If it is correct, as I wrote last Sunday, that you do not necessarily need a hard cold heart or a rough-edged crazy style to govern an African nation, the lazy thinker might jump to the conclusion that a ruler who is half as hard as Rwanda’s Gen Kagame, and half as arbitrary as Tanzania’s late Pombe Magufuli would do the trick; perhaps a Gen Museveni.
Museveni’s propagandists are quick to contrast his smiling character with Kagame’s less accessible temperament.
They argue that Uganda is rampant with corruption, impunity and generalised disorder because Museveni is reluctant to punish his political comrades, and also inclined to make life ‘easy’ for the ordinary citizen. He does not want to harass his people.
They argue that Museveni has mastered the balance between the deadly power of the State and the freedom of the citizen.
They argue that Museveni is that rare gift from God, an African ruler who has all the weapons classified expenditure and supplementary budgets can buy, yet a tolerant ruler who allows talk-show idiots, social media junkies and print media cartoonists to make caricatures of him.
They paint the picture that it is almost impossible to find another Ugandan who can maintain that balance and preserve the stability of the country.
They argue that in these special circumstances, where the preservation of the country’s stability is paramount, if Opposition politicians and their supporters fail to understand what is best for their country, the patriotic course is to make them change their attitude.
They argue that Museveni uses talking and money; not threats and bribery, but ‘persuasion’ and ‘facilitation’. If he occasionally uses violence that spills in small excesses, that surely can be forgiven.
Moreover, the perpetrators do not get express orders from Museveni to torture or kill, so they only act as protected agents of the State when they follow the law, and they act as culpable individuals when they overstep their lawful limits! As a rule, the authorities deal with the culprits. Haven’t you heard about our court martial?
Then again, just as Museveni is not cruel, he is also not intrinsically corrupt. It is his ruling clique, his extended family and a bunch of hangers-on that are corrupt. Being a nice guy, he finds it exceedingly hard to kick them out of his privileged circle, let alone punish them.
So he rotates them or duplicates their role; or accepts that a cadre about to lose a constituency gets a small one cut out for him; not as a collaborator, but because of his infinite kindness. A thousand MPs would be better than war.
Given a really difficult case; say, a thieving arrogant minister the citizens can no longer bear the sight of, Museveni may hide him in the lucrative oil industry. Still an active vampire, but not conspicuous.
Unfortunately, overstretching this kind of kindness creates too many Orwellian pigs, and their greed nauseates even Museveni’s staunchest supporters.
When Finance minister Matia Kasaija recently announced the impending taxes, and Museveni announced that he wanted the Treasury to give Shs1 billion to each of the families of our past (and dead) presidents, Museveni’s supporters were as outraged as his opponents.
Irrational generosity backfires. Clearly, against a backdrop of Ugandans who are so hard up, Museveni’s model is no more desirable than Kagame’s or the late Magufuli’s.
The quality of judgment under his rule appears to have sunk to the level associated with the rulers he once called ‘swine’. Perhaps their ghosts are haunting him.