Gen Yoweri K. Museveni, is determined to hang on to his throne. This is not news to some of us, of course. However, it may be news to those who have stubbornly stuck to the illusion that the Ugandan ruler meant it when he asked for one last term in 2001, then again in 2006 because he wanted “to professionalise the army, prepare for the transition” and other forgotten fables.
The fact is that Gen Museveni has ring-fenced the presidency for himself since he was sworn in on January 29, 1986. To paraphrase Kenya’s Charles Njonjo’s edict in 1976, Mr Museveni believes that: “It is a criminal offence for any person to encompass, imagine, devise, or intend the democratic removal of Museveni from the presidency.”
Some have blamed “those around the president” for the trickery and treachery that have destroyed all pretense of democracy and honest governance in Uganda. The fact is that Museveni himself has always been at the helm of the project to keep him in power.
The events at Kyakwanzi and at the Entebbe State House, orchestrated to humiliate and “out” a potential challenger, NRM Secretary General Amama Mbabazi, were not the work of some over-enthusiastic youth in Parliament. That drama was orchestrated and directed by Museveni himself.
Twenty nine-year old Evelyn Anite, the Youth MP from Koboko District, has gained notoriety as the lightning rod in the anti-Mbabazi campaign. In fact, Ms Anite and her cohorts are temporary weapons in the President’s arsenal, soon to be discarded like the others who have foolishly availed themselves for similar roles in Museveni’s long reign.
The Anites of this world should talk to their seniors who were used by Museveni to remove presidential term limits in 2005 and to enact draconian laws designed to silence political challengers. They now face harsh realities of being cast out like used rags, disallowed to even contemplate a change of party leadership.
It is very tempting to sit back and watch the cockfight in the NRM, and hope that they will mortally wound what remains of their party. It is equally tempting to scream “I told you so!” to the President’s most loyal colleagues of the last 40 years who are being thrown under the yellow bus.
However, the democrat and loyal citizen in me is obliged to support those in any political party who seek to exercise their inalienable right to stand for any office in the land. I cannot demand democracy in my party and in national governance while turning a blind eye to dictatorship inside another political party, even the NRM that I would love to retire from power.
Democracy, like freedom, peace and justice, is indivisible. Defence of the human rights of others, including those of my opponents, is my business, not just because it is the right thing to do but also because any violation of the same will have a major impact on my rights.
Whether or not Mr Mbabazi has been campaigning to replace Gen Museveni as his party’s leader is not my business. What matters to me is that Mr Mbabazi has the constitutional right to seek his party’s leadership and the presidency of Uganda.
The idea that his reported interest in the presidency has become a national crisis is a mockery of the millions of men and women who still support the NRM. That this mockery is by a gentleman who took the country to war in “defence of democracy” should encourage NRM supporters to consider their loyalty to Gen Museveni.
Above all, the legitimacy of choosing who heads a political party that has ruled Uganda for 28 years and controls nearly every facet of human life in the land, will have a major impact on the inevitable transition that must happen in the near future.
What sort of transition Uganda will undergo is a matter of great concern to those of us who recall the change of rulers in 1966, 1971, 1979, 1980, 1985 and 1986.
Each of these transitions was abrupt, violent and contested. Each of these events wrote down in blood a prescription for the instability that haunts us still.
As we watch the spectacle of a ruling party held hostage by a power-hungry ruler, we see a replay of a movie that has denied our country even one single peaceful transition of presidential power since independence 51 years ago.
That is why the political crisis confronting the NRM is consequential to all Ugandans, and not just the supporters of that party. Yet we must not despair.
Perhaps, just perhaps, Prime Minister Mbabazi and others in the NRM who believe they have a stake in our country’s future will borrow from Sir Geoffrey Howe’s November 1990 resignation speech in the House of Commons, which sealed British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s fate.
Mr Mbabazi and his colleagues should “consider their personal response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which (they) have wrestled for too long.” They must choose between the interests of Mr Museveni and the interests of Uganda.