Charles Onyango Obbo
‘Emperor’ Museveni, and what Puntland in Somalia teaches us about democracy
Posted Wednesday, February 12 2014 at 02:00
So, reports have it, the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) caucus has endorsed President Yoweri Museveni to run as its candidate, unopposed, in 2016.
I had never bought into the claim, which raised a lot of dust mid last year, that Museveni was grooming his son, Brig Muhoozi Kainerugaba, to be his successor in 2016. This settles that. If Muhoozi wants to be president, he will just have to outlive his old man.
But today we are more interested in the meaning of this.
Museveni has been in power now for 28 years. That is longer than any other president has ever been in State House in the East African Community (EAC). Kenya’s Daniel arap Moi notched 24 years, as did Tanzania’s Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.
We have to look at the wider Great Lakes and Eastern African region to find anyone who ever trumped Museveni’s record. Top of the list was Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie, who ruled for 44 years.
Next was the great kleptocrat of Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo), Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga, who was in power for 32 years.
Also notable is that outside ancient Ethiopia, the longest family rule in the region is in Djibouti. The president, Ismail Omar Guelleh, has been in power since 1999. He took over from his uncle, Hassan Gouled Aptidon, in one of those elections where the result is known even before the date of the poll is announced. Uncle Aptidon had been in power since Djibouti became independent in 1977. Therefore, the crown has sat on the head of the family for 37 years.
We cite these examples because if Museveni becomes Emperor Museveni – he is more than half way there - then Uganda could end up like Selassie’s Ethiopia.
Or it could end up like Mobutu’s Zaire. If you consider corruption alone in Uganda, then it is 90 per cent on the way to becoming a Mobutuist state (and could end on the same note wa Za Banga’s did).
Those who cast Museveni as Emperor, point to the self sense he has a regional Cop. The Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) is currently deployed in Somalia as part of the African Union peace-enforcement mission Amisom, in South Sudan, in eastern DRC hunting rebel leader Joseph Kony, and in Central African Republic (CAR) also hunting for Kony.
Between 2011 and 2012, the UPDF contingent deployed some of its best in Amisom to guard Prime Minister Abdiwell Mohamed Ali, a thoughtful professorial chap whom I met in Mogadishu in 2012.
Later that year, with a new constitution written for Somalia, Ali ran for president. He made it to the second round of the voting, then dropped out. The election, such as it was, was eventually won by Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.
Something remarkable then happened, and I imagine the Ugandans serving in Amisom must have noted its endless irony.
Ali originally came from Puntland, the autonomous region in northeastern Somalia (some consider Puntland a country, though the world doesn’t recognise it).
Anyhow, Ali went back to Puntland and stood in the presidential elections there early this January.
He narrowly defeated the incumbent, Abdiharam Mohamud Farole, and became the 5th president of Puntland. Even more remarkable, Farole gracefully accepted defeat.
The rest of East Africa didn’t pay attention to that election, but it was a first in the region. It was the first time in the history of the region that a sitting president had been defeated in an election, accepted the loss, and gone home without a fight.
The case of Kenya in December 2002 is often cited. But that was different. Daniel arap Moi stepped down, and his protégé (now) President Uhuru Kenyatta ran on the ruling Kenya African National Union (Kanu) ticket. He was defeated by the Rainbow coalition’s Mwai Kibaki. In Kenya, the ruling party lost, not the incumbent president.
So, those Ugandans looking for a democratic transition from Museveni, should look to Puntland, ‘part’ of a Somalia that we like to see as a basket case, a Humpty Dumpty that the UPDF and other African forces are struggling to keep together.
But there is something else. Why has Museveni gotten away with 28 years of sometimes repressive and bad rule? Me thinks one reason is because the youth in Uganda are the youngest population in the world. All of 77 per cent of our population is under 30, with 7,310,386 being youth aged 15–24 years according to one of the last counts.
The unemployment rate for young people aged 15–24 is 83 per cent. Ordinarily, you would think they would be angry and out there demanding and voting for change. No. As we shall explain in a next article, their unemployment is one reason they won’t.
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