Why it is not just about President Museveni
What you need to know:
We are stuck with this misrule, but opposition parties and politicians scarcely inspire confidence
Our endemic socio-political and economic problems go way beyond the man ruling us – Mr Museveni. This should be obvious, but it’s not.
When you are a regular and renowned Museveni critic, it may not sit well with sections of the readership to say he isn’t solely to blame for all our problems. But part of the unwritten remit for this business of writing a newspaper column is to provide dispassionate and candid analysis, however unpopular.
Museveni has ruled Uganda for more than three decades. His imprint is everywhere. He wields enormous executive authority and has the uncanny knack for meddling even where he shouldn’t be present.
Over the decades, or at minimum since changing the constitution in 2005 to rule for life, Museveni’s overarching focus has been on tightening a grip on power and running roughshod of all alternative power centres and institutions. When the epitaph is finally written, much of the positives will be easily overshadowed by the utterly scandalous system of rule Ugandans have kept up with for long.
Yet during his long reign, Museveni has had enablers. Many allowed themselves to do his bidding, take on all the ugly work only to be dispensed with. Some who fought for him in the jungles of Luwero and got him to state house were thrown under the bus, or at a minimum placed at the back of the bus where conditions are dire; no access to the master sitting on the steering at the front.
Fates of two prominent veterans of Luwero recently illuminated the use-and-dump routine, a mainstay of the rulership: one passed away reportedly after enduring deep economic hardships, another suffered the devastation of losing a dear son under very disturbing circumstances, fingers pointing to the very state he tenaciously worked for and a regime he unabashedly supported for decades.
Given past experiences, it is trifle shocking that someone as experienced and intellectually gifted as Brother Norbert Mao has illusions of working with Mr Museveni and midwifing a political transition. The consistent practice has been for Museveni to co-opt people to work for him not with him.
Ndugu Mao is not the first, and his fate is unlikely to be different. This leads me to comment on the role of Uganda’s political opposition, writ large, in the current crisis and the decay engulfing the country.
Opposition parties and politicians form a critical piece of a political structure. The ideal system is one where there are sufficient democratic institutions and structures of government that make possible a healthy arrangement for providing alternative policies and leadership.
But even under conditions that are either outright autocratic or only remotely democratic, opposition groups and organisations are critically important both in standing up against the incumbent government and in providing alternative leadership especially when they get the chance to hold public offices.
Over the years, Uganda’s opposition parties and leaders have valiantly fought the abuses and excesses of Museveni’s rulership, variously paying the price when state brutality is unleashed. In parliament, for example, exposing government malfeasance and the sheer abuse of public resources, accountability committees under opposition leadership for years did an outstanding job.
However, when opposition actors win offices and are the government at district levels, there is just not much to show that is different from the rulers who have dominated national politics. Obviously, we have to put everything in the national context and the broader system of rule we are under.
Even then, take the example of Kampala and the city’s endemic problems. Kampala is joke of a city, an embarrassment, with runaway mayhem on the roads and an abject failure to do very basic tasks like lighting streets and maintaining paved roads.
For good measure, this is a city that the rulers at the centre have for decades tried to politically control, in vain. Instead, it has and remains an opposition bastion, the current Lord Mayor and his deputy being members of an opposition party, the composition at City Hall is overwhelmingly opposition, and further down at the divisions and below all dominated by opposition members.
No doubt, Kampala’s problems go beyond what an elected mayor or councillors can do. But consider the epidemic of boda-bodas, now arguably the topmost public health emergency we have, not to say anything about how these passenger motorbikes are driving our entire moral fabric into the ground.
Museveni and his ruling group have egged on bodas and utterly failed to reign in what is clearly lawlessness and a drift to anarchy. On their part, the political leadership of Kampala, overwhelmingly opposition members, has acquiesced to the problem and in fact stood in the way of even cosmetic attempts by the central government to sort the mess. The lack of imagination is striking. We are stuck with this misrule, but opposition parties and politicians scarcely inspire confidence.