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From a revolutionist to dictator, Museveni does the somersault

Sunday August 26 2018

President Yoweri Museveni.

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni gestures during a state of security address during a special Parliamentary session in Kampala on June 20, 2018. Museveni looms large in the lives of ordinary Ugandans. PHOTO | SUMY SADURNI | AFP 

KIPCHUMBA SOME
By KIPCHUMBA SOME
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A segment in episode seven of Season Four of the popular Kenyan satirical puppet TV programme, the XYZ Show, is an apt metaphor of all that is wrong with the rule of Ugandan strongman, President Yoweri Museveni.

The 3.33 minute long piece is set, presumably, on the lawns of Kololo Heroes Grounds in Kampala, and the occasion was Museveni’s swearing-in for a fourth consecutive term in office following his victory in the February 2011 presidential elections.

Like the elections which he had won in a controversial manner over his perennial challenger, Kizza Besigye, there was nothing normal in the events taking place in the satirical show.

Donning his trademark cowboy hat, the puppet Museveni held aloft in his right hand a gun, rather than a Bible, while another person in the image of Museveni but donning the ceremonial white wig of the chief justice, swore him in.

“I, Museveni Kaguta Yoweri, do solemnly swear by this gun, that I will not leave office till I have taken over all the islands in Lake Victoria,” the puppet Museveni swears.

REVOLUTION

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The dignitaries in attendance in the satirical piece, including Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki, his predecessor Daniel arap Moi, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, all applauded warmly.

“I also swear that I will not leave office until my family has reaped enough from the oil sector which I have worked hard to stabilise.

"I also confirm that I will only step down as the President of the Republic of Uganda on election as the first president of the East Africa Federation … and that will be like 20 years from now. This I do according to the wishes of my family, and of course my party the NRM (National Resistance Movement). So, understand me God,” the puppet Museveni said amid laughter.

The satirical piece might have been made in jest, but it holds important truths that have defined Museveni, who came to power in 1986 in a revolutionary war that overthrew military government of Lieutenant General Tito Okello.

“The problem of Africa in general and Uganda in particular is not the people, but leaders who want to overstay in power,” he declared as a young revolutionary full of visions and ideals.

TERM LIMIT

But today Museveni is exactly the problem he once talked elegantly against in his younger days.

He has been in power for 32 years now and does not look like one who is about to take the high road to retirement.

In 1996, as winds of change swept through the African continent, Uganda introduced a two five-year presidential term limits. However, 10 years later, Museveni engineered the removal of the term limits.

The 74-year-old leader has not spared any effort to maintain his absolute grip on power.

Many thought that his fifth elective victory in 2016 would be his last given the constitutional age requirements that barred anyone older than 75 from vying for the presidency.

But in January this year, as he did with the term limits, he engineered a constitutional amendment that removed the age limits thus allowing him to serve indefinitely.

NEPOTISM

Museveni has maintained his firm grip on power by appointing his close family members to key positions in government, especially in the security sector.

His wife, Janet Museveni, is currently the Minister for Education.

Their son, Maj Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, was the head of the elite presidential Special Forces Command until January last year when he was moved to an advisory role within the presidency.

He appointed his younger brother, Salim Saleh, as the commander of the Uganda Army following his victory over Tito Okello in 1986, but sacked him in 1989 following claims of corruption.

Nonetheless, Saleh still wields huge influence on the President.

Besides fiddling with the constitution, Museveni has maintained his absolute grip on power through sheer brute — by bludgeoning his opponents to submission.

BOBI WINE

He has routinely unleashed police and military violence on his long-time challenger to the presidency, Mr Besigye, and recently did the same to Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyangulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine.

The youthful legislator was allegedly arrested by the police and tortured at the hands of the military who accused him of masterminding violence that led to the stoning of President Museveni’s convoy in north-west town of Arua.

Currently, Mr Museveni looms large in the lives of ordinary Ugandans.

But it would be wise if he contemplated his fate by reflecting on what befell two of the characters who attended his swearing-in in the satirical XYZ Show seven years ago.

His small club of African presidential dinosaurs is fast dwindling with the overthrow and the eventually brutal killing of Gaddafi in October 2011, as well as the peaceful coup de tat against Mugabe last year.