Why Museveni cannot rule without elections

The maverick Minister for for East African Affairs, Maj Gen (rtd) Severino Kahinda Otafiire, earlier in the week voiced the familiar: They did not toil fighting for State power only to hand it to someone via the fiat of elections. Only one person can be selected president: The ruler. 

In Otafiire, you find the unpolished hypocrisy of our erstwhile liberators, who are determined to rule for life, and if they must live at some point, whether naturally or grudgingly, they will handover to their biological and ideological offspring.
 
The rulers rhetorically claim to have fought for freedom, the truth though is that theirs was a selfish power grab, largely for personal material aggrandisement.

 Today, they purport to want to secure our future in a country where the present is precarious. What they really mean is tightening a grip on power so they shield themselves from accountability for their gross wrongs once power slips out of their hands. 

The group as a whole has done so much to despoil the nation and engage in egregious abuses. Matters are worse for specific individuals, perhaps Otafiire inclusive, who are certain to face grave legal jeopardy for all sorts of allegations, including commandeering public resources and assets. 

They rather the ruler in chief rules until he drops because he offers them the best protection and guarantee of countless privileges courtesy of the State.

Statements like Otafiire’s, and before him, other men who have dishonoured the military uniform by making sloppy partisan statements, are actually cowardly. They reveal vulnerability and weaknesses. 

The courageous thing to do is to have Museveni rule without pretending to be engaged in a democratic process of competing for president under the banner of shame electioneering. Just go Idi Amin style. After all, that is how he ruled for the first 10 years: Unelected. 

This they cannot do because, for one, it would fully expose their hypocrisy and nakedness, stripping them of the veneer of democratic pretensions they have used to sanitise their otherwise blatant military rulership. 

They have to keep up with the motions of elections to appease their foreign financiers without whom they cannot maintain the coercive arsenal they need to protect themselves and budgetary routines to fuel their malfeasance. 

Even worse, without elections they would have removed the safety valve they handily use to release the political pressure that keeps mounting.

 Elections have a crucial role in helping embellish the regime with fragments of legitimacy as they provide the opportunity for certain groups to extract rents and for the wider public to cash-in on election-related activities, including tapping whatever little cash handouts they can get.

Unfortunately, for Otafiire and the entirety of the ruling group, they are riding against a tide they will not stop. Their 35 years ruling the country is a bloody long time. An earlier exist strategy would have been a wise move. It increasingly looks late. 

Think about this. Mr Museveni promised in 2000 that he was running for the second (it was actually the fourth) and last term. 

That was 20 years ago! 
Otafiire and the lackeys around the ruler spent years denigrating and brutalising their own former comrade-in-arms, Dr Kizza Besigye, threw all manner of mud at him, assailed his integrity and belittled his earnest bid to redirect the political course of the country. 

They did not even want to engage him on substantive issues on which he was challenging them. Now they have to confront a totally unconventional and nightmarish challenge. They have to face down their defacto leading challenger, who is a ghetto guy, leading a charge that no one knows where it might end. Their panic and paranoia are palpable and bewildering. 

Trying to stop him has flatly failed, in the same way they tried to break Besigye’s back for 20 years and failed. The calibre of the following behind the former self-styled president of the ghetto and the mass of the desperate young people constitute a potentially deadly swarm the rulers must be deeply scared might relentlessly chase them down the Muamar Gaddafi style. 

Otafiire can pontificate about how they fought, but he, his master and the ruling cabal, have to know they are up against a tricky tide. The prudent option remains finding a negotiated way out.

Mr Khisa is assistant professor at North Carolina State University (USA).
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