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.”
Just as Moi battled critics over the subject of his retirement, the issue of Mr Museveni’s retirement appears to have become a taboo question among government officials, especially those belonging to the ruling NRM as plans remain afoot for a Museveni fourth term ahead of next year’s general election.
“He [Museveni] is not the one keeping himself in power,” said Maj. Gen. Otafiire. “If the [NRM] party wants him in charge why should he go?”
The President’s press secretary, Mr Tamale Mirundi, threw his weight behind Gen. Otafiire’s comments and said those blaming the President for “overstaying in power are making a huge mistake.”
He said: “Museveni is the property of a revolutionary party and as long as the party believes he is the right person to carry the olubengo [grinding stone], he has no option.”
“The opposition has not defeated the man,” said Gen. Otafiire in reference to Mr Museveni’s exploits at the ballot, “So why don’t you give the man a chance to rule more?”
President Museveni has run for office thrice, in 1996, 2001 and 2006, winning a majority vote even though the last two elections were marred by electoral irregularities.
Former Kampala MP Captain Francis Babu said although he disagrees with critics, who bash Museveni over his reign in office arguing that the NRM leader is a victim of Uganda’s history, “Museveni should give this country a chance and set the stage where we can have a true democratic process [of power transfer].”
But as today’s celebrations in Mbale kickoff, attention will be drawn to Mr Museveni’s performance as president these past 24 years. Mr Museveni assumed power at a time when the state had been run-down; insecurity was at an all time high and the economy was in shambles.
His administration came up with a 10-point programme-recently modified to 15points- with the restoration of democracy and security as his top two agenda items.
The President is credited for introducing the movement type of political system, an all embracing system where individual merit thrived, and one that went miles in building national unity and destroying factionalism. In the years that followed, Uganda attained relative stability and economic growth after enduring decades of government mismanagement, civil war and rebel activity.
The President introduced measures to liberalise the country’s economy aided by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which included privatisation and currency reform.
It is these gains that his defenders continue to cite in backing the President. “I see a situation where Museveni is consolidating the gains of these past 24 years,” said Gen. Otafiire.
“He has turned Uganda from a laughing stock to the envy of the world; he has used half of the country to build the rest of the country. Let’s not forget that northern Uganda has been unproductive due to the LRA war. So why don’t you give the man a chance to rule more? The man has achieved miracles,” he added.
Mr Bidandi differed and said while there are weights to both scales on failures and achievements, “it is only that his failures have now outweighed the successes of the past hence a tendency for society to forget the good that once was.”
Mr Bidandi cited corruption as one fundamental failure of the Museveni regime.
“There is a lot of hatred and bitterness and he just doesn’t seem to take any heed,” said Mr Bidandi, “because of the level to which the majority of his leadership has gone to amass wealth and acquire property oblivious to the plight of majority of Ugandans.”
NRM balance sheet
- Per capita income has risen from $264 in 1986 to almost $394
- Country now collects Shs 4trillion in revenue compared to Shs 5billion in 1986
- Total exports of goods are now approximately $1.3billion of which $1 billion are non coffee exports
- Number of Ugandans living below the poverty line has reduced to 31% down from 56% in 1988
- HIV prevalence rates slashed from 32% in 1992 to 6.2% thanks to ABC strategy
- As of 2007, 7.5million pupils attending Primary school compared to 2.2million in 1997
- Economy growing at an average 6% of GDP.
- Inflation has been stable at about 5 per cent per annum until most recently when it shot to 14 percent
- Relative peace and security around the country with the exception of northern Uganda
- Corruption continues to blight his administration
- Over stay in power, failure to groom successors
- Weak infrastructure, hospitals, roads,
- Real power is centred in the presidency, failure to build independent institutions
- Two decades of conflict in northern Uganda
- Intolerance for democratic opposition