President Museveni told a fellow African leader several years ago that he was not yet ready to leave power because he had a pending “vision” for East Africa to realise.
This revelation, whereas not entirely unexpected, offers new insights in understanding the President’s apparent reluctance to retire, more than 26 years after he said Africa’s problem was leaders who overstayed in power.
Mr Festus Mogae, the former President of Botswana, in recollections of their conversations while he was still President said Mr Museveni held a reluctant viewpoint on the subject of restoration of presidential term limits.
“We had chats about term limits,” Mr Mogae told this newspaper by telephone from London, adding: “He (Museveni) said he had a vision for East Africa which he wants to achieve.”The 2008 Mo Ibrahim Prize winner did not elaborate on Mr Museveni’s East African ‘vision’, but praised him for “doing many good things; he has achieved reconciliation and [re-built] the economy, which is up and running”.
The Ugandan leader has, since the 1990s when the East African Community was revived, initially for an expanded regional market, been at the forefront of the campaign to fast-track the political federation.
No term limits
Mr Museveni in power since 1986, is the longest-serving head of State in the region and among a few of his kind on the continent. And there has been lingering suspicion that Mr Museveni is positioning himself to be East Africa’s first President, a possibility said to have unsettled neighbours nervous about welcoming Uganda in a unified political league yet it is the only country without presidential term limits.
Ruling party members of the 7th Parliament in 2005 reportedly received Shs5m each to re-write Article 105(2) of the Constitution which had previously placed a two five-year presidential term limit by indicating that a person may be elected for one or more five-year terms.
The President, who at the time had already been elected twice and could not legally run for a third term, has repeatedly said he sees no Ugandan with an equivalent or better vision than his own to steer the country.
Yesterday, Presidential Spokesman Mirundi Tamale said Mr Museveni was not clinging onto power, or seeking to be East Africa’s pioneer leader, “because he is not looking for a job and his actions are mission-oriented”. “Museveni is not in power for welfare reasons,” he said,. “The problem is people think Museveni is President because he would [otherwise] be jobless and that would affect his welfare, which is not true.”
Our interview yesterday with Mr Mogae was arranged by Portland-communications, a public relations agency for Mo Ibrahim Foundation, ahead of the announcement of a decision about the winner of the $5m (Shs12.5b) prize for exceptional African leadership.
Only three former Presidents – Mr Mogae, Mozambique’s Joaquim Chissano and Pedro Verona of Cape Verde – have won the award, which gives the recipient an extra $200,000 annually for life, since its inception six years ago.
To Mr Mogae, being President was “very stressful”. “When my time came, I just had to leave,” he said of his 10-year tenure that ended in 2008. “Now people say I look younger, and I agree.” He said he was “not surprised” that assessors found no deserving person out of ex-African leaders to win the award this year, because one must score highly on all benchmarks and in all categories.
Shortly after inauguration of the Mo Ibrahim Prize, President Museveni derided the award, saying he could not be “bribed” to leave office. But in yesterday’s interview, Mr Mogae said he believed “my friend Museveni just used colourful language” to express himself on the award, and defended the choice to reward individual former Presidents, and not their teams.