Sit-Tight Museveni: Is Uganda a Working Model of Good Governance?

President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda was recently sworn in for his sixth term in office after a very controversial election. Nigeria’s Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, was in attendance as the representative of the country’s government.

What actually generated so much interest was the fact that the 76-year-old Museveni has been in power since 1986. This means that many Ugandans, especially the youths, have not known any other leader apart from him in the last 35 years.

There are indeed many implications for a country when political leaders stay longer than necessary in power. Politics in Africa has been characterised by the good and the bad.

While the African Continent has had a good number of quality leaders such as Nelson Mandela from South Africa and John Magufuli from Tanzania, there have been many others who came as ‘saviours’ of their countries, but held on to power, while refusing to leave even when diminishing returns in the leadership output have become quite obvious.

Another worrisome feature of the continent’s political system is its faulty leadership selection process and followership that does not question any dysfunctional political structure. Yoweri Museveni is a product of such faulty political structure.

Yoweri Museveni, a former Student Activist and guerrilla warrior, became the President of Uganda on 29 January 1986. He was accused of Human Rights violation by Amnesty International in 1989.

The first elections under his government were held on 9 May 1996. He defeated Paul Semogerere of the Democratic Party. He received international recognition for his government’s successful campaign against AIDS and Affirmative Action which saw a huge involvement of Women in his Government.

In 2001, he won the election for a second term in office by a substantial majority against Kizza Besigye (his former friend, personal physician, and only real challenger).

Attempts to change the constitution and various acts of intimidation against opposition political parties led to massive criticisms by domestic observers (Uganda’s aid donors and the international community).

He was selected as the National Resistance Movement’s presidential candidate for the February 2006 Elections for a third term which led to a public outcry because he had promised in 2001 that he would not contest again.

His major opponent, Kizza Besigye was imprisoned and was released after an order by the High Court.

Even though Museveni allegedly performed woefully at the elections, he was elected for another five-year term. He won 59 per cent of the votes against Besigye’s 37 per cent.

The case was later determined by the Supreme Court in favor of Museveni. He was re-elected for a fourth term on 20 February 2011 with 68 per cent in a controversial election that was said to be marred by irregularities by EU-European Union and other observers.

He was re-elected for a fifth term in 2016 in an election that involved his perennial long-time contender, Besigye. The election was said to have been characterised by intimidation, fraud, and the arrest of opposition politicians.

Museveni signed the Constitutional Amendment Bill No. 2, 2017 which was passed by the Ugandan Parliament.

The bill was later known as 2018 Age Limit Bill. As at 27 December 2017, in accordance with Articles 259 and 262 of the Constitution of Uganda, the bill provides for the removal of the presidential age limit.

Prior to the constitutional changes, article 102 (b) barred people that are over 75 years and those below 35 years from contesting for the position of president.

As expected, there was international opprobrium, but Museveni had his way. Amid a heated situation, he was re-elected for a 6th term on 16 January 2021 having reportedly won 58.6% of the votes against his main challenger, Robert Kyagulanyi, a musician, popularly known as Bobbi Wine.

The election was marred by misconduct such as human rights abuses, internet shutdown, and many other improprieties.

There are many African leaders like Museveni with sit-tight sensibilities. They include Paul Biya of Cameroun, who is 88 Years (1979-present); Teodoro Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, who is 78 Years (1979-present); Dennis Nguesso of Republic of Congo, who is 77 years (1979-present), among others.

Despite Museveni’s sit-tight disposition, he has made remarkable contributions to Uganda’s development. He has remained a tireless combatant, tackling the dreaded HIV/AIDS pandemic in East and Central Africa.

Gender balance has improved tremendously in Uganda as more women are now involved in government. Security has also improved in the country. Properties seized by State Agents have been returned to their owners.

There is equally improvement in the country’s economy beyond the level it was in the 1970s when Uganda was considered one of the “pearls” of Africa. The Ugandan economy grew at more than 6% and the country has now passed its 1971 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) level. Good measures for better and more revenue generation put in place by Museveni’s administration boosted the GDP.

Under Museveni, Uganda was able to make giant strides in infrastructural development. With the support of China, electricity dams and good roads are springing up everywhere. The overall objective of the Ugandan government is to reduce the cost of doing business in the country and compete favourably for foreign direct investments.

Uganda has also seen an average of 7% annual economic growth over the last two decades. This has resulted in a reduction in headcount poverty from 56% between 1992 and 1993 to 20% in 2012 and 2013. Around half a million jobs are created annually with improved access to basic services.

There is a policy to actually drive growth in the country called the “green growth” model. The green growth model requires a continued focus on macroeconomic stability, and investment in climate, health, and education. All of these are captured in the development priorities outlined in the 5-year National Development Plan II (NDPII).

Britannica.com revealed that Museveni supported the African Union’s Force in Somalia with troops. He encouraged free press and increased political participation. This he did by accepting the 2005 Referendum that returned Uganda to a multi-party country even though he had rejected multi-party democracy because he felt it will cause tribal politics.

Even with the many contributions, the question still is: why would a political office holder want to stay in power for more than three decades?

While the reason/s may be personal, some of them include the fear of prosecution for offences committed while in office. The offences could be misappropriation of funds, terrible human right records, and involvement in illicit activities.

Another reason could just be plain greed. To most humans, power is always a good thing to have as long as possible. The more power one wields, the more influence and what can be achieved.

Some of them will let not go of power until death, the great leveller, puts them and power asunder. Power, particularly absolute power, corrupts many of the wielders. Joyce Banda, former President of Malawi agrees with this when she posits that political office corrupts the occupier.

Other reasons are weak opposition parties and the fact that political leaders have everything they need at their beck and call. Ian Khama, a former President of Botswana explains that: “once you are in power, all the attention you get, all the benefits can become quite intoxicating, and as you get used to it, you cannot start to imagine yourself out of the office and just being a normal citizen like everyone else.”

Catherine Samba-Panza, a former interim President of Central African Republic (CAR) also shares insights as to why leaders cling to power. She is of the view that the highest political position of any country is full of temptations that must be resisted, but that not everyone can do that.

So it comes down to an individual’s moral fibre and ethical principles. Some people will do whatever they can to stay in power.

Pierre Buyoya, former President of Burundi while speaking on the reasons why leaders cling to power, explained that, “some presidents do not want to leave because they fear they will be harmed by leaders that come after them.”

Analysts have identified the negative impact of clinging to power or politics of perpetuity. The negative effect is that young, upcoming and active people with very useful ideas that can aid nation-building will be prevented from doing so when leaders stay put in office.

However, even the young ones can also become power-drunk when they get hold of power. That is why having a strong structure and mechanism in place that will make it very difficult or near impossible for such a scenario to occur is necessary.

Ultimately, the best way to deal with such a situation is for citizens to be sensitised and educated to collectively prevent or resist it. The power to do this, usually described as the ‘people’s power’, can be very vital in a long drawn resistance against stubborn dictatorship.