One of the trickiest phenomena in our lives is this thing we call ‘luck’. Yes, good or bad luck; desirable or undesirable happenings in favourable or unfavourable circumstances that we did not plan or control; entirely, or even just in part. You can see how ‘luck’ gets mixed up with deliberate plans and other things!
For some superstitious people, of course, the very concept of luck, or of mathematical chaos, is impossible.
They see every circumstance and every event as determined by God, or by other spirits, or by witchcraft. Most of our pastors and witchdoctors and their clients fall in this category.
So, when I refer to President Museveni’s luck, it is not because I have forgotten that, to some people, all the big and small events around him are arranged by a divine hand.
Consider that when Mr Museveni graduated and started his working life in the late 1960s, his job was in the President’s Office; that (the then president) Milton Obote had already rendered himself an unpopular dictatorial ruler, who would be overthrown by Idi Amin in January 1971; and that Museveni despised Amin.
These things meant that Museveni had been exposed to some of the mechanisms of State power, but could not linger around too long as a government worker, which might have compromised him into mere routine and complacency. Now he could go straight into the business of overthrowing governments.
Museveni was very fortunate again, because Amin’s rule rapidly degenerated into militarised barbarism, racism and economic confusion, lending justification to whoever was working to topple the regime.
From exile, Museveni got involved in the adventures of overthrowing Amin. Although some of those efforts were ill-planned and disastrous, Museveni’s luck struck again when Amin provoked Julius Nyerere’s Tanzania into open confrontation. Like Obote, Oyite-Ojok, Paul Muwanga and all those other so-called 1979 liberators, Museveni had got a lion on whose back he could ride back to Kampala.
Museveni was lucky again. The new president, Yusuf Lule, was a civilised but naïve political operator swimming among sharks. They quickly got rid of him, and then of Godfrey Binaisa, who had succeeded Lule.
Many educated Ugandans were just learning the word ‘machination’. Plot upon scheme; scheme upon plot; then you woke up and Paul Muwanga’s Military Commission (with Museveni as vice chairman!) was in power, with three miserable judges constituting a laughable ‘presidency’.
Fortunately again for Museveni, Muwanga was scheming to stage an election to return an unpopular Obote to power.
Rigging the election was predictable. Resisting Muwanga’s moves and fighting in the bush to remove an ‘elected’ Obote was the stuff that elevated Museveni to a hero.
Museveni was lucky again. Obote’s second rule was so unpleasant that fighting him was as justifiable as fighting Amin had been.
Museveni was lucky again. He could recruit hundreds of child soldiers into his NRA and finish his war (in 1986) just before the international community started paying serious attention to the use of child soldiers.
Such was Mr Museveni’s luck. Although he himself finished the war physically unscathed, he had some senior officers who got seriously wounded. Many years later, they could exhibit their scars to show how sacrificial the war was; a price that (they assume) offsets any ‘inconvenience’ encountered as the NRM reassembles Uganda’s characteristic post-independence barbarism.
I am intrigued by this catalogue of good luck. Will Mr Museveni overstretch it, now that he wants to rule beyond 2021, and return Uganda full circle to “where we came from” in 1986?
Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.