What if Museveni, Besigye were Uganda’s Mandela, Buthelezi?
Posted Thursday, December 12 2013 at 02:00
Take a moment, dear reader, to imagine the following scenario. It is the end of the 2001 election and Kizza Besigye has given Yoweri Museveni a run for his money. Although the election is over, the country is deeply divided and the threat of political violence is real.
After President Museveni is sworn in, he appoints Besigye and some of his supporters to the cabinet. Besigye grudgingly accepts the appointment but tells his supporters elected to Parliament not to swear in until reforms have been undertaken.
In the midst of the stand-off President Museveni has to make a foreign trip. His vice president Gilbert Bukenya is already abroad. So he appoints Besigye as caretaker president and flies out of the country.
There are at least two reasons why such a scenario is inconceivable in Uganda. The first is that the Constitution sets up a hierarchy which, as far as I can tell, does not give the President the power to “jump the queue” and appoint any minister as acting president. I could be wrong.
Even if he could, however, the winner-takes-it-all nature of our politics would make such a scenario hard to imagine, harder to implement.
There are many lessons to learn from the life of Nelson Mandela but none could be as important and as morally daring as his willingness to extend the hand of friendship and reconciliation to those he disagreed with, and those who had hurt him.
We saw it in his controversial decision to seek reconciliation, rather than revenge, with the white supremacists behind the apartheid ideology of racial segregation, arguing to his comrades that they needed to free, not just themselves, but their jailers too.
We saw it when he invited some of his jailers on Robben Island to attend his inauguration as president and gave them pride of place at the ceremony.
We also saw it in how Mandela dealt with the internal opposition to him and the African National Congress from within, in a plot that was actively supported by white supremacists to divide South Africa and lead it to civil war.
Few people will recall the incident so it is worth telling with some detail. In February 1997 president Mandela had to travel to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Vice President Thabo Mbeki had already flown ahead to the event and Mandela’s departure would create a power vacuum.
It was a politically volatile time. Clashes between militants of the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party had claimed the lives of 20,000 mostly black South Africans. The IFP was agitating for greater autonomy for Kwa-Zulu Natal Province and although it had been co-opted to the government after elections in 1994, it remained a nervous and petulant partner.
Yet it was to Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the IFP leader, that Mandela turned, appointing him to act as president. Buthelezi’s stint as president lasted only a few days before Mbeki and then Mandela returned but the gesture left him “filled with awe” and contributed to peace between the IFP and the ANC. In turning to Buthelezi, his chief black political rival, and handing him the reigns of the State, Mandela showed not just pragmatic political savvy; he also showed leadership.
It was a gesture that spoke about the need for a peaceful and united South Africa being bigger than the narrow political interests and offices that the two men and their respective supporters held. In a continent where leaders do anything to stay in power such gestures are the reason we revere Mandela. He was peerless. He will be missed. Hamba Kahle Madiba.