Sunday January 14 2018

Museveni’s Ntungamo utterances have unmasked his zero-sum politics


By Norbert Mao

The recent by-elections in Ruhaama County, won by NRM’s Moses Kahima, allowed Museveni to drop every pretence about equitable development and show his true colours as an ultra-partisan. Museveni reportedly said “voting for the Opposition is suicidal”.

Museveni said his wife ceaselessly lobbied him for service delivery in Ruhaama. He dismissed non-NRM candidates as incapable of delivering services to the constituency because they are not on “the majority NRM table” where those who allocate resources sit.

“Parliament is just like a place for all, to talk. It is like a bus park but the real things are allocated somewhere else. If you look for an independent, he will never reach me,” Museveni said. He also said Augustine Ruzindana’s allegiance to the Opposition FDC made him unable to develop the constituency.

Why is that viewpoint dangerous? Just like monoculture is bad for the soil and forces the farmer to introduce hazardous chemicals to maintain productivity, a one party state is only sustained by resort to arbitrary repression.

Uganda’s return to multiparty democracy in 2006 was a recognition that multiple political parties are indispensable. There is no better way of reflecting the spectrum of people’s needs, interests and views. This spectrum is wide. It covers a range from the highest ideals to the vilest and outlandish of instincts and aspirations.

Museveni’s utterance is an expression of his desire to consolidate the monopoly of the NRM, to suppress dissent and spread the politics of dishing out of patronage. It is a seal of approval for cronyism, not democracy. Multipartism provides for the balancing of individual interests in a polity. What Museveni is preaching will turn Uganda into a vehicle without brakes.
Immediately after being declared winner of the 2016 presidential elections, Museveni said “I will wipe out the Opposition completely in the next five years. NRM is going to be stronger.” That is a lie. The Opposition, even under the most repressive environment, cannot die. It can only change form. It can burrow, disguised, in the ruling party or go underground.

Instead the NRM has become weaker. Internal dissent is growing. Museveni has to bribe MPs to vote for proposals the claim to support. Ideological conviction has plummeted. Opportunism has become the operating system. The NRM as an institution is in tatters.

Museveni’s utterance should provoke outrage because it endorses zero-sum politics. Zero-sum games or relationships are those where a gain for one side means a corresponding loss for the other side.

To deny an entire constituency basic services because they have elected a representative belonging to a minority party is unacceptable. It is even counterproductive. Constituencies that elect Opposition candidates also have ruling party adherents. How can the ruling party build its base if it totally denies the constituency basic services?

One can understand the allocation of political offices to ruling party loyalists. A ruling party, however, doesn’t have the right to exclude other citizens from non-political positions or deny them basic services simply because they come from areas that vote against the ruling party. That is a recipe for civil strife and even separatist tendencies.

A constituency that rejects NRM candidates does not violate any law. An election is an opportunity to freely exercise a choice through the ballot. Elections become meaningless if voting for the Opposition is characterised as suicide.

With all due respect, Museveni must withdraw the utterances he made in Ntungamo and apologise to Ugandans. Otherwise we can only conclude that he has now degenerated from being a Fountain of Honour to a Fountain of Horror!