Urgently seek common ground, Mr President

Saturday December 14 2019

Moses Khisa

Moses Khisa 

By Moses Khisa

In the more than six years writing a newspaper column, this is the first time I am addressing you directly: Gen Yoweri Museveni.
I like to call you the Sabalwanyi (the Chief fighter), a title in which you take much pride. As a specialist in violence, which is the path that led you to power, you revel in presenting yourself as a fighter, literally.
Thus, many of your critics see your rule as built on the force of arms and not so much the popular will of the people, on the bullet not the ballot and on coercion not persuasion.
There are Ugandans who believe you did not win the 2016 presidential election. I am one of them. For that reason, I am always constrained to refer to you as my President. But since you are effectively in charge of ruling our country, you are the President despite the legitimacy deficit around your presidency.
Mr President, your legitimacy to rule has been waning the longer you have clung to power. The costs keeping rising, financial and otherwise. You now need far more money to oil the patronage machinery of your rule than you needed 10 years ago. The toll on the country is unmeasurable. We are a country in the throes of political uncertainty and social tension.
The sycophants lined up in the corridors of State House, the hangers-on picking rents from the system of spoils and the schemers profiting from the ongoing institutional decay, will not tell you frankly that the time to negotiate a compromise out of the current trap of power was yesterday.
The gripping reality is that the longer you stay, Mr President, the more the situation gets complicated and the options become fewer.
The pursuit of the president for life project has taken you down a slippery slope and into dark alleys from where the final reckoning promises to be catastrophic for everyone: You, those around you and, most important, the country.
Your single-minded pursuit of power, driven by a somewhat exaggerated belief in a messianic mission, has set us up Uganda for an ending that will be patently undesirable and utterly tragic; it has to be avoided.
The bulk of the initiative lies with you, to reverse the course, to listen less to yourself and more to your critics, to seek out those opposed to your continued stay in power and find common ground. In listening to your critics, avoid the usual temptation of materially compromising them.
Handouts to legions of schemers ostensibly to mobilise to counter the current Bobi Wine phenomenon, will not solve the crisis staring at you. Forget Mr Wine. He is not the issue. After all, he entered politics only a few years ago and by any standards, is a total neophyte.
The issue is you and Uganda. It is simply surreal to imagine that after ruling the country for 36 years, a 39-year-old will challenge you in the 2021 election! The optics are too awful. The wise thing to do is, in fact, to forget elections altogether, for now. They will not solve the crisis confronting us as a country.
The prudent step is to reset the political button and start working backwards to reclaim the fragments of the 1995 Constitution through a new process of national consensus. As you know, the 1995 Constitution had many problems, particularly the despicable ban on political parties. Yet, even for all its many flaws, the Constitution was nevertheless a critical embodiment of political consensus and a priceless guide to taking the country forward considering our chequered history.
This crucial bedrock for proper and popular government, the national Constitution, has been greatly imperilled by the amendments of the past decades, especially those that have singularly served to keep you in power.
A Constitution that is easily amended by an incumbent ruling elite, as has happened repeatedly at your behest, loses meaning as a sacred symbol of the rule of law and constitutionalism.
Due to limited space, I must end this note. The point to reiterate is the humble call for soul-searching and deep introspection, to reverse the course of the current politics and reimagine a new Uganda.
The starting point is to abandon the life-presidency project. It is a poisoned chalice. Then initiate an honest and concerted national conversation to heal the wounds, to end impunity and rein in the runaway looting of public resources, including land grabbing. There is so much anger and disillusionment. We can turn it around to fuel the future.
We are a socially fragile and fragmented country bereft of sustainable national cohesion. The nationalist sentiment has petered out. We need new building blocks.
I hope you receive and read this letter with good will.