These reasons make it hard for Museveni and Kagame to leave ever-presidents club

President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni

What you need to know:

  • If Mr Museveni does not seek re-election in 2026, no one in Uganda, no one in the international community will say: “Well done Mr President! You are now a great statesman.”

President Museveni has not announced yet if he will seek re-election in 2026, but many people he leads, including me, think his name will be on the ballot paper.

Meanwhile, his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame, confirmed in a news interview that he would stand for re-election, saying unequivocally: “Yes, I am indeed a candidate.”

The two presidents claim the people they lead love them and want them to continue in their jobs.

Mr Museveni, who became president in 1986, has been winning elections since 1996, although they are all disputed, with opponents launching petitions in the Supreme Court and/or (sometimes) getting jailed in the run-up to the vote or being brutally assaulted by security forces during campaigns.

Mr Kagame — in power since 1994 considering that he was de facto president when he was defence minister and Vice President before 2000 when he became president — has also been winning elections with implausibly high proportions of the vote, which are only possible in countries going through the motions of democracy.

For example, in 2010, Mr Kagame won 93 percent of the vote and did even better in 2017, winning nearly 99 percent, according to the National Electoral Commission. (He may bag 100 percent in 2024.)

Bert Ingelaere, a lecturer at the University of Antwerp, Belgium, and is the author of Inside Rwanda’s Gacaca Courts: Seeking Justice After Genocide, once wrote: “Elections there [Rwanda] are not a contest for power; they are the ritual confirmation of the power in place.”

You could say the same about Uganda, and you would not be wrong. Mr Museveni and Mr Kagame have had tight control of their countries and have barely shown signs of quitting the ever-presidents club except sparking speculation that members of their families could step in their shoes.

In my opinion, these reasons have a lot to do with their clinging to power.

First, in Uganda, Mr Museveni views himself as the hero who pulled Uganda back when it was teetering on the brink in the late 1970s and the early/mid 1980s.

When you have accomplished something like this, it takes exceptional humility not to view the country you saved as your own, which you can rule as you want.

Mr Museveni once told Ugandans, back in 2017, that he was not a servant or an employee of anybody and that he was fighting for himself.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame

In Rwanda, Mr Kagame casts himself as the hero who ended the 1994 genocide. When Western countries, their journalists and their human rights organisations criticise him for serious human rights violations, he lays on them a guilt trip, reminding them that when he risked his life to end the genocide, in which an estimated 800,000 Tutsi minority were massacred by the Hutu majority, they did nothing. Therefore, he can rule the country as long as it takes.

The second reason is that it no longer makes sense for Mr Museveni and Mr Kagame to impress anyone with their democratic credentials.

If Mr Museveni does not seek re-election in 2026, no one in Uganda, no one in the international community will say: “Well done Mr President! You are now a great statesman.”

If Mr Kagame changed his mind and quit in 2024, he would still be the Kagame who brooked no dissent and dealt with critics, including journalists, brutally.

The third reason is that, despite their achievements, both presidents have created many enemies. For these men to feel really safe and secure, they have to remain in power.

Mr Musaazi Namiti is a journalist and former
Al Jazeera digital editor in charge of the Africa desk
[email protected]    @kazbuk