Manipulation, deception are Museveni password – Gen Muntu

Alliance for National Transformation(ANT) party founding president Maj Gen (rtd) Mugisha Muntu. PHOTO | ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • On Wednesday last week, President Museveni embarked on a seventh term in office to extend his stay in power to 40 years as his opponents go back to the drawing board to ponder their options. Maj Gen (rtd) Mugisha Muntu, who contested on his newly created Alliance for National Transformation (ANT) party ticket and came fourth in the January 14 polls, told Sunday Monitor’s Frederic Musisi that there is still a chance for peaceful change of power as long as the Opposition can stay focused and continue mobilising.

Is the idea of retiring so frightening for President Museveni?

He is so scared to imagine himself not being in control. In this part of the world where you don’t have strong institutions and functional systems through which power is exercised, human beings are vulnerable as you find the county is at the mercy of an individual, and that manifests in the manner in which governance is conducted.

Now for Gen Museveni, among several unfortunate things, he is a micro-manager: is terrified or even incapable of delegating authority, and even when they attempt to, they craft ways of remaining in control.

You can always find someone who is bold and courageous, and they can go to the frontline and fight, but they are afraid of small challenges like someone standing to challenge their authority. So, people should not be surprised.

Here you see people, including Gen Museveni, celebrating roads, dams and the little infrastructure; my friend, Libya had more than we have. The underlying fact is once there is no strong institutions and cohesion of the people; countries can slide back; Somalia is a basic example: see where Libya is!

Whenever he – President Museveni – is asked, he says he knows what he is doing. Other times he casually says the Constitution is clear on hierarchy in event of anything unfortunate like death, never mind the deep fault lines in the country…

He’s not God. How can he say he knows what he is doing? How can you allow the lives of 40 million people to live on like this? That is why so many people sacrificed and others have put in whatever they can so that institutions can be put in place, to ensure that whatever happens is clear and transparent. There is no way he can disregard that and want the country to depend on what is in his head.

Lately, it is very common, especially on social media, to see some regime hangers-on and other fawners proclaiming that at least he should hand over to his son? The latest episode in Chad even vitalises such talk

The problem we have is that power is not vested in the formal institutions. There is a Constitution which specifies what happens in all situations, but in our case, power is exercised through informal channels and that is what creates problems. 

All countries that eventually became failed states had constitutions which were disregarded. Second, what leads to such talk is the state of fear the country is in. Look at what is happening in the NRM; can you really expect a solution from the ruling party?

There’s talk that the President once considered retirement after the 2001-2006 term, but was advised against it by a certain cabal. In fact, some like to say he is being held hostage by those who have a lot to lose, including those who ideally would have to be prosecuted for their many crimes

They are all holding each other hostage. They are blackmailing; they are suspicious of each other. And what has caused all this is his [President’s] style of management. It has brought about this situation which we are in. So, those claimed to be blackmailing him are responding to his management style manifesting to where we are. 

In 2004, we had an opportunity to stop all that is happening now. We could have deterred the groups that wanted to change the Constitution, but people are gullible. And then they did it again in 2017; you have a Parliament in which two thirds of MPs voted to remove the safety valves. If this country ever falls apart, we’ll all be to blame, but history will judge them harshly.

Before Dr Kizza Besigye ejected himself from the Movement bus after sensing it would get to this, did you personally at one point ever envision we’d ever get here?

No, I didn’t. Actually, when we embedded the safeguards in the Constitution twice, I did not think there was so much to worry about. But that was an error of judgement on my side, thinking there were Ugandans who would stand firm to defend the Constitution. 

About him (President) I didn’t bother much about what his intentions would be, but I believed his intentions would be checked—because human beings are human beings; you cannot depend on their goodwill. Some of us have done the little we can to try to build a new culture, hoping for the best.

Did you ever have engagements with him on the same?

The last time we ever had an engagement, one-on-one, was in 2005. By that time I had joined the Parliamentary Advocacy Forum (PAFO). I was a member of the East African Legislative Assembly. In that meeting, I remember telling him we had lost direction and that we were parting ways. 

What was his response?

He knows how to control his emotion. So most times you wouldn’t know.

Prior to that, in 2003 when you convened in Kyankwanzi to receive the Kiyonga report on multipartyism, you’re among the small group that were opposed to removal of term limits when the proposal was brought up. How were you duped to the extent that no one saw it coming?

[Laughs...] Manipulation and deception are his style. It was used by the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) and now here we are. What really surprises me is how Gen Museveni doesn’t realise that that’s what eventually brought down UPC. Once deception and manipulation take root in an organisation, it becomes stunted. It doesn’t grow. Okay, he’s applied those lessons to stay in power for long compared to others, but that’s not the whole point. You can even stay in power for 50 years, but once you leave things just come down.

What then happened (in 2003)?

