Will a new president, new prime minister and king shake Uganda?

Author: Alan Tacca. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • ‘‘The gap between British democracy and Ugandan autocracy is huge”

The article that appeared here last weekend was e-mailed to Sunday Monitor on the preceding Wednesday. Two days earlier, on Monday, Kenya’s Supreme Court was resolving the country’s close and contentious presidential election just as Britain’s outgoing and incoming prime ministers were presenting themselves (in turns) before the Queen to fulfill the prescribed formalities.
Very old and very frail, when the Queen’s death was announced on Thursday of the same week, you had to be astonished that she had found the energy on Monday to serve as required. Her parting sealed a bizarre event-packed four days. Change of power in both Kenya and the UK was being crowned by a new monarch in the UK and a new face to head the Commonwealth.

In my article, written before the Queen’s passing, I conjectured that Uganda (under the obstinacy of NRM rule) was not going to learn anything from the democratic traditions in the UK or the democratising tendency in Kenya. 
With Charles now king, many Ugandans must be curious whether the three new faces in Nairobi and London will cause the unchanging regime in Kampala any discomfort.
Almost before anyone else, the rulers in Kampala enthusiastically welcomed William Ruto’s victory in Kenya, expecting from him a more friendly definition of Kenya’s economic interests in their relationship.

Ugandans sometimes celebrate too quickly. When he settles down, Ruto will discover, or he will be instructed, that as long as political power in Uganda remains too firmly tied to brute military might, and the rulers there cannot be nudged to change their habits, Kenya is safer when her western neighbour is economically vulnerable.
When former president Uhuru Kenyatta abandoned Ruto, his own deputy, it was the relatively sound Kenyan (electoral and judicial) institutions that saved Ruto. Who would save him if a militarist and economically strong neighbour who flouted such institutions also found reason to abandon him; or if the neighbour got a vision to dictate to him and fished for new allies?

Move. The gap between British democracy and Ugandan autocracy is huge, all pretences to the contrary notwithstanding. However, the colonial memory card can be quickly inserted to switch Britain into defensive guilt mode. So you can ridicule the British and still make them give or lend you money, or write off your debts.
After 36 years in power, NRM leaders have mastered this game. Whenever the British raise questions about democracy and governance, Uganda inserts the colonial card and continues getting resources to sustain her tear gas ‘democracy’.
It will be intriguing to watch 47-year-old premier Liz Truss, who, stepping up from Foreign Secretary, is probably already briefed that Uganda is failing because of the cost of her repressive agenda, horrendous corruption, and irrational policies by an oversized regime solely bent on retaining power.
If she refuses to be intimidated, she will not need reminding that she has enough problems over Russian barbarism, the EU, and inflation at home.

Move. Constitutionally, and by tradition, in public, the Queen remained silent on her country’s foreign policy, as she did on most issues. At the Commonwealth conferences, she expressed any concerns in safe generalities, attracting no controversy.
Before he became king, Prince Charles occasionally commented on things like climate change and the environment. Now he may comment even less.
So, sorry Opposition politicians, realistically, the worst Museveni’s government can expect from the new king is some quaint remark about how Uganda’s tortoises want their swamps intact, just as the President wants his official residence.

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.
[email protected]

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