Thursday January 31 2013

Museveni of the Kaunda suit is the best President we will never have

By Daniel K. Kalinaki

President Museveni and the NRM government he leads this week celebrated 27 years in power.

That is a truly remarkable feat. Consider this: When they took power in 1986 the Internet, as we know it today, did not exist; Somalia was still a functioning state; Liverpool was still winning the league; and the Soviet Union was still one country.

I was not too long out of my nappies then and I remember singing along to the “revolutionary NRA songs” and watching with boyish wonder the events at Kololo Airstrip. The sleek VIP cars; the big mounted guns, their big black barrels erect with the Viagra of deadly possibility; the thin Kaunda-suited VIPs spitting revolutionary slogans, speaking of a wonderful world to come, in which no one would be left behind.

Then there was Museveni the teacher, going around the country in his Kaunda-suit with a portable blackboard and chalk, giving lectures on infant mortality rates and gross domestic product.

How could anyone not have loved that man?

Lucky were those whose districts got picked to host national events for, if you were good and disciplined in school, you got to attend the parade, march with the bands, your flimsy polyester uniform shirts a testament to the meagre but deeply satisfying egalitarian times.

Twenty-seven years later, we are grown men with children of our own but looking back into the shattered mirror of our lost childhoods.

These days, young people see no romanticism or revolutionary traits in those marching bands. Crowds often have to be bussed (and paid) to turn up; many more are happy to get a day off and stay at home, away from the fanciful façade of phantasmagoria, the rehearsed rectitude of political rhetoric.

Our dear beloved leader still makes some valid arguments when he speaks (such as the need for infrastructure and value-addition) but it increasingly sounds rehashed and insipid, like the leftover bits from a hearty dinner.

The passion is gone, replaced by politically partisan arguments that seek to put the NRM and its adherents ahead of Uganda and all its citizens.

The blackboard and chalk are also gone, replaced by bullion vans and brown envelopes for those whose political ulcers need to be treated with a large, urgent dose of legal tender.

Any leader who stays in power for three decades or more is bound to suffer from a decreasing marginal return on political productivity and popularity but there is something more at play here.

It is as if the wider Museveni has cast his influence the smaller his presidency has become.

This year’s NRM day celebrations were postponed so that the President could attend the AU Summit in Addis Ababa.
There he was in fine form; the deal-maker helping resolve conflicts, from DR Congo to South Sudan, Burundi to Somalia.

In the enforced absence of the likes of Hosni Mubarak, Ben Ali and Muammar Gaddafi, and the reluctance (and low intellectual bandwidth) of the likes of Eduardo Dos Santos and Teodoro Nguema Obiang, Museveni casts a larger-than-life shadow on the continent, ensuring that his relevance abroad continues to make him indispensable at home.

But his domestic presidency continues to shrink. With his party in open revolt and Parliament showing growing signs of intransigence, Museveni has in recent times increasingly had to dangle the military threat which, like the Sword of Damocles, continues to hang, half-leashed, over events. However much the threat of violence signals military might, it will always smell of political weakness and suggest that where he ought to win alliances and make friends, Museveni has chosen to fight wars and alienate people.

Museveni has been abandoned by many of his old allies. Many who stayed did so to make money; political pirates who have pillaged and plundered in their primitive accumulation of wealth.

They, incidentally, have a lot more to lose should there be a coup, as has been bandied around, or a sudden changing of the guard, as is more likely.

Museveni’s political opponents might celebrate the apparent feet of clay. They might even commit the usual cardinal sin of underestimating the man and prematurely celebrate his impending departure (my money is on him running again in 2016, mind).

For many of us though – we the Children of the Revolution – the slow decay is painful to watch, like the degeneration of an ailing loved relative.

We will look back at that lanky man in a Kaunda suit standing by a blackboard and see the best President we could have had but will never have.