Ugandan politics has been on the downward trend at both national and local levels. The 2006 elections marked a major turning point, coming on the heels of the removal of presidential term limit.
The initial assumption was that Museveni was seeking a third term. For many, both in and outside the ruling group, it was unimaginable at the time that Museveni would seek to be in power 10 years later – in 2016.
As it turned out, in 2006 Museveni was not just planning to rule for a third term, he was seeking to rule for life despite the 75-year-old constitutional cap for one to be eligible to contest the presidency.
Apparently, even loyalists like Amama Mbabazi were blindsided and harboured the false belief that power would change hands at least after two terms in the post-2006 era. Arguably, 2016 was meant to be the upper-limit, perhaps with the age-limits in mind. It never happened.
A country’s fortunes are heavily dependent on the nature and structure of its politics. In turn, institutions and norms crafted and cultivated by society determine the form of politics, the substance of political processes and behaviour of the governors and the governed.
Today, we have a broken political system that is rapidly degenerating and likely to set in motion an uncontrollable cascade. The rulers and their challengers have set aside the otherwise important norm of principled political engagement.
Talking to Museveni now means either you work for him or he has materially compromised you so you undermine his opponents. Those in Opposition do no treat the government as legitimate, the rulers on their part charge at their opponents as criminals, saboteurs who are up to no good.
The norm of decency in discourse has been eroded, making meaningful conversations impossible. The explosion of the media landscape, from electronic media to the capacious world of social media, has empowered everybody to form and express an opinion, great for building progressive society.
The problem though, is that we now have a culture of talking before thinking and wanting to be listened to without listening. Radio talk shows are more of shouting marches than thoughtful deliberation, social media is more a place for snide comments and cheap invectives than critical reflections. The sum of it simply toxic stuff, big of rhetoric but cheap on substance.
A great source of the fuel for today’s dire politics is the sense of hopelessness among multitudes of especially young adults, the millions struggling to get by, many of whom have become easy victims of dubious religiosity including the machinations of ‘prophets’ seeking profit.
The emotional vitality of Uganda’s youth is wasting away in angry social media commentary, precious time spent in sports betting and the false castles built by regime operatives who promise air on behalf of their master.
What you have in the end is a country bereft of meaningful productivity and substantial value-addition that can grow our otherwise paltry overall national wealth.
Instead, scheming and scavenging, lining up to meet the rulers and collect some crumbs and being hired agents to defuse different pockets of potential Opposition threats to the rule are the sorts of ‘jobs’ many are scrambling to secure.
In the ongoing struggle to hang onto power as those in Opposition seek to rally the masses, the rulers, rather predictably, primarily rely on force and finance, using the coercive arsenal of the State and the financial resources of the taxpayer.
An institution meant to keep law and order, the police, long turned into a handy tool for political repression with the inevitability of men in uniform passing for senior police officers engaging in deplorable acts of abuse and brutality. Parliament became a site of theatrics and deal-making rather than legislating for the common good.
All this is utterly unsustainable. But Museveni has dug in and is determined to press on whatever the costs and the consequences. Matters long got to a point of no return. We are heading down a dark and dangerous alley, the return journey of which will be tough to undertake.
The mess that is our politics shall not spare those in business or the intelligentsia or the so called ‘elites’ that take an apolitical stance and steer clear of what is construed as the dirty world of politics. It’s only one country that we all share and we either take it forward with a new sense of purpose or it will go down with the current rulers when the reckoning arrives, which unavoidably will come someday.
Dr Khisa is assistant professor at North Carolina State University (USA).