President Museveni has not yet unquestionably demonstrated that he respects his young challenger, Bobi Wine.
Understandably, Gen Museveni is in unfamiliar circumstances.
In the 1996 general election, his first serious challenger was Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere. Although party activity was severely restricted under the then-operative individual merit system, Ssemogerere was the Democratic Party chief; an older man who had also served as Internal Affairs minister in Museveni’s government.
Museveni was very disturbed by the challenge, and his supporters violently disrupted Ssemogerere’s rallies in western Uganda. However, he did not exactly despise Ssemogerere; although he sometimes mocked him for his pacifism when he (Museveni) thought confronting Milton Obote’s dictatorship required military action. Museveni more or less equated/equates non-violence with cowardice.
In 2001, then 2006 and 2011, Museveni’s main challenger was Col (rtd) Dr Kizza Besigye, a younger man. But just as he did not call an older Ssemogerere frail, Museveni did not call Besigye a youngster. (Museveni often contemptuously uses the word ‘akalenzi’ to disparage young politicians like Luttamaguzi who do not allow him to enjoy his power in absolute comfort).
As a member of the respectable medical profession, and a Bush War comrade who had also served in Museveni’s government in high places, Museveni could not erase Besigye’s stature. He pulled all the stops in a bid to turn his challenger into a traitor and a rapist, but he did not exactly despise Besigye.
Come 2016. Some educated Ugandans and foreign diplomats believed, and still believe, that Amama Mbabazi was a viable presidential candidate; that it was Besigye’s refusal to stand down for him that damned him.
Whenever I switched on my sixth sense, I found that puzzling. Equally puzzling was the panic and embarrassing meanness into which Museveni had been provoked by Mbabazi’s challenge. Evelyn Anite’s clowning was completely unnecessary. Mbabazi had (and has) his strengths, but his power to attract votes is a myth.
This is not to belittle Mbabazi. Most human beings, including this writer, do not have that power. Even an often mentioned and well placed individual like Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba probably does not have that power.
These people can only win the presidency in a massively – massively – engineered environment and rigged election. And it is very difficult to start wielding authority in such circumstances.
The point, however, is that Museveni did not despise his new challenger, who after all had been the NRM secretary general and his prime minister for years.
Approaching 2021, Mbabazi has retreated. Besigye is performing an extraordinarily complex balancing act: to be there, and not there.
But there is Bobi Wine. As punishment for bending every law to overstay in power, and for frustrating every possible contender in the past, President Museveni is condemned to have this ‘youngster’ (akalenzi), a singer who cannot even properly fire a pistol, as the challenger to make him walk to places like a haunted would-be prophet instead of cooling off like a contented general.
A regime like the NRM can fish from existing laws or invent new ones to stop any challenger. Unfortunately, some of the armed agents enforcing those laws can be ruthless and reckless.
Emotionally charged crowds following their hero, and NRM moles in the same crowds, can be equally mindless. From somewhere, something extremely dangerous can happen.
Laws are meaningless when those who have power are judged to be unjust and unreasonable. That is why Museveni went to the Bush. What is left of his legacy could be shredded in one stupid action not ordered by him. The fate of just one young person could dustbin the Galamba and Birembo pilgrimage, and all future generations leave it there.
This does not require Yoweri Museveni to grow empathy. It means that even if he despises Bobi Wine, the President has an inescapable responsibility to ensure that nobody kills Bobi Wine.