In the script of African elections, the incumbent autocrat or their hand-picked successor, is the major protagonist. One of the most popular and resourceful tricks that come in handy, among many others, is the deployment of the Trojan horse. It may or may not be done by the protagonist. Trojan horses in Greek mythology were hollow wooden statues of horses in which Greeks concealed themselves in order to enter Troy.
Here is what justifies the Trojan horse. In African elections, especially where the incumbent has been in power for so long that you can hardly recall when he started, the political environment is inundated with the traits that follow. The incumbent depends heavily on the force and threat of violence provided by the military, which they control. Then there is usually ethnic domination. The ruling class is a small clique flooded with kinsmen, relatives, friends and in-laws whose survival depends on the perpetuation of the incumbent. Their many sidekicks are usually ‘outsiders,’ who comprise shameless sycophants falling over themselves to supposedly support the regime.
This is even when deep down they loath the incumbent because it is obvious his intentions are selfish and they are up to no good in the long-term. In public, they praise and vow to ‘die with someone’ to defend the incumbent. In private, around trusted people, they, especially after a drink or two, gain some Dutch courage, pour their hearts out and describe the autocrat using expletives and pejoratives. They usually caution those around in hush tones to go on and say what they have said, but dare not quote them ‘because they fear for their lives.’
Of course, the incumbent is no fool and gets to know some of these things, but keeps them to himself. They also know that some, if not all, the grievances expressed by this group of people are justified. They see all the opposition around him, the poverty, the corruption, nepotism, etc. They witnesses firsthand people who jeer, sneer and stare at him with blank contempt as he passes by waving. They get intelligence about the number of votes he actually gets in elections and has knowledge of the tricks and hard measures his charges use to ensure he gets victory with a ‘landslide.’ They know how all these things are engineered in his favour, often using laws that are misinterpreted to deny his opponent a chance to reach the electorate.
The trouble with such an atmosphere is that at times it is very difficult to know how far those who are silently angry with him can go to oppose him given the opportunity. Among the people treated with most suspicion and apprehension are the military. So the Trojan horses are deployed. The best version are the ones who are right from the inner circle. These might include a former top political figure and trusted confidant. Or better still, a military general who spent most of their time beating, maiming, jailing and killing for the autocrat while assuring his opponents that they have no chance of unseating the incumbent.
The general apparently falls out dramatically. It is publicised how they have lost all their privileges and no longer have access to the main man to prove that all ties have been cut. They are quoted as being very angry and frustrated with the regime and are mobilising politically and ‘reportedly’ militarily to remove the hated government.
The now renegade politician or military general forms a loose political pressure group and approaches the Opposition for alliances done through ‘secret’ meetings. He contacts as many people in the Opposition offering to sponsor them if they join him in the task to unseat the ‘hated’ incumbent. Once in a while, press reports show him being ‘harassed’ by security agents in well-orchestrated and scripted acts. The import of all this is to prove that he is at loggerheads with the incumbent. This makes them gain trust of the Opposition, many of whose members this new found partner may have arrested and tortured in the past.
This ‘cover’ helps the Trojan horse to fool the Opposition into believing that ‘something’ serious is happening so they do not need to mobilise a lot of energy fighting the incumbent. Second and most importantly, it helps the autocrat to get to know who is actually fighting them and what their thoughts, strength, and weaknesses are. In this group of the Opposition, the incumbent looks out for those from within the military who may follow the renegade general. If no one of significance in the army rises up, then you only wait for the election to come and go.
After this, the Trojan horse is rehabilitated and he is welcomed to the fold like the biblical prodigal son. He agrees to work with the incumbent for the maintenance of peace and stability. He urges everyone to rally behind the incumbent despite the irregularities in the just concluded election claiming that it was God’s design because all authority comes from heaven. He leaves the Opposition in disarray, scrapping egg off their faces. We wait and see who will rise up to the occasion and play the part of the Trojan horse in the Ugandan election come 2021.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. email@example.com.