We had not been alerted that we’re going to discuss removal of term limits, at least for those of us at the national council level. But they had sent people to work behind our back with the district delegations, then at the tail end of the meeting the matter was brought up. Group after group, they kept on insisting on removal of term limits – I think we’d had about 90 people speaking without a break, and none of them ever told him that do not touch the Constitution. I remember putting up my hand and said, “Sir, you have heard only one side.” And he asked, “Is there another view?” Six people put up their hands and told him not to touch the Constitution. We told him to look at South Africa and Tanzania where liberation parties have remained strong, but he didn’t listen. I am sure today if you looked for all those who supported removal of the term limits, some might be regretting.

Does it matter?

Of course, it doesn’t matter. Now we have to look at the future of ensuring a smooth transition for the country not to explode.

As someone who joined him in 1981 to fight for a cause and later worked with him, how do you explain that he’s been such successful at manipulating his way through?

One thing, I don’t know whether I should call it a gift or what, but he’s gifted in studying human character. He knows where they are weak and strong; he knows what to do for each group/individual to manipulate them. There are two types of human beings in positions of leadership; there are those who will look out for weaknesses to use them to manipulate, and then there are those who will look out for both weakness and strength to help people overcome certain challenges. Now Museveni often focuses on weakness; he knows where he’ll use money, those who want pomp and glory he’ll confer positions, and then he knows where he will use fear, or at times a combination of all.

How do we move forward from this polarisation? He ‘won’ the elections but the hoovering environment of having the UPDF instil fear disguised as order is quite corrosive

We keep on organising. Those who want change have to keep organising for it. I don’t think the exit of Gen Museveni should be our headache anymore. At times people are bothered by the length of time, but his exit is inevitable. What should be our headache is the possibility that with his exit we remain stable. We have been in this vicious cycle for 60 years; [Idi] Amin was not [Milton] Obote; [Paulo] Muwanga was not Amin; Yusuf Lule was not [Godfrey] Binaisa and Museveni is not [Tito Okello] Lutwa. But the things they did is in the same direction. What eludes people’s minds is how better organised you are to manage power better. We get trapped in his exit, but not organisation to prepare for change.

One thing that amuses me is many people want change but are not ready to commit. Others are in mode of survival, but there’s nothing under the sun that doesn’t require commitment.

What is the best case scenario now that he averse is to anything called change?

Best case scenario, by God’s grace, is inevitable. But that it happens in a smooth way, that’s what we should be working towards, not to just sit there and wait. But once you have change which is turbulent… we don’t want that, but it can happen because we have seen it happen in other countries. 

Does it occur to you that power could slip from father to son? When Gen David Sejusa lifted the lid, he was called erratic…

As far as I’m concerned, the dynamics here are a little bit different and hope things don’t happen that way. But at the same time people who want to see this country back on track have to work towards it. We should not just plunge ourselves in a state of lamenting, and self-pitying which remains a big problem in Africa.

Lamenting? You’ve just come out of an election. What lessons did you take away that elections can deliver the change the country desires, and given the mess we are in?

It’s very challenging, but also possible. I am not someone who looks at situations and say it’s impossible. The biggest problem is when people limit their realm of possibility, and yet it is wide; more so in the realm of what is humanely possible. We have a long way to go; we have a regime which uses the army and other State apparatus to cling on, they use money, but those who want change should be working 24/7 to counter that.

To be honest with you, when we went to the bush in 1981, anyone who looked at the initial stages thought we’re nuts. In fact, the situation today is easier to turnaround compared to what we faced then, but people lose hope easily and others are not ready to make sacrifices. The difference is that Gen Museveni is different from past leaders; he’s crafty at manipulating, and knows when to use carrot and stick. 

Fair enough. Going forward, how best can he govern for all? In his January 18 victory speech, he threw tantrums. Then at swearing-in he issued more warnings as he showcased his protection

I don’t know whether he has a human capability to change himself, but the first would be realise that he’s not the solution the country’s desires; to think that without him the country would go back to stone age. If that became part of his consciousness, it would radically change a lot of things, but the only way that would happen would be miraculously.

What do you make of his sustained attacks on the West—never mind they are the ones that have kept him in power

That is what always happens with leaders who have lost domestic political base. They will always look for red herrings; to try to galvanise the country against a problem. They don’t want a country to focus on their problem and weaknesses. I heard him talk about unity of Africa, how comical! You are weakening your people and you are talking about strength of Africa? 

You have reduced your own population to selling their vote for Shs1,000, t-shirts. Honestly, what would such a person die for? And you are taking about strength? When we went to the bush no one gave us a single shilling; it was about ideas, changing society, democracy, fairness, things that we’re ready to die for, and he’s here talking about strength.

Do you ever feel a sense of betrayal? You guys wasted away your youth fighting for a cause, but now it is obvious this is not what you fought for

Not at all. When I joined the bush I didn’t go following Museveni.  I was following ideals; I associated him with ideals I subscribed to. Along the way he fell off the path, so he has only betrayed himself. At the end of the day, we’ll be individually put on a weighing scale by history.