For people who have waited too long for the swan song of a colossus that obstinately refuses to fall, any signal, however slight, is treated as a refreshing zephyr of hope. Currently, for many in Uganda’s Opposition, the optimism comes with the apparent rise and rise of Kyaddondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine.
His appearance on the list of America’s globally prestigious and widely regarded Time Magazine cemented that notion in the eyes of his followers - that he is the chosen one to replace Uganda’s President Museveni; now in the seat for 33 years and counting. You can’t blame those who are excited. Though you will always hear it being said it is “the people to decide at the ballot,” slowly. But steadily, many have read the times and come to accept that an African leader is as good and secure in his office as the world powers, especially the USA, would want them to be, with regard to their interests.
These interests rope in the battle for the abundant resources. Also of importance are other strategic security interests, paramount of which is the so-called war on terror. The concomitant rise of militant Islam and how it affects aspects like the shipping route on the Indian Ocean and reportedly drilling of offshore oil deposits are currently the headlines.
That Uganda is in Somalia, the bedrock of al-Shaabab, and that Museveni’s Uganda sent in troops when everyone else was aloof or scared, as some in Uganda would say, to raise their profile in the global war on terror, is a given tired fact. It is also out in the open that several dividends accrue to those who genuinely and dubiously stand with the West as partners in the so-called war on terror.
A blind eye here on incidents of human right abuses yet elsewhere, sanctions would apply. A slap on the wrist there for a stolen violent election, which in other places would mean unbearable pressure to make the perpetrators come to belief.
Bobi Wine may be very popular and Museveni may have lost a lot of ground. But the later still has that reputation with the very constituency that is now being viewed as supporting Bobi Wine. For their own selfish interests, the West need a popular leader, but they badly want a utility player; one who is versatile and useful in the region, a go-to person. It does not even matter if that person is a little bit ‘dirty.’
Bobi Wine and many in his entourage may not possess the gift of eloquence, but at times they talk well. On a good day, they will put on a great Malcom Xsique display mixed with snippets of Martin Luther King Jr. The business of fighting for freedom, justice, equality; the things purists and for lack of a better word, idealists would love to hear.
But at the end of the day, there are realities that worry the West and many at home that (to the pretentious West) are more important than the ideals of democracy.
History has taught them that removing leaders who have been in power for long from Siad Baare in Somalia (22 years in power,) Muammar Gaddafi in Libya (42 years) to Saddam Hussein in Iraq (24 years,) at times ends in disasters that have serious implications on global security. Terror groups al-Shaabab, and ISIS were born in these three countries. This was after long standing dictators who had destroyed state structures and institutions and become the State themselves were unceremoniously taken off the scene.
Museveni has been at the heart of most of the major security and pacification measures in the Great Lakes region for the last 30 years both on the side of confrontation and pacification plus stability. His leadership fashion is not at odds with that of the former leaders mentioned above. Would a Bobi Wine fill in the shoes or even surpass Museveni in playing the role of the go-to person in the region for the West?
This type of reliable person is critical in ensuring (even if it disadvantages his own country in terms of life and economic resources) that you have the sort of stable countries that can pay the interest on loans and mitigate other security and economic interests in the region majorly to the advantage of the West.
But that does not mean Bobi Wine is dispensable. The US can still opportunistically support Bobi Wine, but end up voting for Museveni - like they have always done in other elections. They speak in very strong terms against corruption, human rights abuses and bad elections. They sponsor the NGOs and other organisations that expose the government’s ills, but will be quick to recognise the government when it is announced winner of whatever quality of election urging opponents to address their grievances within the very laws the government breaks with impunity.
Supporting Bobi Wine here serves two critical purposes. First it is a message to Museveni that there is an alternative to him if he deviates from the compliance levels that Western countries arrogantly and selfishly impose on African leaders. Secondly it tries to influence the thinking process of the leader of the NRM to speed up the work on an exit plan that serve his interests, but most especially, those of the West.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. firstname.lastname@example.org.