Uganda: Museveni the caricature

by Hervé Pugi.

Looking back over three decades, with five more years to come (at least), towards a horizon that seems to offer nothing but a feeling of déjà-vu. Uganda’s fate remains irredeemably linked to that of its president, Yoweri Museveni. The originality of the man, like the course he has taken, is reminiscent of some of his counterparts on the continent. To the point that over time his idiosyncrasies have created a real textbook case.

Yoweri Museveni has not aged so badly. Now over 71 years of age, the inflexible combatant has become an old man with a kindly appearance. However, his critics warn that we should be suspicious of this apparent affability. They explain that the man is rounded, physically, but that the leader is tough inside. In half a century of political activism, the Ugandan President will have swapped the dusty fatigues of a guerrilla leader for the suit of an enlightened despot fitted by his Western allies, finally sporting the more worn (but still current) suit of a discredited autocrat. A path reminiscent of others. That was the way for Museveni. That is the way for Africa. Too often…

How many cannot, or in fact do not want to, leave this « banana plantation » that « is starting to bear fruit »? How many imagine themselves natural usufructuaries, even owners, of a nation? It’s not about denying the native of Ntungamo his importance in the history of his country. The struggle for leadership of the Front for National Salvation (FRONASA) against the dictatorship of Amin Dada followed by the creation of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) and its armed branch (NRA), which overcame the uninspired and oppressive Milton Obote, his predecessor to the presidency.

During these years of combat, since the Socialist Tanzania of Julius Nyerere, there have been some significant encounters: John Garang, considered the father of South Sudan, but also a certain Paul Kagame, who fought loyally under his orders at the start of the 1980s. The one nicknamed “M7” is most certainly loyal to his friends and their convictions. He backed the South Sudanese rebellion in its secessionist struggle. Even after the tragic death of the founder of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in 2005. Garang had been travelling back from a meeting in the Ugandan capital on-board the… presidential helicopter. In fact, Kampala would remain a refuge for a significant number of those Sudan would count as rebels. To the great displeasure of Khartoum with whom he finally made contact in September 2015.

Above all, he returned the favour of his Rwandan brother in arms at the start of the 1990s. Paul Kagame was the pupil who caught up with (overtook?) the master. He was his invaluable sidekick on the hazy Congolese adventures, a sad memory. He was his alter ego in the eyes of the international community, one of the champions of a new type of governance on the African continent. In truth, there was a time when the wind of change seemed to blow from East Africa. Yoweri Museveni, then a dashing fifty-year-old, appeared to be the man to bring about the revival: of renewed peace, of economic recovery, of a new order in the sub-region. Regardless of the occasional “blunders” here and there (in particular in the RDC). As long as the Ugandan political, economic and diplomatic doctrine was serving the interests of the United States, the former rebel appeared to be an invaluable ally. Bill Clinton then George W. Bush relied on this partner… when they needed him.

But the romance fizzled out. Self-assured and with a respectable balance sheet and the apparent support of some of the most powerful nations, Yoweri Museveni ended up embracing Oscar Wilde’s famous quote: « The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it ». The trail-blazer, who once denounced « leaders that want to spend too long in power », decided in 2005 to change the Constitution to seek a new term in office. Making himself a caricature. To hell with ideals, the Museveni family monopolises positions of power, opposition is gagged, homosexuals persecuted and Uganda’s influence in Africa is in decline. M7 has no remedy. He is convinced: after him, the deluge! How many reason (ramble) in this way?

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