The Museveni to Muhoozi succession conundrum

Author: Moses Khisa. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

Mr Museveni has remained adamant that Ugandans still want him in the top-seat and that he will not hesitate to leave as and when the voters tell him to

I have said this here before, but it merits reiterating: Uganda’s biggest problem for the foreseeable future is how Museveni’s rule will finally come to an end.  There is no question that his reign will end. The issue is not when but rather how, the manner and form the man who has singularly dominated Ugandan politics and society for four decades will finally bow out.

If nothing planned and purposed happens as to bring down the curtains, obviously there is the random course of nature that is utterly random and impossible to defy. Not forever. The laws of nature but also of history are non-negotiable, certainly after a certain point. When ripe, change is unstoppable.

Where Uganda stands today, nothing can be more disastrous than a chaotic if not entirely violent end to the longest rulership the country has had.

Mr. Museveni cavalierly downplays the significance of succession from his rule to the next president, yet the longer he has stayed and ducked the succession question, the more the whole situation has become precarious, uncertain and dangerous.  The biggest indication, which is no longer mere street speculation, is the father-to-son presidential succession – the Muhoozi project. This type of transition is common especially on the African continent, so it wouldn’t be entirely unusual if it happened in Uganda. It is just that Uganda’s situation is quite complicated. The political conundrum staring down at us is not easy to solve even for a man as politically savvy as Museveni.

It is an uphill task selling the idea of Museveni-to-Muhoozi in charting a post-Museveni Uganda. A perceptive Ugandan once asked Mr. Andrew Mwenda, an enthusiastic supporter of Uganda’s evolving presidential monarchy, how Ugandans can put up with President Muhoozi after 40 years of his father’s rule. The national socio-political fatigue against Museveni’s rule is real though difficult to quantify, but after almost 40 years uninterrupted, it is impossible to maintain popular appeal and patience in the public, not with all the egregious abuses, the arrogance of power, the brazen nepotism and the use of state power to amass person fortunes by the few well connected to the system of spoils.

Mr. Museveni has remained adamant that Ugandans still want him in the top-seat and that he will not hesitate to leave as and when the voters tell him to. A very self-serving argument, of course.

But it is also a feature of long-surviving autocratic rulers to lose touch and wallow in an alternative world where they are adored by the masses even when it is clear that public displays of support are mere performances to appease power and not necessarily genuine show of love for the ruler.

Museveni was once genuinely popularly supported by many Uganda especially in central, west and south-western Uganda. That is why he captured power in the first place.

He was a gunman and violent entrepreneur who mobilised a fighting force to mount a successful guerrilla war campaign, but that success was anchored on the popular support in the areas where Museveni’s rebel group operated and the contrasting disaffection against the government he was fighting to topple.

However, since at least the early 2000s, with every election cycle, Museveni’s popular appeal has waned. Ahead of the January 2021 general elections, inside sources revealed that Museveni’s team did conduct an internal national opinion poll that showed the incumbent losing the race. Little wonder therefore that he actually officially lost in central Uganda and parts of the east.

Museveni may have fairly and squarely won only one out of the six presidential election, the 1996 one and perhaps 2001. For the most part, his stay in power has been procured via force and finance, the use of the state’s coercive arsenal and fiscal muscle.

So, answering the question put to Mr. Mwenda, above, I offered to argue that Ugandans can put up with Museveni’s son as president the same way they have put up with the father through the use of guns and money. But then I realised there are limits to force and finance.

Museveni has relied on these two, no doubt, but his own political savviness and sophistication cannot be discounted. Museveni has strategic foresight and mastery of political manoeuvre not easy to replicate.

By contrast, going by his rather bizarre and ludicrous comments on Twitter, Muhoozi has showed that he is bereft of even a fraction of the political skills and presence of mind his father has deployed to rule Uganda this long.

Uganda is a complicated society. And as socioeconomic problems mount, it may be possible for the son to take power from the father, but how he uses and consolidates that power requires much more than being a graduate of prestigious war colleges and a product of state house upbringing.