By Stephen Twinoburyo
These must be uncomfortable times with probably sleepless nights for Museveni. Since his ‘re-election’ last February, Uganda couldn’t have been in a worse state. The signs were evident from the moment his ‘victory’ was announced. Coming on the heels of the jubilant and money-flowing campaign, the lack of celebrations coupled with immediate heavy deployment of heavily armed soldiers in all the country’s major towns must have been ominous.
The swearing-in ceremony itself was held amidst chaos, the better taste having been received by Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, whose convoy was pelted with stones. Stoning a presidential convoy, local or foreign, is unprecedented in Uganda. This followed the convoy of the army chief, Gen Aronda Nykairima, also coming under a similar attack a few days earlier in Kampala – this too unprecedented.
A greater part of the first half of this year saw Walk-to-Work protests that the government’s security forces responded to with untold brutality. Museveni himself changed from what many knew and even made King Herod look better if in charge of a kindergarten of first-born sons. The economy, predictably took a dip.
Predictably, Museveni blamed all this on the opposition and people that were ‘bent on seeing his government fall’. Many of the country’s ills could of course be traced back to Museveni’s style of leadership in which he fused his family with state power, removed any distinction between state coffers and his pocket, became the only person that could solve anything in the country, became the primary issuer of major contracts and tenders, made government ministries an extension of his home, promoted/covered/turned a blind eye to massive corruption and plunder of the country’s resources by his own, singularly gave away the country’s prime assets and became unaccountable to any institution, instead becoming the institutions himself.
What is however significant in the recent months is that members of his own party are beginning to challenge him and for the first time, openly defy him. Recently, his wife, a cabinet minister and member of parliament, who had been accustomed to patronising addresses to pliant party members, was heckled by her own in parliament while she was defending lack of transparency and allegations of corruption in the country’s oil deals. For the first time in Uganda’s history, ruling party MPs allied with opposition legislators to move a motion against government, effectively barring the government from concluding any more oil deals until checks and balances are put in place, a move anybody would find sensible. Not just in parliament but all over, voices of dissent and challenge towards the authority within the NRM structures are increasing.
Why are Museveni’s own now turning against him? This is not surprising in the lifespan of a strongman or despot when on the wane. We saw this in Libya when Gaddafi’s own started edging away from him when it became clear that he was on a one-way trip. In the lifecycle of Museveni’s presidency, he’s at the exit end and his end doesn’t look nice. What we are seeing is what’s called self-preservation. Few would want to be part of his destiny and want to curve out their own destinies. These people are beginning to look post-Museveni.
Secondly, many of the NRM supporters, especially the young ones are tired of carrying Museveni’s baggage. Museveni and his inner clique are so distanced from the common man and live a life of opulence but it’s these common party members that are daily confronted by their communities and families asking them to explain the direction the country is taking. While Museveni, his family and close ones continue to benefit disproportionately, the rank and file of the party that are taking the heat and may be the ones to carry all the sins post-Museveni.
This is not to mention how he has turned ministers into is lap boys/girls, often abruptly summoning them for night meetings at State House, then keeping them waiting til he appears at 1 am and addresses them til 5 am. I am told many hardly get a chance to meet or talk to him individually however much they want to, and when they do, it’s to beg him for either favours or mercy. They are actually a pitiful sight before him. He’s now been tightly shielded by his now fabulously wealthy family and inner circle. Allegiance therefore from those who serve him is non-existent. It’s just survival and they will be quick to be on the side of his enemy to bring him down.
Museveni has been using the same methods since 1986. Whenever he has wanted to push his way through his party members, he has always called them in small groups or in retreats, isolated from the rest, and intimidated them into compliance. Recently, after the heated parliamentary oil debate, he invited his party legislators to his political indoctrination bush retreat and having them dressed in military uniforms, tried to intimidate them into pliancy and even threatened to go back to the bush if they don’t use their majority in parliament to reverse the earlier parliamentary motion and give him powers to sign oil deals as he pleased. As expected, some legislators on all fours disowned the earlier parliamentary motion and profusely repented. However a few brave ones stood their ground and even walked out of the engagement rather than agree to ‘sell’ the country. That’s vintage Museveni. He doesn’t seem to realise that the times have changed. All the three deposed North African leaders could not have imagined that what happened to them could have done so and in fact one year ago, were all powerful, in total control and with military might at their hands that would make that of Museveni look like Sunday school toys. In addition, all their countries were more stable than Uganda. So, is Museveni taking any lessons?
It is interesting that Museveni who came from the bush to power in 1986 promising to fight corruption and bad governance is in 2011 threatening to go back to fight those that have risen up to confront these ills in his government. But of course Museveni thinks he’s talking to the same pliant NRM and is not realising that the present NRM members can see through the stupidity of his talk and challenge him on that. He is way too comfortable and is neither capable of going to the bush nor surviving there. It was just empty talk. Empty as the talk was, it jolted me out of the slumber that I have been in over the last few months. Not to be beaten into the bush by him, I quickly rushed to the bush myself and picked my weapon – keyboard. There is a lot now to fight for and diligently fight, I will.
Walk-to-Work also played an important role in emboldening the people. Through Walk-to-Work, Museveni received the first ever challenge to his power and for the first time, looked vulnerable. That awe that surrounded him among many Ugandans, suddenly evaporated even among his own. The international condemnation and foreign press analyses showed many Ugandans that Museveni is now a liability. Foreign outlook aside, the conduct of his security men, coupled and encouraged by his statements of arrogance and callousness, made even many of his own feel ashamed and disappointed.
Groups like Activities for Change together with facebookers, twiiters and bloggers have played an instrumental role in sensitising the people and being able to disseminate information quickly. Museveni’s statements are immediately challenged or the daftness of such ridiculed and this information quickly passed around. His errors can now not escape scrutiny. Besides, many people after 26 years of his rule, and now realising that not much has been achieved apart from the shameless corruption and enriching of a small connected group, are ready to stand up to him. It may also be interesting to note that all the Banyankole Bairu senior NRM members who came with him in 1986, except Kahinda Otaffire, have left the movement and government.
Just as the invisible hand wrote on the wall before King Belshazzar during his merry-making and moment of feeling completely in charge, the writing is there on the wall for Museveni and God has given him many Daniels. I repeat here what Daniel told King Belshazzar: “God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain…