Wednesday May 9 2012

Mr President, Onyango-Obbo praised UPDF’s role in Somalia

When I read President Museveni’s comment titled, ‘Only patriots, revolutionaries can build an army like UPDF’ in the Daily Monitor of May 8, I wondered what was so bad about what Mr Onyango-Obbo had written that it should draw the President’s ire.

I went back and re-read Obbo’s comment and came back still quite confused. Obbo had (it seemed to me) been very complimentary of UPDF’s role in Somalia. He praised our men and women in uniform for their bravery, their sensitivity to local conditions and their general conduct in difficult circumstances.

So why is the President so angry that he must refer to Obbo as “one of the greatest enemies of NRM”? (We might also take this opportunity to ask what all those officials at State House do with their time, if they cannot prevent such a comment seeing the light of day.)

On second thought, the answer to this question is obvious. I think President Museveni feels sorely under-appreciated. He cannot understand why after bringing peace and stability to Uganda and setting it on a course to economic prosperity, he finds himself increasingly battling dissent inside and outside NRM. Why can’t Ugandans appreciate what he has done for them? he asks! Why can’t they celebrate his foresight, his vision, his genius even, in matters military and political?

The answer is, Mr Museveni is asking himself the wrong questions. Only the mad or perhaps the totally unappreciative would say he has not done great things for this nation and the region. His achievements and those of his NRM are too many to list here and will be celebrated for years to come. Yet Mr Museveni has failed himself in one crucial area: He refuses to acknowledge his own mortality and put in place a realistic plan for a Uganda after he is gone. And this is the fundamental reason for all the dissent he is facing, which he misconstrues as ingratitude.

Since Museveni likes to quote his fellow revolutionary Mao Tse-tung (above), it is fitting that we see what lessons we can draw from Mao’s own reign, specifically the end of it. Like other revolutionaries before him, Mao refused to plan for a China after his own exit. Even as his health deteriorated, Mao continued purging his party of internal dissent, sending many top officials (including his eventual successor Deng Xiaoping) into political exile.

In late 1976, Mao suffered a heart attack, and was bed-ridden. A power struggle ensued, pitting the Gang of Four led by his brutal and ambitious wife, Jiang Qin, against the reformers led in part by Deng Xiaoping. Mao was too weak to affect the course of events. In September 1976 he died. Within a month, his wife had been tried and executed.

Within a year, Deng’s group had triumphed, disavowed Mao’s legacy and dismantled his entire power structure. If Mao had not been so greedy for power, perhaps his family and legacy would have fared better.

Crucially, Mao was denied the chance to shape a post-Mao China. History has given that honour to Deng Xiaoping, who got most credit for the economic and political successes China enjoys today. If there is anything history teaches us, it is that men are doomed to repeat it. Yet we hope and pray that our country does not go down that road.

Jackson Othieno,