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Why Ugandan Yoweri President Museveni is Here to Stay
16. May 2019 at 00:01
Last week, I was intrigued when I read about a protest that had been organised by diaspora Ugandans in London with the support of two British Parliamentarians, Paul Daniel Williams, and Alex Sobel, who represent Stockton South and Leeds North West constituencies respectively. The main objective of the protest was to condemn Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and call on the British government to halt its support for Museveni's regime.

According to the diaspora Ugandans, President Museveni is long past his expiration date and his 'one-man authoritarian' rule should come to an end. With recent changes to the Constitution, Ugandan lawmakers changed the presidential term limits meaning that President Museveni can rule the country until his death. Having been recently endorsed by his party to vie for a sixth term and with the recent constitutional changes, it is not difficult to see why many people think that he is a dictator and his government is tantamount to a 'military regime'

It is by no means unique to Africa that some people who have attained power will tend to use their positions of influence for personal gain or even commit atrocities against anyone who tries to oppose them. Neither is the way such a person may have acquired power of particular significance. They could have done so legitimately, for instance through elections, or illegitimately, by overthrowing a legitimate government. The point is that once a person who has assumed the position of power has ensured that they have the support of the police and military forces to protect their position, dictatorship and abuse of power can only be prevented by effective and sustainable control from the citizenry through democratic processes or what is popularly known as people power.

In the history of virtually every civilisation there are rulers ho mercilessly exploited their own people to satisfy their lust for power and their avarice for profit. In Africa, during the first decades after liberation, the new rulers who took over from the European imperialists usually shared three characteristics:

  1. They attained power with the connivance or active support of the former colonial rulers;
  2. They were, in the beginning at least, tolerated or supported by the mainly conservative elite of their country; and
  3. They were always men.

The third characteristic applied equally to liberators or despots who 'made history' in Africa during the early years of the struggle for independence. It is important to note that there were and have always been great women who have shaped Africa's history by challenging the male-dominated social structures and conventions. I shall highlight some of these women in another article.

In Europe and the west, atrocities committed by African dictators who were clearly outrageous such as emperor Bokassa of the Central African Republic or Idi Amin in Uganda or Mobutu Sese Seko of the Democratic Republic of Congo, are often used as 'proof ' of the 'shocking immaturity ' of political leadership in Africa. What many fail to see is the way in which strings are pulled behind the scenes in Europe and America to promote Western businesses and political interests in Africa by keeping rulers acceptable to Europe and the West in power. It is not just the indigenous conservative elite groups that must share the blame for the rise of authoritarian leaders in Africa, but European and Western countries must own their part in creation of brutal dictatorships in Africa.The diaspora Ugandans have realised this hence the reason as to why they were calling on the British government to stop supporting President Museveni.

Love him or hate him, President Museveni has mastered the art of politics. He has stated on several occasions he has alluded to the fact that since no one gave him the seat of power as he had to fight for it, then whoever want it, must likewise fight for it. It is important to remember that a vast majority of Ugandan Presidents have always ascended to the Presidency through coup d'etats and President Museveni is not any different. President Museveni is a military man who came to power after overthrowing Tito Okello in January 1986 following a botched cease-fire that had been called by both sides. He has ruled over Uganda since then.

While many have levelled accusations against him stemming from human rights violations to opposition clampdown among others, President Museveni has been keen to stop his critics in their tracks by taking them down memory lane. According to the tough talking President, Uganda could not be worse telling them than the time he took over leadership. During his inauguration in 1986, President Museveni stated as follows:

"No one can think what is happening today, what was happening in the last few days, is a mere change of guard. This is a fundamental change in the politics of our country."

Upon his assumption to the Presidency, he allowed Red Cross back into the country after nearly two decades in the cold, and donor funds started trickling back into the country. It is remembered that President Museveni was instrumental in the coups that overthrew Idi Amin and Milton Obote. That stated, he is one person who understands the complex and delicate relationship between the military and rulers. Having not only learnt from his predecessors but also from other rulers within the continent, he is keen on not joining in the ever growing list of dictators that are forced out of power.

