Let us make a deal to keep Museveni, MPs in power longer, but for shorter

Thursday March 26 2020


By Daniel K. Kalinaki

Wuhan, the Chinese city from which the coronavirus disease emerged, was this week said to be coming back to life.

While there are still cases of the disease in China, many of them reported among returning folk, the country seems to have recovered from its earlier denial and effectively contained Covid-19.

There are other bright spots elsewhere, like in Vietnam and South Korea, where containment efforts appear to be working, but alas, this cannot be said for most of the world. Europe is reeling, the United States is taking belated steps to test and treat, while Africa is hoping for the best and not exactly preparing for the worst.

No one knows how many it will kill, how long it will last, and what the long-term impact of the pandemic will be. The Tokyo Olympics set for 2020 have been pushed back one year; the financial markets are in turmoil and all bets are off as to what happens next.

There are well-founded fears that many people will survive the disease and then, in the ensuing economic hardship, wish they hadn’t. It is apocalyptic.

This column has already argued about the need to use the crisis to refocus our attention on improving our healthcare system. But such demands can be seen as utopian or downright naïve if one doesn’t understand the political economy of the State in which access to quality healthcare is not a right, but a lever of patronage to command loyalty and political support.


Similarly, asking ethanol manufacturers to turn their lines over to making hand sanitiser is a ka nice gesture (and one promptly rewarded with tax breaks), it isn’t the widespread import-substitution required to significantly expand local manufacturing and native economic participation.

This, once again, is a feature of the political-economic construct; economically empowered natives are harder to control and are therefore to be minimised, or incentives given to loyalists, even if these tend to be incompetent and entitled. So the best way to take advantage of the crisis is to apply shock doctrine not to the symptoms, but to the superstructure itself. So here are some random musings.

Assuming the crisis goes on for another three months, the electoral calendar will be so squashed and many candidates so impoverished that the contest, already lopsided in favour of incumbents, will degenerate into a procession.

So, postpone the 2021 election by three years and use the time and money saved to organise a national dialogue to agree on a minimum state of uniting principles, including power-sharing, economic opportunity, a new Bill of rights, and safeguards for the rule of law.

This, in effect, extends the term of the President and parliamentarians, but this can be countered by ensuring incumbents are not eligible for re-election at the next polls.

MPs unable to seek re-election, say for another 10 years, are more likely to vote for reforms needed to, for instance, give Parliament stronger oversight over the budget, while reducing its own power over setting its own remuneration.

They are also more likely to support moves to wean the parasitic ruling NRM party off the withered national nipple and, by so doing, invigorate the stillborn pluralistic political system.

Similarly, they could use the newfound legislative legroom to send the military back to the barracks, where they belong and re-examine the need for special-interest legislative representation.

There are even more important questions to ponder. How should Uganda relate to regional trading blocs at a time when countries like the USA and Britain are betting on bilateral trade deals – and when neighbours like Kenya are considering such ‘rogue’ deals for themselves?

What sacrifices are we willing to make for national gain? For instance, are we willing to pay medical workers less in order to afford more of them? Are we willing to sacrifice individual rights to property under eminent domain to ensure public works projects are executed faster?

Are we willing to finally put domestic investors ahead of or at least at par with foreign investors in order to build local houses of capital and productivity, and are we willing to do this in a ‘blind’ manner that rewards innovation ahead of loyalty?

Are we able to redirect our investments into agricultural productivity in a return-to-basics pivot as a basis for social and structural transformation before making fools of ourselves talking about industrial revolutions we neither understand nor are prepared to exploit?

Sooner or later the Old Man will inevitably have to think of what happens next. With this crisis we can offer him a deal, in which we keep him in power a bit longer without the exertions of campaigning, in exchange for our freedom.

Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s freedom fighter.
Twitter: @Kalinaki.