Will Uganda have another ‘accidental leader?’

Sunday February 21 2021

Philip Matogo

By Philip Matogo

The story goes that, in 1991, George Cosmas Adyebo was in a small-change bar in one of Kampala’s suburbs, before Kampala even had suburbs. 
He was already well known for being a member of the then Parliament, the National Resistance Council. 
By this token, he smoothly operated as a member of Apac District Council V and as a lecturer at Makerere Business School. 
So he had the good reputation to fraternise with the waitresses in the bar and not be rebuked by them for his roving eye’s impersonation of Lionel Richie’s song Wandering Stranger. 

Then, one day, everything changed. 
The news came on Uganda Television (UTV), the only television station at the time, that Samson Babi Mululu Kisekka was no longer prime minister of Uganda and had instead been appointed to the position of vice president. 
The room fell silent as the tension built up to match the anxiety of a bar on the verge of the brawl. 

So who was the new prime minister? 
Francis Bale, in his refined but somewhat unnatural British accent, said “George Cosmas Adyebo has been appointed prime minister….”
Adyebo almost choked on his beer as everyone suddenly looked at him like he had just disrobed to dance the Bunga-Bunga. 
Eyes widened and jaws dropped to the floor, everyone was stunned. 

A fleet of cars promptly parked outside the bar, some military personnel jumped out of them and saluted before a somewhat drunken Adyebo was squired into the lead vehicle. 
And the fleet of cars drove away, leaving everyone biting dust while their mouths were still wide open.
Thereafter, Adyebo would tell everyone over and over again that he was the prime minister… for the entire three years he was prime minister! 
The man couldn’t believe it. So he would repeat it as a    way of pinching himself to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. 
In historical science, there are many phenomena. But none as shocking as the so-called “accidental leader phenomenon”. 

This is that abrupt, dramatic, unexpected occurrence in the highest office that throws the country into a tailspin and elevates a person nobody thought was going to be prominent, into prominence. 
Such an unexpected occurrence, heaven forbid, may be the death of a president. When this happens, the regime is essentialised to self-preservation. 
So, in our context, the army will look for somebody who is outside the system and thus not allied to any of the internal factions that might be tearing the government apart in the wake of such an occurrence. 

It happened in Kenya after Mzee Jomo Kenyatta died. 
Daniel arap Moi, a vice president in the Edward Ssekandi mould, was elevated by Kenyatta’s kitchen cabinet. 
As is the case with accidental leaders, those who elevate them often believe that they can be used as locomotives for their special interests. 
As Moi showed, such beliefs are mistaken. 
What is fascinating about the accidental leader phenomenon is that it reminds us of our limitations and possibilities. 
The fact that leaders die or are removed from office tells us that leadership is a limited edition in any dispensation.  


This reality should force leaders to confront their fears, inadequacies, to reckon with who they are at that very moment they try to become more. 
Our possibilities, as successors to such leaders, are reflected by the fact that we can may never know what tomorrow brings as our lives are marked by dramatic episodes that begin, and end.

Mr Matogo is the managing editor Fasihi Magazine.