To understand the political mastery of President Museveni, one has to just look at the liberties that he affords his military forces. His forces are said to be one of the best treated in Africa with respect to salaries and benefits. This is not surprising given that he is a military man himself. The military is his family and even though he is not in active service so to speak, it has invariably informed his leadership style.For those who have served in the military, the military plays quite a significant role in your life even after service. The relationships that you forge while in the military more often than not stay with you until death. They are more than mere friendships, it is a brotherhood forged by fire.

When President Museveni does some of the things that he is accused of such as clamping down on opposition many are quick to criticise him and call him a dictator. He may very well be a dictator. What many forget that at the core of it all, he is still a military man and even though you take him out of the bush and change his army attire and dress him in a suit, he is still a military man. To him, it is as though he is in battle and the opposition is his enemy so every day, as the Commanding General, he has to russle up his 'troops' and not only protect himself but keep his enemies at bay. That stated, it would be foolhardy to expect him to any in any other way than he is presently.

The diaspora Ugandans argue that President Museveni is long past his expiration date. That may very well be true but as long as the West and Europe still need him, he is not going anywhere. Many are the times that many believe the lip service paid by Western and European leaders with respect to how much they are opposed to a particular despot or dictator, most of which are hogwash. By believing this finely concocted statements, they miss what they are actually saying behind the finely printed words. For instance, whey would they want President Museveni out of office when he has faithfully served their interests? What guarantee do they have that another less known but nationally liked leader will be as faithful?

One has to just look at countries such as Libya and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Libyan strongman, the late Colonel Muammar Gadaffi, think of him what you will, was a visionary leader who never found favour in the eyes of the West. He had bigger dreams of making the continent self-reliant just as he had made his own country but his refusing to 'play ball' led to his downfall. Whether or not he was a dictator, one thing that is undeniable is Libya was certainly in a better state than it is now. Laurent Kabila, who was DRC's former President is alleged to have been assassinated by the West once he had outlived his usefulness. The point is that there is always a bigger picture and unseen political machinations whenever a dictator assumes power in an African country. It is not always about what we see but what we don't see. Think of it like sleight of hand which uses misdirection. The problem is many people intentionally or unintentionally miss the bigger picture because they are focusing on the less important think or looking in the wrong direction.

Many of these European and Western political architects have mastered the art of misdirection hence the reason as to why they can feign abhorrence of tyrannical leaders in Africa and secretly support them by channeling donor funds to them because they know they can always hide behind the principle of national sovereignty. According to this principle, other countries or leaders are precluded by international law from interfering in the national affairs of another country. That is not to say that there has not been double standards in the application of the principle. They know that in the rare instances that their plans do not materialise, they can always distance themselves and insist they they had always been opposed to the tyrant.

The diaspora Ugandans will have to wait a while longer because President Museveni has not outlived his usefulness to the West just yet. If and when he does, then you will see him succumb to the same fate just like other leaders in Africa. And even when they do find a replacement, the same system of turning a blind eye to abuse of power will continue because it is "not their policy to interfere in another's country's affairs". They will condemn in public and support in private.

In an interview with New York Time magazine, President Museveni once said: "I'm not enjoying being President. I want to finish rebuilding the army, the police and the judiciary, and leave the country with a new constitution. And then I want to leave office."

With the interview having taken place over twenty years ago, one has to wonder whether he has still not finished what he set out to do having been in power for 33 years. It has been said that power is the ultimate aphrodisiac hence the reason as to why many African leaders want to be life presidents and with the West pulling strings behind the scenes, well, leadership in Africa only becomes that much more complicated.

Header Image Credit: Norman Kay

Cite This Article As: Maulline Gragau. "Why Ugandan Yoweri President Museveni is Here to Stay." International Youth Journal, 16. May 2019.

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