader will preside over celebrations to mark his 181-86 bush-war heroics in the eastern Uganda town of Mbale.
But as the ruling party revels in the glory that came with Mr Museveni’s military and political conquests, the subject of his longevity in power, choice of Mbale District as venue for this year’s celebrations and a balance sheet of his achievements and failures will form the highlight of this significant political event.
Trade Minister Kahinda Otafiire said Mbale’s choice was reflective of the district’s historic contribution to the 1981-85 bush war struggle.
“Mbale should be recognised,” he said, “because we had a significant NRA chapter there. Apart from Luweero, we had a front there with the likes of Ted Wamusi and the late Musamali.”
Former Kenyan leader Daniel Arap Moi arrived in the country on Monday ahead of today’s celebrations.
Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Ambassador James Mugume told Daily Monitor that Mr Moi’s presence “looks logical” because he was present that historic Wednesday on January 29, 1986 when President Museveni stood at the front porch of the parliamentary building and took oath as Uganda’s ninth president.
“He arrived already and is in Tororo,” said Mr Mugume.
At the time of his retirement in 2002, Mr Moi had dominated Kenyan politics for almost a quarter a century, ascending to the presidency on August 22, 1978. It is a fete that Mr Museveni will be emulating and surpassing today.
The former President, who is the most significant dignitary invited for the event, last visited Uganda as Kenyan leader on November 27, 2002 in what was an emotional farewell visit.
“A relaxed Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi arrived in Uganda yesterday on a farewell visit,” reported this newspaper on November 28, 2002. “President Museveni, who had looked remarkably happy and gesticulated as he chatted with Vice President Specioza Kazibwe, gave Moi a firm and sustained handshake, before guiding him along the red carpet for the two national anthems.”
Eight years later, however, Mr Moi returns to a familiar handshake despite much change on Uganda’s social, political and economic landscape. And when the two leaders exchange pleasantries today, President Museveni will have earned all bragging rights not just because he is Uganda’s longest serving leader, but because he is East Africa region’s longest serving head of state.
While Mr Museveni’s supporters take pride in a long list of achievements over the last two decades, his record-breaking stint will reignite debate about whether his continued stay in office is good for the country.
Although Mr Museveni had promised to leave in 2006, he had the Constitution changed in controversial circumstances to allow him stand again for office that year.
The NRM top leaders have already endorsed Mr Museveni as the party candidate in the 2011 election which will see him extend his record to 2006, should he win. He would also be eligible to stand in 2016, paving the way for him to become one of the longest serving leaders in the world.
Former Museveni ally and now the opposition People Progressive Party leader, Mr Jaberi Bidandi Ssali, said that the President’s continued stay in office had created a lot of “bitterness” and “hatred” in the hearts and minds of Ugandans.
“It is sad that he has completely lost conscience of his obligation to this country and the people of Uganda,” said Mr Bidandi. “Unfortunately he is contributing in burying the good he did for this country.”