President Museveni’s New Year’s address was a staggering study in presidential conceit.
After outlining this and that achievement or planned project, he lit into his critics (the “internal enemies of Uganda” and Africa) to be found within the political class, the clergy, academia, and the media.
He framed the matter as a struggle between patriots and pan-Africanists (him and his cadres) — the saviours of Africa — and quislings working in “cahoots with foreigners” to fail country and continent. His conclusion: the patriots/pan-Africanists will defeat the traitors; make no mistake.
This was as muscular a speech as any Mr Museveni has given. This is, especially because his target was not some armed insurrectionists murdering and plundering, but citizens who merely use words to dissent.
The immediate backdrop of the presidential fury was the recently passed constitutional amendment to allow him run in 2021 after he has clocked the 75-age limit, and run some more thereafter until he gets tired or dies. Mr Museveni appeared offended that anyone could dare speak up against the constitutional change to effectively grant him a life-presidency.
In his mind, his life-presidency means great things for Africa. The term ‘life-presidency’, though, annoys him to no end. “Those liars who talk about “life-presidency” of Museveni should be exposed for what they say,” he thundered. “They are either un-informed individuals talking about things they do not know, or evil schemers who do not want Uganda and Africa to succeed.” Africa’s great future is tied to a life-presidency in a little country somewhere named Uganda. That is rich.
Apparently, amending the Constitution every time it stands in his way means real democracy. Those who say the Constitution is being repeatedly abused to satisfy the political needs of one person are pseudo-democrats “mainly working with foreigners … to impose pseudo-democracy where the power of the people is constrained by term limits, age-limits, even educational qualifications”. Critics are essentially clueless counter-revolutionaries.
“I want to salute the 317 MPs who defied intimidation, malignment and blackmail and opted for a flexible Constitution to deal with the destiny issues of Africa instead of maintaining Uganda on the path of unimaginative, non-ideological, neo-colonial status quo,” the president said.
Then he delivered a most chilling sentence: “By so doing, they enabled us to avoid the more complicated paths that would have been required.”
What are those “more complicated paths”? Abrogation of the Constitution?
Even as he was praising his 317 enablers, he was calling them out as careerists without a deep “understanding of the NRM ideology”. Such a backhanded compliment is to be expected from the only one sacrificing for Uganda and Africa.
Having trashed everyone, his call to “Ugandans, young and old … [to] discuss the five strategic goals of Africa seriously: independence, real democracy, not just the peripheral forms of it, economic integration of Africa for our prosperity, political integration of Africa for our strategic security and safeguarding our heritage and identity…” rung hollow.
He wants a discussion yet he is effectively browbeating people into silence or onto a certain track. It implies the discussion, if it can be had at all, has to be on his terms. Which in turn means agreeing with him, acquiescing to his power whims and needs. This supposedly is the stuff of real democracy presaging a glorious future for Uganda, Africa and the entire black race.
I wonder, though, how the President can tell that he loves Uganda more than his critics. If indeed the critics were agents of foreign interests, he should charge them with treason. He has used this attack line so many times before but no one has been prosecuted.
This suggests it is a catchall phrase to silence critics. It is used to smear opponents as fifth columnists. But that is lowbrow politics that the President should transcend. Maybe then we can start to have a real debate about real democracy and Uganda’s future greatness.
Bernard Tabaire is a media trainer and commentator on public affairs based in Kampala.