In Uganda, there are three constants: death, taxes and Mr Museveni’s presidency.
Of course, this summary of our reality seems like a too-cute-by-half argument, which also sounds defeatist. But it is really a survivalist’s notion on how to treat presidential elections in Uganda.
You see, the 2021 presidential elections will revolve around how President Museveni wants to cement his legacy in terms of succession. So his 2021 candidacy will find fulfilment in who becomes president in 2026.
Some Ugandans believe that the person who will be president in 2026 will be a product of the so-called ‘Muhoozi Project’. This alleged “project”, which government denies, is viewed by those Ugandans as a vessel for Mr Museveni to succeed Mr Museveni through his son, Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba.
But is there a ‘Muhoozi Project’, or is it a Muhoozi projection?
A project implies that our institutions are defined by outcomes instead of processes in the sense that our system of government is about ‘who is what’ instead of ‘who gets what.’
A projection, on the other hand, shows how we project upon our leaders our own beliefs about our state of affairs without considering their own. For somewhere deep in our national DNA lies the surrender to monarchism as defined by the broader framework of republicanism. So even if there is no ‘Muhoozi Project’, we must invent one.
To be sure, Uganda has always been torn between pretensions to republicanism and tendencies toward monarchism. In 1960, the Lukiiko (parliament) of Buganda set up their own constitutional committee to create an ‘independent Buganda.’ And that same year, Milton Obote wrote in the Uganda Argus newspaper: “African nationalism hates small states because this is emergent Africa… it will crush Buganda.”
Obote later constitutionally tore Buganda limb from limb in order to carry out reconstructive surgery on Uganda in favour of republicanism. The only problem is that this republicanism was cosmetic. And so a centralised bureaucratic regime was created, which Obote oversaw as an imperial president. So he essentially showed the difference between monarchism and republicanism to be half a dozen of one and six of the other!
President Museveni has been accused of overseeing an imperial presidency which quacks like a monarchy.
However, this is based more on a very Ugandan need for stability over change as guaranteed by respect for authority — as Dr Johnson advised Boswell: “Now, Sir, that respect for authority is much more easily granted to a man whose father has had it, than to an upstart, and so society is more easily supported.”
In similar vein, Ugandans love to ask “who knows you?” And the underlying message in such a question is Ugandans relate what is familiar with what is familial. So they are more likely to gravitate to the devil of celebrity than any angelic anonymity. Even Bobi Wine has been around long enough for people to be able to say that they know him. To be sure, the last 20 years plus he has expressed his political proclivities through song and so he is not an unknown quantity in our politics.
Even Kizza Besigye’s 1999 emergence on the scene proved that the exclamation point is mightier than the question mark. Because he wasn’t a stranger to us when Reform Agenda became the battle cry of protest politics.
This is why the 2021 elections will be about electoral continuity. So we shall either witness the president’s son vie for presidency in 2026, or Ugandans will project this reality upon the presidency by tacitly demanding continuity via stability.
And this monkey business will rear its tree-climbing rump in the shape of us demanding that President Museveni play the role of Svengali.
In medieval times, a Svengali sat behind the throne and placed a finger through a hole in the chair in order to prompt the king. And if you consider the arguments Ugandans have mooted for Museveni’s stepping down, none has been more persistent than his being advised to be like Julius Nyerere.
The late Tanzanian president gave way to Ali Hassan Mwinyi in 1985 and thereby played the role of Svengali.
The Svengali effect, according to author Dame Daphne du Maurier, is a variant of the Stockholm Effect in the way it holds you emotionally hostage.
By Museveni following Nyerere’s example, he’ll preserve the three constants in Uganda: death, taxes and Museveni’s presidency.
Mr Matogo is content editor and writer with KQ Hub Africa