Sunday July 20 2014

Should Museveni enjoy power without suffering the pain of governance struggles?

By Alan Tacca

It is difficult to think of a modern revolution that did not end in fascism. From the Soviet Union and its former satellites to China; from Cuba and Nicaragua to North Korea; from Iran to Gadhafi’s Libya and a whole rack of African examples; most of them degenerated into repressive dictatorship. If not permanently, at least for long stretches alternating with brief periods of moderation.
A pure fascist would solve the problem of Opposition politicians and other “negative” elements by killing or locking them up.

In practice, the art of dictatorship is packaged in varying doses of half measures; bits of physical torture, bits of killing, bits of prison, bits of mouth tape and bits of freedom. Yes, even bits of freedom; little vents to prevent avoidable explosions.

It is a difficult art form, but nowhere near the maddening complexity of open democracy.
The ruling dictator’s obsession is neutralising the plans of rivals and potential rivals who want to remove him from power.

The ruling democrat’s obsession is to deliver on his promises and good governance; to secure the approval of the voters so that they re-elect him or his party.

At every turn, every action, there is a possibility that he will not realise a specific objective; or if he does, there is a danger that as he makes one section of the population happy, another section will be alienated.

There is this constant struggle going on in the open. The legislature, the media, the various rights and interest groups and their NGOs, the international community; the democrat feels obliged to give due consideration to all of them.

I suspect President Museveni secretly wishes he could rule as a dictator, but at the same time also wants the benefits that come with being a democrat. So maybe, on paper, he should be a hybrid. In practice, he vacillates between the two types of ruler, sometimes with startling boldness.

One year or so ago, Mr Museveni extolled his appointee, Kampala Capital City Authority Executive Director Jennifer Musisi “The Terrible”, as a star performer. In his enthusiasm, he said a few more of her type would sort out Uganda, which was generally understood as beating the citizens into shape.

With 2016 in his sights, the President seems to be looking around for ways of limiting the vote damage expected as a result of the heavy-handedness with which Kampala has been managed since that time.

The original game plan looked like this: Get a rough operator to dramatically rip through, demolish or level some physical features as evidence of new no-nonsense management of the city.

Drive eye-sore (poor) urban classes and other vermin to the outer rim of the city and beyond. Let the roughie bash and humiliate whoever the NRM wanted emasculated, especially if it was the Lord Mayor, Erias Lukwago.

A lot of this was bound to be very unpopular, especially among the poor. So, you, the President, who needs votes, must appear to be at some distance, or to be often otherwise distracted. Act as if you are not always looking when the mayhem is going on. So you cannot really be held “responsible”.

Blame anybody else, even your beloved party. Why have the party members been indifferent?

The agenda in this game plan, repeated again and again over almost 30 years, is that the President must almost always have his way (rather like a dictator, if you want), but without sustaining any serious political injury. He has arranged that it is little people and hired hands who take the body blows normally endured by democrats, the blows whose toll imposes periodic changes of leadership in functional democracies.

Because Uganda is a backward and largely uncritical society, where a ruler can enjoy the pleasures of power for 30 years without experiencing the pain that should follow his mistakes, it is doubly important to have a law that restricts the ruler to one or two reasonable spells in office, after which he must go away.

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator