What you need to know:
- Right now, the argument that Museveni will be well past his sell-by date in 2026 is gaining a lot of traction
The positioning for 2026, when President Yoweri Museveni, all signs indicate, will seek to extend his 40-year rule at that time to 45 years, is fully on. Politicians are smelling blood. Museveni will probably be at his weakest point ever, seeking to continue to rule over a youthful country that has long overgrown him in every possible way and weary of his presidency-for-life.
It is likely that for the first time in Uganda’s – and as far as we can tell Africa’s modern political history – a son would go against his father in a competitive election for the presidency if Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba’s interest in the country’s top job materialises.
The pro-Muhoozi 2026 (MK2026) brigades are very outspoken and say their man is going for it. Muhoozi himself has several times said he is in the running. His supporters, echoing his views about the need for the older generation to give way to youthful blood, have argued that at 82 in 2026, Museveni – and his fellow NRM oldies - will simply be too long in the tooth to lead.
The recent death of Democratic Party veteran leader and long-time democratic campaigner Paul Ssemogerere means the former Forum for Democratic Change and four-time presidential candidate, Dr Kizza Besigye, goes into 2026 as Uganda’s opposition doyen. It will be interesting to see what he does with his People’s Front for Transition (PFT) vehicle. Still, that fact points to how much the opposition has been far better at producing generations of leaders than the ruling NRM, which has remained largely stagnant.
How the MK2026 camp, the opposition - ranging from National Unity Platform’s Bobi Wine, FDC, DP, through to Besigye and his PFT - frame the Ugandan “political question” in 2026 will have far-reaching consequences for whether the country will have a democratic restoration.
Right now, the argument that Museveni will be well past his sell-by date in 2026 is gaining a lot of traction. It’s understandable. It is easy for people to understand and “see with their own eyes”, and young people have already bought into the generational change argument.
The very attraction of the age argument is why it is problematic. For starters, age is a poor predictor of how leaders will act and is a lousy indicator of whether they are progressive. His failings notwithstanding, Mwai Kibaki was Kenya’s most consequential and reformist president. He was elected to office at the end of 2002 when he was 72, and over the next 10 years, presided over a dizzying economic and social turn-around of the country that his younger successors couldn’t match.
In Uganda, for example, when politicians and academics Dani Nabudere died in 2011 at the age of 79, and Chango Machyo W’Obanda in 2013 at 86, their views on economic and social justice were 20 years ahead of those of any Ugandans who were 25. When you study comments on social media, the views many African men under 30 hold about women are more backward than the ones of their grandparents and parents. It’s helpful to have a youthful pair of hands that are not shaky at the helm, but Museveni’s age should not be the primary issue in the transition battle. His longevity in office is, but even then, what is more important is what he has done with his decades in power. If they hadn’t also been so violent, marred by corruption, and nepotism, it wouldn’t be the emotional issue it has become.
We might benefit from the lessons of history. The struggle against military ruler Idi Amin was too narrowly framed as one against an evil and murderous regime and not a quest for democracy. After he was ousted, it blew up in the liberators’ faces. The struggle against Milton Obote II was set out as a case for ending northern rule. Obote went, and outside the economic realm, Uganda has ended up in much the same place and even worse in some respects. The names on the doors changed. The political content of the people behind the doors didn’t.
The thing Uganda needs for its future is democracy. It’s not easy to talk about it at campaigns in a way that gets the masses aroused. It also must dismantle the predatory state and remove the factors that enable presidents to become absolute monarchs. That might require a radical devolution of power. Uganda might have to become Africa’s first confederation, where the central government is accountable to “member states”, who are the ultimate authority.
Kampala needs to be restrained by the knowledge that it can’t send an army to Karamoja or Kasese to shoot people with impunity. It will run into “state” armies who will fight back. Is there a politician in both the government and opposition with the courage to offer that vision?
Mr Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. [email protected]