George Washington: Did Museveni miss a chance to be listed as a great statesman?

Author: Gawaya Tegulle. PHOTO/NMG

What you need to know:

  • Just to clear the air, the last two on the B-List are the son and grandson of North Korea’s founding father, the ruthless Kim Il Sung, a dreadful tyrant, a drastic despot who masqueraded as a revolutionary.

List A: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela. List B: Mao Zedong (Chairman Mao), Joseph Stalin, Fidel Castro, Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un. On which of these two lists does Uganda’s President belong?

List A is actually an A-List: men, greatly beloved, and fondly remembered as having put country over self and easily gave up power, with the exception of Lincoln who was killed six weeks into his second term, but who, we well know, had no intention to stay on.

These were men who devoted themselves, not to their own primitive private interests, but the betterment of the countries they led.

List B is the reverse: “revolutionaries” who put self over country, got power and kept it at all costs; men who left death and devastation in their wake, in the quest to get power and to keep it.

Just to clear the air, the last two on the B-List are the son and grandson of North Korea’s founding father, the ruthless Kim Il Sung, a dreadful tyrant, a drastic despot who masqueraded as a revolutionary.

The pattern in the B-List is predictable: a group takes power through undemocratic means, entrench themselves permanently, talk a lot, but do nothing much to develop the country.

They then engage in ideological window-dressing delivered mostly through long, winding speeches and books with content that they themselves don’t believe in and certainly don’t practice.

Usually, as the rulers hoodwink the people with long speeches, they are busy feathering their nests through looting of state resources. 

Hiding conveniently under the cloak of socialist/communist revolution, Mao ushered in a totalitarian government with a ruthless hand that climaxed in the deaths of 40 to 80 million people due to starvation, persecution, prison labour and mass executions.

This is the way most communists liked to conduct state business.

Joseph Stalin, the second leader of the Soviet Union, the high priests of socialism and communism, used the same methods earlier to obliterate anywhere in the region of 27 million of his people.

The issue of “Jaja tova ku main” – the slogan now being used to keep President Museveni in power, is not new. It was also prevalent in America in its early days. If anyone could lay claim to ruling America forever, it was George Washington.

Americans still wanted their founding father to continue in office. Washington didn’t agree. He had planned to step down after just one term of office, but decided to stay on for one more term, to steer America through the tempestuous waters of tensions with Great Britain. 

He wisely gauged that the preservation of America and its democracy were more important than his personal interests: if he died in office, people would view the presidency as a lifetime appointment.

He, therefore, set a powerful precedent, without the help of a constitutional provision, thank you, that two terms for a president were better for the country, so as to prevent America from being like the monarchs the new nation had fought to liberate themselves from.

This week, on September 19, was the anniversary of the release, 227 years ago, of the farewell speech of America’s founding father, declaring that he would not seek a third term.

There is no doubt that at the time Museveni took power, Uganda had lots of problems; which, it must be said, he contributed, in no small part, to causing by waging war against an elected government, choosing aggression rather than pacific settlement of political disputes.

But he had a great opportunity to rearrange the affairs of the country like he’d nicely done and step aside in 1996, to allow the country along a new path.

Mr Museveni himself asked a very pertinent question in “What is Africa’s Problem?” – what a book title that was! And the substance of his answer was: leaders who don’t want to leave power. 

The moment he began getting all manner of lame excuses to amend the Constitution that he himself had crafted, breaking rules he himself had set, and falling short of the high standards he had purported to have as a “revolutionary”, he firmly and permanently relegated himself to being part of Africa’s problem, rather than part of Africa’s solution.
Mr GawayaTegulle is an advocate of the High Court of Uganda. [email protected]