Wednesday July 26 2017

Groupthink: The driving force behind ‘debate’ on age limit


By Okodan Akwap

With the exception of voicing support for the Cranes, the national football team, Ugandans have a tendency to spend too much time and use too many words to say absolutely nothing new. Nowadays, for example, everyone is engaging in the “debate” over the 1995 Constitution. Specifically over a clause that categorically bars anyone from eligibility to stand for the presidency of the republic upon clocking 75 years.
This clause stands in the way of President Museveni to seek another term in 2021. He will be 76.

But Museveni is likely to be on the ballot come 2021. This is a direct consequence of the settlement of the question of loyalty of members of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party.
Dogged by growing internal dissent and the gains of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) with its combative flag bearer, Dr Kizza Besigye, NRM found itself in a do-or-die situation.
So, several years back, NRM members identified group cohesiveness as the driving force to resist change.

Group cohesiveness resulted from the feeling that there were strong forces acting on NRM members to remain in the party.
These forces included attractiveness of NRM, motivation to become or remain a member of NRM, and the presence of an external threat, especially from FDC.

In general terms, if a group successfully reaches its goal, then its cohesiveness also increases. Success breeds success. It is also true that when members individually align their personal goals to the goal of a cohesive group in general, their activities can lead to strength. However, the key problem with NRM is that its stated objective of making a “fundamental change” in Uganda came a cropper many years back. Clearly, the NRM veered off its original 10-Point Programme intended to transform this country from peasantry to modernity.
What also is not in doubt is the prioritisation of the goal of winning elections every five years. This is what has led to the element of groupthink, a pattern of

faulty decision-making in NRM.

Groupthink occurs in cohesive groups, whose members strive for agreement at the expense of accurate assessment of information relevant to a decision.

When Ms Evelyn Anite, then a Youth MP, dropped on her knees to beg fellow party members to endorse the sole candidacy (for NRM) of President Museveni in the 2011 elections, groupthink was firmly cemented in the party.
NRM took the first concrete step toward groupthink in 2005 when Parliament was persuaded – at a ridiculous cost of Shs5m per MP – to gravely mutilate the Constitution by yanking out the clause limiting the period of an elected president to two terms. Clearly, it was wrong to raid the Constitution in that manner. It was wrong, subsequently, to purge the likes of Mr Amama Mbabazi from party leadership for resisting the allure of NRM’s newly found comfort in groupthink. And it will be wrong, I reckon, to get rid of the age limit. Nevertheless, such actions have consequences that can come back to haunt groupthink enthusiasts. For Mr Richard Nixon, the consequences came when the infamous Watergate Scandal broke out in America in the early 1970s.
It so happened that influential members of the Republican Party, with Nixon as their candidate, were anxious to win the 1972 election at any cost.

So, they took a groupthink decision to bug the headquarters of the Democratic Party to eavesdrop on the campaign strategies of the democrats. Republicans won the elections. But in 1973, two reporters with The Washington Post newspaper, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, exposed the wrongdoing of the Republicans through what is still seen as one of the greatest investigative reporting stories of all time. Nixon resigned in 1974.
It’s highly unlikely that President Museveni can be forced to resign. Not now. Not ever, perhaps. Still, the negative consequences of groupthink may come to haunt NRM. That party may die the day Museveni dies. That’s how futile all this nonsensical “debate” over the age limit is. Get rid of the damn age limit and let us get on with the more serious business of supporting the Cranes’ campaign for Afcon 2019.

Dr Okodan is a lecturer at Kampala
International University.